I have long been interested in alchemy – not in the literal efforts to turn base materials into silver or gold but in the way the alchemical quest serves as a metaphor for spiritual transmutation. Taken literally, the search for the philosopher’s stone was a search for the elixir of life. Understood metaphorically, it was the search for transformation through spiritual evolution. Arising out of proto-science at a time when science and religion were indistinguishable, alchemy expressed the soul’s longing to rise from the corruptible to the incorruptible, from brokenness to wholeness, from ignorance to enlightenment. The philosopher’s stone was the name given to the hidden spiritual truth or power that would make this spiritual evolution possible.
I understand this quest. My calling has been intimately connected to it. My passion has been the understanding and pursuit of transformation – not merely healing, growth, or wellbeing – but the unfolding of the self associated with a journey of awakening. And central to this is the transmutation of lower-level psychospiritual elements of shame, guilt, judgmentalism and anger into higher-level stable experiences of peace, joy and unitive knowing.
Like the chemical elements that make up physical existence, psychospiritual experiences can be thought of in terms of their weight and complexity. When we arrange them in these terms what we get is something like a periodic table of the soul. Happiness is the lightest and most ephemeral of the experiences known to the soul. Its half-life is so short that it is highly unstable. Quickly happiness fades into oblivion or nostalgia and when it is gone, our memory of it seems untrustworthy and the feelings inaccessible.
Peace and anxiety are examples of heavier isotopes of the soul. They have longer half-lives. They can be relatively stable components of consciousness, familiar companions who have a well-established place in the family of self. But they are still fragile states.
Many of the densest isotopes of the soul tend to be the most toxic. Shame, guilt, and anger often remain for a life-time – even generations. Like a millstone, they sink to the center of our being and pull us with them into the abyss they open up.
Presence is the point where the lightest and heaviest elements meet in the periodic table of the soul. While it feels ephemeral – lighter and even less substantial than even happiness – it is the natural state of existence and can, therefore, be the default state of the soul. This is why presence holds such detoxifying potential for the unwelcome and inherently toxic elements of experience. In the welcoming embrace of presence, the unwelcome can be received with hospitality and the very nature of the experience transformed.
Presence is one name for the philosopher’s stone of spiritual transformation. Variously called contemplation, silence, solitude of the heart or prayer, its ephemeral nature makes presence hard to define. But, naming it is not important. What is important is living it. Flirting with it will never be anything more than entertaining but allowing it to become a stable way of being will always reveal it’s transformational potential.