Alchemy Phase 5: Fermentation

Alchemy Phase 5: Fermentation

Into the Abyss

There is a point at which, to really move forward, a realignment has to occur within the self. This is a deeper process than Calcination – it questions the ego, but it pivots our whole position of awareness. Rather than re-establishing an identity, it relinquishes attachment to ANY identity, even one which was broader from our initial perspective.

This is a challenging process. So much energy has been tied to one’s ideal, and the thoughts, words, and deeds that align with and serve it. But even this attachment needs to be dropped during the Fermentation phase. There is a complete openness, reprocessing, letting go, loosening up. Bullshit detectors are impeccable. Nothing less than complete honesty, razor-sharp truth will do. There is no patience for lies, deceit, delusion, or any form of overextending oneself. Pure Awareness stands at the heart of it all.

One of the challenges of this phase, which may also be a catalyst, is recognizing the dissonance between oneself and the world, culture, or community. There is a deep re-questioning, a re-evaluation of everything. Nothing is passed over or hidden. It is all exposed, laid bare. In this acute perception, waves of cynicism may even pass. If the stage isn’t completed, one could become fixated on this cynicism. Egotism and narcissism could result. While one may have a broader perception, it is still bound by blind spots.

Releasing Conditions

The way to move through Fermentation is, first and foremost, to honor and respect all feelings while not attaching oneself to them. This hearkens back to Calcination and some of the other phases, and is truly an important process throughout one’s movement through alchemical transformation. Observe what arises, be present with it, and yet allow it to move on.

Secondly, it is critical to maintain a spacious curiosity, or humility. While one may feel wiser, remember that there is always MORE to be revealed; there is never an end to any process or path—each perspective is relative.

You may find a curiosity and devotion to the Truth that has no bounds. You will lose the need for expectations, as well as adornment of concepts. Most words used to describe spiritual experiences, or reality will feel hollow and inadequate. You will want to pierce any illusion and have pure understanding. This impulse is a call from within yourself, from a place you are not consciously familiar with. Any attempt to add words to your experience or interpret it is a distortion. Fermentation has no need for baggage.

While in earlier phases, it was useful to explore symbols and our relationship to them, to write and journal, to find something to fixate on in order to guide us, these were merely ways to hijinx ourselves into new levels of awareness. They were tools.

It becomes necessary, at some point, to drop everything. We pass through an Abyss. This can feel devastating to some. It has at times been referred to as a Dark Night of the Soul, though that idea carries with it its own loaded interpretations. Comparison will not be helpful, and nothing conceptually can really prepare you for an experience in which concepts lose their meaning. The prior alchemical stages have served to clarify one’s soul and activate qualities of awareness that can carry naturally over into this and future stages, but progress can’t be forced.

Resting in the Chrysalis

Alchemy Phase 5: Fermentation

What can be very helpful for the Fermentation phase is giving oneself the time and space to process. Listen to your instincts about how much engagement and activity is appropriate for you, and let yourself be okay with needing alone time, if that’s what feels right. There is a lot occuring on a subtle level—just as in physical fermentation, where billions or trillions of microbes are changing the basic nature of a substance underneath the surface. Likewise, in alchemical Fermentation, your sense of Self is being transformed.

You may want to take a retreat for yourself, perhaps planning some time out in the woods or in a location that calls to you. You may even just find time throughout each day to dedicate to yourself. This is a great time for meditation, and a chance to deepen your meditations further. You may find it helpful to also do something physical each day, such as stretching or yoga, hiking, walking, lifting weights, or practicing a physical artform or discipline, like Chi Do taught in the Lineage of King Salomon.

As far as your meditations go, while it is best to listen to your intuition about how to proceed, you may want to experiment with vacancy of mind, or void meditation. You start out by noticing the spaces between thoughts during thought observation, or mindfulness meditation. Gradually, you pay more and more attention to these gaps. Vacancy of mind allows space for, what some say, “God to rush in.” Do not force this, though. It is more about moving naturally into a state of mental stillness that already is there.

Besides a few practices such as these, perhaps the best thing to do is simply allow this process to unfold on its own without trying to direct it. Be patient. Give yourself much free, spacious time. You may want to avoid consuming media, such as TV, books, and the internet. Allow yourself to just be.

Loss of Seeking

Sandra was a nurse who’d been working in a hospital for over a decade. She loved her job, had a wonderful social circle, and tended to keep herself healthy. She had so much compassion to give, and had a strong spiritual practice of yoga and meditation. She felt she did all the right things in life.

But one day, as she was preparing to meet with her family for brunch, she felt different. She didn’t quite know what it was—just a sense that things weren’t right. It wasn’t connected with anything specific, so she wondered if maybe it was the result of less sleep the night before.

As she joined her family and they started talking about cousins and their shenanigans, Sandra found she couldn’t focus on the conversation. She had a sick feeling in her stomach. She felt disconnected. What was going on?

Her family noticed something was off and asked her about it, but she was at a loss and simply cited lack of sleep and a hard work week. When she came home to her partner, she felt troubled by how this growing feeling of disassociation might impact him. Thankfully, he was busy with projects and didn’t notice, so she took the opportunity to be by herself and hope that this would pass. She tried watching TV, but felt irritated by the shows she skimmed through, even a show she used to love. It wasn’t the same. She listened to music, and she zoned out a bit. But it didn’t really help. She even tried journaling it out, but words didn’t come easily, and she ended up feeling more frustrated.

Weeks went by. Her feelings deepened. She felt totally alien from everyone. The world was bizarre. It seemed fake, somehow. Not just in a social sense, but really fake. She found herself questioning often, “What is the point?” She wasn’t even suicidal, because she questioned the point of that, too.

Sandra became very crass with people, even patients at the hospital. She didn’t consider it rude, just blunt and honest. She had no patience for sugar-coating anymore. Why waste time and energy on that? She was upfront with doctors and other nurses about things she thought they were doing wrong. And she didn’t care about any hierarchy of authority, which felt increasingly artificial to her. This caused tensions at work and she knew people were talking about her behind her back by their body language and, well, just a 6th sense.

Her husband, concerned about her, gave her a list of psychiatrists. But this infuriated her. What was he implying? That she was broken and needed to be fixed? They argued over this, and she realized that, though she’d been worried at first, she was feeling more and more like the veil was being pulled from her eyes and she was becoming sober to reality. Everyone seemed to be missing this.

Sandra felt she could read people more clearly and see their hidden motivations and agendas. She no longer wanted to be social with friends—they only wanted to talk about things that completely bored her. And her family loved to gossip, which made her uncomfortable being around them, too. There was a sadness from feeling this disconnect with everyone, even a grief. It was almost like something was dying.

Sandra told her husband she needed to take a few days to herself, for her own well-being. Her husband agreed it might be good for her and they worked out a plan.

She went ahead and booked a cabin near a lake. She only brought the bare minimum of essentials, and spent most of the time strolling through the trail around the lake, or sitting at the water’s edge. The air was fresh, and everything was pristine. Luckily, few tourists came here, so Sandra was mostly alone.

The days passed slowly and serenely. Sandra found she didn’t need much to entertain her anymore. She could simply stare at her surroundings for hours and let her thoughts run by. Initially, she had many serious thoughts, urgent existential questions, deep inquiries into her soul and life and reality. But these faded as she lost interest in answering them and allowed them to flow on, observing them with amusement. Somehow she knew that no answer would suffice.

As this realization deepened, she came to understand that the whole process of seeking would never suffice. She surrendered to what at first seemed a devastation, a gasping climax that reached its final breath…until even that vanished, and there was an awareness beyond anything she could describe.

Returning home from an illuminating experience, Sandra no longer felt frustrated, angry, or despondent. She simply felt alive. She realized everything was a game, and that was wonderful. A beautiful, cosmic joke. She laughed and went about her life. This time, her actions flowed not from a sense of need, but a sense of love, without any expectation.

Reflective Quote

“When there’s the intention to understand, there is attention without the distraction of the desire to attend. Then the mind is not disciplined, controlled, pulled together and made to be still. Its stillness is natural when there’s the intention to understand. No effort, no conflict, is involved in understanding.” – Jiddu Krishnamurti

Alchemy Phase 2: Dissolution

Alchemy Phase 2: Dissolution

In Calcination, you learned that you weren’t your body, your circumstances, your identity. None of these things ultimately defined you – because, as they receded, changed, eroded, YOU still existed, something fundamental beneath it all. Something was still there, and it was an opening to a larger universe.

Developing Devotion

In Dissolution, you might try to find some ground to stand on. You may end up exploring for a bit, but then returning to your life as usual, finding your old identity (or a slightly modified one), and a comfortable life to give you a feeling of safety and stability. 

Calcination can leave people in an existential crisis if they don’t find something to focus their energy on. While it may bring a sense of adventure, it’s hard to sustain a life without any solid sense of identity or foundation. So it’s understandable that some people decide to abandon ship.

If you want to continue to carry the energy forward and allow yourself to evolve, you may want to choose an ideal to dedicate your life to. We all have ideals, values and motivations that drive us. We’re not always aware of them, but they’re like programs in the background, directing our energy and actions. 

This is the time to consciously evaluate what’s important to you. Ask yourself, “What is my WHY?” This opens up our minds, gets us out of our comfort zones, allows our natural intuition to flow through us more clearly. And, when our devotion is ripened, we no longer feel separate from the Divine, but supported by it. We are not caught in the “trap” of a harmful, mechanistic reality that runs lifeless and cold. We sense the Moreness and intimately feel drawn to it and lulled by it. This lifts us. Suspends us. 

Blend as Water

In Dissolution, we start to blend into the solvent, the liquid that contains and supports us. The Universal Solvent is Water. Water is Love, Unity, Connection, Grace. We loosen our boundaries, and can do so more easily without being locked into our identities. We float, which is the grace and faith in the More. Our devotion, which begins to inspire our activity and animate our daily actions, influencing all aspects of life from career to relationships, is a manifestation of the greater sense of Love we feel towards the Creative Principle in All Things and our desire to know It more. It is NOT subservience to a deity. Would it be any different from the affection towards a lover? It is pure and unconditional. It flows through thought, word, and deed.

The buoyancy we learn from this stage assists us further in our processing and development, offering momentum for the other stages to fruit. How does one best take advantage of this stage, and what are its pitfalls?

Fear has not been obliterated and can still appear in this stage. When it does, we may feel overwhelmed, lost, confused, desolate, abandoned, listless. All has been burned away, and now what is left?

It is easy in this stage to take to forms of escapism and addiction. The initial relief becomes to us as a saving grace, restoring hope in something, helping us to feel good. But, without an identity, this is a trap, as we lock onto it with an iron grip. Devotion occurs here, but it is in a form that causes us to forget ourselves more and more, to withdraw our light and sink inward. It is not introspective, but avoidant. It is devotion to drugs, sex, sugar, entertainment, maybe even sleep. Wild ideas and flurries may come, and there may be something substantial in them, but without the influence of a higher ideal, and without that element of faith as support, our ideas become distortions, and rather than inspire, they collect dust. 

Transcend and Include

So the goal is to not give into these escapes. As in the previous stage, it is best to listen and observe. However, the emphasis here shifts to paying attention to our Ideal. It is a transcendent ideal, in service to something larger than a limited sense of self. It is expansive, encompassing, upfliting, energizing, loving. It brings our focus regularly back to the Big Picture, so we can stare through the opening of the matrix and fall in love with the Moreness. And yet, it can also flow through our daily lives, inspiring our actions, motivating our practical choices. It guides us. 

Without this devotion, we won’t have the energy or motivation to continue the journey of transformation. Ways to access this devotion are often creative or spiritual in nature. Stream of consciousness writing every morning can help us tap into this flow and listen to our intuition. Painting, dancing, music, theater, connecting with nature, and meditating can all be avenues for finding and aligning with our devotion. The simplest way is to ask, verbally, as an inquiry to one’s Higher Self or Infinite Intelligence. And then notice the signs. 

An observance of synchronicity, in itself, can foster devotion, as one becomes more aware of Infinite Intelligence and Its expression. Recording these can be a helpful tool, to remind us that reality is not what so many people are telling us. Feel into what is behind these synchronicities. Call to It. Ask for Its illumination.

Alchemy Phase 1: Calcination

Alchemy Phase 1: Calcination

FIRE OF THE ALCHEMISTS

Fire is powerful. Its essence can be found in the Big Bang, the formation of the Earth, and the symbol of the phoenix. These all give clues to the secret of renewal. The science and art of alchemy sheds much light on this.

The ancient and medieval alchemists pursued far more than making gold. The creed they followed most was “As above, so below,” a mystic axiom that asserts the connection between the microcosm and the macrocosm in a holographic, Russian doll kind of way. In other words, they followed very specific physical procedures, yet these processes always mirrored internal psychological and spiritual states. Their goal was to perfect matter while perfecting their own inner natures simultaneously.

One of the first processes in alchemy was called calcination. This was the stage of subjecting something to enough intense heat and fire that it would produce white ashes, called a “salt” by alchemists. It was a preparatory step in producing an elixir, as it purified the physical ingredient. Every alchemist was both a proto-psychologist and a shaman of sorts. In calcinating a substance, he or she would strive to also calcinate the mind and soul.

THE ALCHEMY OF LIFE

Sometimes we find ourselves in a calcinating event or even stage of our life. We can choose to repress our feelings toward this, or acknowledge them and use the event or stage as a growth opportunity. Signs that you’re experiencing calcination are that your world is crashing around you and you don’t know who you are anymore. You get the sense that you have to let go of a lot of things you’ve been holding onto. The funny part is, most of those things were just limiting you, being dead weight in your journey. Now you can actually walk your Path with momentum.

Calcination may occur with most intensity when we’ve been ignoring the baggage we’ve been carrying for awhile. We get comfortable and lose touch with our true sense of purpose. Getting comfortable really just means getting habituated – even to something soulsucking or painful. The calcination process removes those anchors, whether we like it or not. Essentially, it’s an omen from our Higher Selves or Providence saying “You’re off your Path! Here’s a wake up call!”

Once we are purified through this spiritual burning, we can move forward with more freedom and buoyancy. We don’t have superfluous things restricting our flow. It can be scary relinquishing those things, because we’ve become so reliant upon or used to them…but the magic happens in letting go!

That’s really the key to moving through calcination: surrender. Give in to the process, relax, and have faith that there’s a bigger picture to all this. Spiritual traditions the world over, from Buddhism to Christianity, advocate the power and freedom of nonattachment – if you’re to have any peace amidst calcination and truly grow, you must loosen your grip on what you think is important.

Here’s a little story to flesh this all out…

THE CRUCIBLE

Mark is an attorney who’s been working for the law firm Josef & Leibermann for 15 years. He works 50-hour weeks, and lives in a 3 story house in a beautiful gated community. Unbeknownst to him, however, the law firm is downsizing and pruning off anyone it sees as less than exceptional. Even though Mark has been there for years, the executives don’t quite see him as being up to par with their top attorneys. He’s informed, very suddenly, that he is terminated.

Furious and dejected, Mark binges on alcohol. He doesn’t see how this happened, and feels it’s incredibly unfair. He’s even considering suing the law firm – before drinking another few glasses of Pinot Noir and laughing at how much of a train wreck that would be!

Mark’s friends and family try to console him, but after seeing him go into the fourth week of binge drinking and posting vicious comments on Facebook, they start to back off. He keeps to himself, splurging his savings and sinking deeper into depression.

One day, a documentary comes on TV about big businesses influencing politics to get their way. “What!?” Mark exclaims. For some reason, his interest is piqued. He devours online articles, books, and more documentaries, and learns about the destruction to the environment caused by some of these big businesses, and how they keep politicians out of the way. Mark is fired up!

The more he researches, the more he forgets to drink. He’s even started going to networking events and lectures to learn more, which is a miracle, considering he’s getting out of the house. Eventually, he meets Sandy, a 35-year-old lobbyist working for the Earth Defense Group, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting environments around the world and native wildlife. She tells Mark they’ve been needing a person with extensive legal experience to help them in trial, decode laws, and draft proposals. Mark is instantly ignited, and she gives him a number to call for more information.

The next day, Mark dials the number and his enthusiasm is so obvious, that he gets an interview. A few days later, during the interview, Mark realizes that throughout his career, he didn’t like working for people he’d describe as scumbags – people who were clearly guilty and had no respect or remorse. Mark comes to the sudden insight that this is why he wasn’t considered a “top performer” at Josef & Leibermann. He just never felt right about helping guys he knew were in the wrong. The interviewer, however, sees great knowledge and integrity in Mark and decides to hire him!

Working with the Earth Defense Group proves to be a blast, although Mark is still often busy. But he absolutely loves what he’s doing, and feels this is really what he was meant for.

Mark had to let go of his old career and his old identity, and embrace a new way of life. This was too much for him, at first, and he didn’t know what to really do with himself. But, as he let the past burn away, he was able to embrace something new, something more empowering and life fulfilling.

Calcination is “step one” in alchemy (it’s not always in the same order). Get ready for the remaining 6 steps!

Can you remember a harsh period of your life, when you came out with more self-knowledge? Did you let go of anything in order to move forward? Please share below!

Reflective Quote:

“If you do not fast from the world, you will not find the Kingdom.” – Jesus

Would you like to learn more about this process? Click on the links below to follow the progression by stages or jump to the stage you’re interested in most.