Martin LeFevre: Inner Alchemy
These are the last days of the long hot summer in California’s Great Central Valley. Usually, even here at the less populated northern end, the skies are smoggy. But to my surprise, the foothills are startlingly clear today in the brilliant, slanting late-afternoon sun.
In the parkland, the light streams over my shoulder, illuminating every leaf, with blended color shimmering off the creek. The leaves in the trees and bushes along the stream are just beginning to turn. A few are yellowing, but most are simply lighter shades of green. The wild grasses are as dry and brown as the African plains during a drought, but the fire danger is reduced by cooler nights and gentler days.
A woodpecker lands at the top of the dead tree in front of me and begins drilling away furiously, throwing bits of bark to the ground. Is it one of the birds born in this same tree last spring?
Meditation ignites. As it deepens, I feel empty of self, naked to life, vulnerable to death, and transparent to the sacred.
Without invoking any sort of technique, how does such a state come into being? Certainly it isn’t just for the few, for the spiritually gifted and so-called mystics. The quieting of thought is the essence of meditation, but can it be taught, or even conveyed?
Meditation is the art of unknowing, that is, of emptying the mind of everything one knows. There is no method to meditation. Methods are devices of thought, and one cannot use thought to quiet thought. Seeing this simple fact, one sets aside the innumerable systems, techniques, and ‘paths to enlightenment.’
The first thing, it seems to me, is learning how to observe the things in oneself that we normally avoid, suppress, rationalize, or deny. What is it that generates a defensive reaction? Isn’t it the image one has of oneself? If there is no image, there is no ego, and if there is no ego, there is no defensiveness. When one is confronted with a disturbing fact about oneself, whether by another or through interaction, can one simply take the attitude, ‘yes, that’s so, let me look at it?’
The way things like fear, hate, and greed are transformed within one are not by consciously trying to turn such negatives into positives, but by fully facing and observing inner darkness without judgment. To do that, one has to understand how to watch without reaction. And since the watcher is synonymous with reaction, that means observing without the watcher, the ‘me’ that says ‘that’s wrong and I must change it.’
Another key is planting the seed of a question in oneself. Why this feeling of nervousness? (Thinking and saying ‘I’m a nervous person’ strengthens the self and the problem.) What is this anger? Why does that person bother me? By seriously asking questions like these, and then going about one’s business, one finds that unexpected insights often spontaneously arise into one’s motivations and conditioning.
In these ways, self-understanding grows, and the dark material within is burned in a smokeless, heatless fire, cleansing the mind and heart, and giving light.
Can the dark matter in human consciousness as a whole ignite and burn, like an underground peat fire that cannot be extinguished? If enough people are self-knowing, it can, and that would be a revolution in consciousness.
None of us are individuals in the separate sense. Just as we carry the heritage of our families going back untold generations, so too we are inextricably linked to our cultures and times. As Thomas Mann observed, “a human being lives out not only his personal life as an individual, but also, consciously or subconsciously, the lives of his epoch and his contemporaries.”
Unaddressed dark matter has been slowly accumulating in human consciousness for thousands of years. But darkness has increased exponentially in recent decades, as population has exploded, as the world has grown more interconnected, and as the means of both mass destruction and mass marketing (largely selling personal escape) has become much more sophisticated.
Through non-accumulative inward learning (which is a very different kind of learning than we’re taught in school), the tables can be turned on the darkness of human consciousness that rules us. Indeed, the accreted material of fear, hate, envy, greed, etc. then becomes the source of learning and light for the human being. That is inward alchemy.
- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: email@example.com. The author welcomes comments.