Last week, I dreamed of Paulo Coelho. Upon awakening, it took me a few minutes to remember that he was the author of The Alchemist, a book I’d tried unsuccessfully to read twice before. Not in the habit of ignoring such clear dream messages, I retrieved the little book from a dusty corner and gave it another try. I found it a sweet read this time.
And it has me thinking about alchemy, that ancient art in which adepts sought to turn baser metals into precious gold or silver. Some attempted this on the physical plane and in the process, developed methods that morphed over the centuries into our modern sciences. Yet it is on the metaphoric level that alchemy really shone~~and continues to beckon us today. How do we transform our baser human qualities, and those of the situations we encounter, into shining gold?
In my home office, I have a bright pink square of card stock paper on which is written, “What do I choose to create in this moment?” You see, I need reminders. This is how it works…
I’m on the phone with an insurance company’s claims department trying to get paid for psychotherapy services I rendered 4 months ago. I’m speaking to a man with a decidedly South Asian accent, which I can barely understand, who gives his name as Elvis. Elvis also gives me the same inaccurate and completely unhelpful information I received on 2 previous calls.
I was on hold so long before reaching Elvis that I now run the risk of being late for an appointment, but feel pressure to remain on the phone until resolution is reached so as not to have to begin the process yet again. Suddenly my eye is drawn to my hot pink note. I remember that I can choose~~not how Elvis responds or how his employer responds, but how I do. I breathe and recognize an opportunity to practice.
During an exercise at a writing retreat years ago, we were asked to call out persons, places, objects, verbs, adjectives and adverbs as the facilitator recorded our offerings on a whiteboard. We were then directed to create a written piece from these words.
Life is a lot like that.
We are born into a certain family within a particular culture at a unique moment in human history. The bodies we inhabit bear the mark of our ancestors, and our spirits shine through personalities that are an ambiguous mix of nature and nurture. What shall we do with this raw material? What essay shall we write with our human life?
These are good questions when things are going well and when they are not. They are particularly relevant, though, when you realize you have become harsh with a poorly paid Indian customer service rep named Elvis.
I recently was given an exceedingly helpful quote by author Karen Salmansohn. When we mess up, she suggests, “Instead of slapping your forehead and asking, “What was I thinking?” breathe and ask yourself, “What was I learning?” With Elvis, I was learning to hold a higher vision and prioritize accordingly. I was learning that I am in the process, always in the process, of creating the essay of my life, an essay that affects the lives of many others~~even some halfway across the world.
I offered Elvis an apology and began to interact with an eye to the highest good. I accepted in that moment that the way I behaved was more important than getting paid.
This is real~world alchemy. It is the alchemy of the spirit, an alchemy in which we transform our individual pieces of lead into shimmering gold. And in this, our teacher just might be a man from Mumbai named Elvis.
I wish you each well in gathering gold.
Here's a link to Karen Salmansohn's website page with the full quote mentioned above.