Alchemy – Pir Vilayat
think we find that just achieving things in life does not give us the sense of fullness or satisfaction that we need to honor ourselves. And therefore, we are more and more aware of the need of working with ourselves to improve ourselves. That’s what one calls transformation and this retreat is going to be inspired by the enormous amount of work undertaken by the alchemists of the Middle Ages and past centuries.
There are clues there that are extremely relevant to the process of retreat because they were working with trying to discover methods to promote transformation and it looks as though they were working with metals, or whatever, they were trying to see if they cull in the processes that the metals undergo in their transformation clues that would help us to work with our psyche, at the psychological level, because in fact, as above so below, that means that psychic processes are the same as the physical ones.
I don’t want to go into too much theory because this is a retreat, but let’s us say it all starts by building a temple. In fact, the reason that they’re using in order to promote a transformation is an oven and that is a vessel which affords them a certain amount of protection in which one can bring energy. Energy is the heat of God. In the case of the psyche, the oven is the temple. That is in our meditations we tend to emphasize that aspect of ourselves that is absolutely cosmic and without boundary. And it is true that is an aspect which I have highlighted a lot in the course of the past years, but we are really cross between being a temple; that is a vessel which lets in like a cell. It has a membrane that is more or less permeable and then a vortex which does not have a boundary. We’re are both and sometimes we function much more as a cell, and as I said and other times, much more the other way around then as a vortex. The vortex represents or let’s say strengthens in us, enhances in us, a sense of all encompassingness, a cosmic dimension.
And this is particularly important when you’re on retreat, you always, never limit yourself with your notion of yourselves, whatever that notion is, but always keep on being aware of the cosmic dimension of ones being. That is illustrated by the holographic paradigm of our time, which means that as much as you can fraction a crystal for example, every fraction of the crystal behaves like the whole crystal would behave a little less well, but not like a fraction of the crystal. It paves like the whole crystal. In other words, every part is superimposed upon every other part. So, that is one thing we have to bear in mind all time on our retreat; otherwise, we get caught up in our little ego trips. And the whole idea of retreat is get away from them. And that’s the first rule.
Second one is that indeed, we do have the faculty of selecting those impressions that we wish to embody and those which we wish to reject. So that we’re not simply just like a crystal. We have at the human level, we have developed faculty, which is perhaps the most precious faculty in the world, and that’s the use of freedom. And therefore, we are able to, it is in our selectivity that we affirm our freedom.
This leads us to the next point that we need to have very clear in the course of the retreat. And that is that one of the great properties of the temple is that it safeguards the sacredness of one’s being. That is that aspect of ourselves that is continually being violated in the profane way that society has developed, particularly in our time. So, this need is felt even more strongly than ever before. That is something that one becomes aware of when one is being slighted, for example, or humiliated. That’s the time when, somehow one feels violated in one sense of sacredness. And that is because somehow how we are aware of the Divine status of our being, like we are a temple which is harboring the divine presence that needs to be safeguarded. So that the sacredness in our being is illustrated by the alchemists as the precious jewel, it’s called the philisophical stone. It’s the diamond of Buddhism. It is something that is elaborated in the course of the eons of time, the Divine Presence. It’s there in a rough form, but it becomes more and more glorious as evolution proceeds, as the human being becomes more evolved.
So, it’s within this temple that the process of transformation takes place. It needs to avail itself of the material of the environment, and this is what we will continue doing because not just eating food, but we are continually imbibing impressions from the environment that undergo a whole process of digestion in our being and therefore, they are transmuted. There is a Yasna in a Zoroastrian text that says, May I be the instrument of the transfiguration of the world, so that somehow each one of us has a sacred duty to transmute those rough impressions that we get from the environment. Some of them have a beautiful. Whatever the impressions are, to somehow to draw the gist out of them, just like perfume one is drawing the gist out of the flowers and somehow incorporate them into one’s being.
Now, there are many other things that we’d need to say about this and in the course of this weekend, which will pass much quicker than we think, we’ll be looking at some of those aspects of the work of the alchemists that are relevant to meditation, but for the early meditation, I would like us to simply work with building the temple. I would like to add, ultimately the Temple of Light. So we start the first level and then we’ve gone to higher levels eventually, of course, not just the Temple of Light, but the Temple of Celestial Light and even a temple of sound. Now, it occurred to me that one of the tremendous advantages that we able to avail ourselves out in the Sufi practices as opposed to the practice of the Hindus and Buddhists is that the body in zikr and whirling of course, the body is in motion. Because if indeed we are temple, what does it mean? I don’t mean that simply that the body is a temple as we imagine the body to be, but the energy field of the body or to call magnetism does represent a kind of vortex and the vortex it means that the different layers reaching to the very fine inner ones, the outer one a little bit grosser and that’s a very complex vortex of course, not just like whirlpool, but it is static, it is not totally static, the molecules and that moves the cells of the body continually in motion settles the body and continually in motion.
So, it is not completely static, but still if you print upon it a motion then it becomes a dynamo you see this like a magnet has become a dynamo to start whirling it, swirling it, swirling the magnetic field. So, that is one of the great advantages of the zikr. Now, actually one can whirl the magnetic field while sitting still that is true, but in fact, that is, it’s easy to do this, if one has started with the motion of the head, not just the head, but the whole body. And then eventually, you will find that somehow the magnetic field has been dislodged from its sclerosid condition and starts swirling. Actually, one is churning the magnetic field of the universe. Perhaps you know that the stars are pulling out to the churning of the magnetic field of the universe. It’s a kind of process of rebirthings, except one of the principles of alchemy is, especially Indian alchemy, called Rasiana. (?) It consists in going through all the stages that we went through in the course of our birth, but a new, start again, start from scratch with faith. This time, consciously and intentionally.
So, one of the things of course that stands in the way of our retreat concentration is thinking of ourselves as a body or what we imagined body to be. So, the first thing is to really become aware of the whole zone of energy surrounding the body and also permeating the body.
May I call it the magnetic field, it may not be the right word. In fact, a better word would be the light field, which includes lots of different factors. So, that’s the first thing if you could just to be aware of a kind of a zone of energy, magnetism around your shoulders and that’s how I feel it on the shoulders in the front of the heart center. And then one feels it very strongly around the head to clear on the temples and the top of the head, the crown.
Now one can feel it inside also, inside the body, like the energy that moves the cells and the molecules and atoms and electrons, protons. Now, this is very interesting, if you start simply churning this field, at least moving it with regard to the field of the environment, just like a whirlpool, as you move your head like in the zikr; that is, from the zenith toward the left and then the bottom right, back to the top again just simply as a circle. Disregard your breath for a moment. I don’t know whether you have the impression I have. It’s almost as though when we’re leaving the heavy body cells just a few inches behind one’s magnetic field as one moves that. At first, you think it’s your body that is moving your magnetic field and eventually it’s your magnetic field that is schlepping your body around.
Now you start with a very slight movement and gradually increase it so it becomes a spiral instead of a circle. Just think of the galaxies and the stars, that are all like spirals.
Actually there’s really two centers of this. In fact, you know, a spiral has more than one center. The circle has a center, but the spiral has one center and then there’s another one that is offset from the central one. So, I’m going to say that the center of this temple that we’re building is the altar. Well there’s the tabernacle, and then there is the altar with the candles on. The tabernacle is the solar plexus and the altar is the heart. So perhaps as you’re doing this, just become aware of the sacredness of the altar in the center of the temple that you’re building. That is, you see if you are circumambulating a center you strengthen your concentration in that center. In fact, I don’t know whether you have that impression. It’s really like two spirals, one moving centrifugal, and the other moving centralpetaly. So, while certain kind of energy is expanding as you rotate and then there’s another energy that seems to contract or concentrate, moving towards the center. And the feeling I have is that the energy that is moving towards the center is like energy that is getting finer and finer, and eventually it avers itself to be pure spirit. Right at the center is pure spirit. That is the Shekinah of the Kabbalah. Sufis call it Shekinah the Holy of Holies, Santum Sanctorum.
On one hand you are becoming more and more cosmic, or you becoming more more aware of the endless, infinite dimension of your being and on the other hand, you’re turning more within into what is Sufis call Batin. And the word Batin closely enough means finely woven. That is where everything is so very deeply intertwined or in inveigled with everything else that you don’t have this scene of life where every object occupies a different place, called the explicate state. Now you’ll find that when you’re working with the temple, you find that of course the same is true of your apartment or your kitchen and that is that there are certain things that one wants to reject or train away.
One wants to cleanse the temple. One find that it is very badly polluted, because somehow our pristine nature has been very badly defiled by the stress of our lives and emotions have arisen that have a tendency to draw one down away from one’s celestial inheritance. So, I must say this now, the alchemical process, the alchemists distinguish between what they call the dry process and the wet process. The dry process called Kelsinotsio (?), the fusing of the metal so that the dross, that is those aspects that are undesired or undesirable, will be drained off same. So, that’s a very drastic method. What are those elements in our psyche? They are resentment, at least where resentment has developed into hatred. Well, you know what yourselves, anything in you that you don’t like. You don’t have to go by what anybody else says, if you are happy with those idiosyncrasies then don’t get rid of them. It’s just that if the aspects in yourself that you don’t like. I think it’s also true to say that if we want to progress then we need to deal with the aspects that we don’t like about ourselves. So, that is the next stage when you break the circle when your head reaches the zenith by a vertical axis, your head moves down vertically, and you do that as you inhale. Why not explore new methods. Yes, you do have to inhale. That’s right. Yes, you do have to because you are you are exhaling in the circle. Now, as the head comes down you inhale and remember that this action by fire, what they called choosing metals, draining the extraneous matter, really does incur an act of your will. Fire representing the will. uncompromising and it’s possible that one is not being totally fair by using one’s to will.
You know this the ascetic way and the ascetic is uncompromising. Resentment is written in our programming because, at least anger is, because it acts as a deterrent against people who would violate our sacred space. And so we don’t want the spiritual quest to make us codependent. That’s why I’m not instructing, advising people to to get rid of their anger, but I’m saying that if there’s anything in you that you don’t like then this is the moment to act like St. George with a dragon. Just think of St. George’s and the dragon as the head comes down. You definitely eliminated, you definitely drain it out of your system altogether. That is why the motion of the head as it comes down is very drastic. Now, there’s always a counter movement, of course, and so as soon as one’s psyche is relieved of some of the dross, it shoots upwards right away, that’s by inhaling at this stage is very appropriate. It’s just like if you drop a lot of bags of sand out a balloon it rise very fast. So, you feel that as your head comes down.
Now, the dry method is followed by what is called the wet method, which is distillation you see. The dry method one puts the metals in the ethanol which is the oven and so methods are fused. In the wet method one uses the Alembic, the retort, and so that the liquid is now transmuted into vapor. This is distillation. Instead of rather drastically ridding oneself of those aspects of oneself that one doesn’t like. Now as one is inhaling, as one’s head is lifted, one identifies with the vapor that has freed itself from all those elements that were weighing upon it. There’s a marvelous sense of freedom. So it does not occur as an act of will, but rather as through the sheer joy of, the thrill of liberating oneself from those things that were weighing upon one.
Now, this is followed by a period where you are holding your breath, not inhaling. So when you inhale remember that the head comes down in the dry method and then rises in the wet method. Then on finds one center in the heart. I think you could say that, maybe I should come back on what I said about the spiral. I think you could say that the center, the main epicenter, of the spiral is the solar plexus, but when you have you have cleansed, when you have performed those two operations, we’ve just talked about, then you transfer your sense of the center of your being from the solar plexus to the heart center. So this is the time when you, now what I see is only, how can I say, first way of looking at it and that’s an elementary way of looking at it. It’s a little more complex than that, but see you have for one thing you have cleared a zone by the circular motion, you have cleared a space, which is that what the template is it’s a space it cleared. You have cleansed it. At least you have ousted the elements you didn’t want. You have found freedom within it, and now you are able to glorify at the altar. That’s where you hold your breath. You are the priest in the temple, not just the temple, you are also the priest in the temple.
So, if you are the priest, if you’re both the temple and priest, of course many other things too. You also the sweeper of the temple. Then it is the material aspect of yourself that represents the temple, I don’t say just the body, the subtle bodies, too. But then there’s a difference between the different identities that you come across. You had identified with the temple to start with and now you identify with another aspect of yourself that is not the temple. It not yet the precious stone. The precious stone is the tabernacle in the temple, but it’s the server, who is at the service of maintaining the sacredness of the Divine Presence. It is a different level of your being to the one that we worked with building the temple.
This is where the Sufi teaching about the hierarchy comes in very strongly. One isn’t alone. I think that’s very important because if we’re working to improve ourselves, we tend to think of ourselves as individuals. It’s good right from the start to realize that we’re all part of, well, the human family and the whole universe we are part of. We’re not alone. In physics one talks about orderliness. There is a government. The government has difficulty in a a firming itself. That’s true. One’s dedication to service of the hierarchy that is serving the divine order. I would say the key to initiation. As matter fact the alchemists were not allowed to perform, later on yes, but in the early days you weren’t allowed to perform their work unless they had been initiated. You know that is true of the Sufi order is is a pledge to serve that divine hierarchy.
I think we have to make it clear that to serve the hierarchy in its function, not the persons, but the function of ensuring the sacredness against defilement, entropy. So, perhaps you would, at this stage I have talks enough, so why don’t you, just perhaps you can remember all the things I said. Do the practice in your own rhythm by just making a lot of circles without bringing your head down. Start to really have a sense of those spirals. Spiral that is moving towards the center, the centripetal one.
You do identify yourself with your magnetic field rather than your body remember. Rather than just think of the magnetic field as homogeneous, think of it is made up of many different subtle bodies, one finer than the other. There are really just lots of spirals, extending and receding.
The finer one’s extend much further, seem to have less extension. Body seems to be limited by this skin, whereas the magnetic field is a little bit… well it doesn’t have a boundary, but still a certain point is much more difficult to, at a certain distance from the body, it is difficult to measure it. Whereas; very fine ones extend far out into space.
It’s useful to think of the stars and particularly galaxies. Then one realizes that as above so below. That one is really a miniature cosmos one’s self, a micro-cosmos, which forms with every other vortex a wave interference pattern, so that it’s everything is everywhere. Everything is inter-meshed with everything else without losing its own identity, which is one of the great paradoxes of life.
So the temple is vast. It’s not enclosing oneself, encapsulating oneself to someone’s identity, but it’s extending into the universe. Of course, the temple is intended to house people who come for prayer, so there’s room for people in that temple, but there are grades, there’s a gradation. So there is of course, the Sanctum Sanctorum, the Holy of Holies, where only the very few who are able to honor the sacredness that you feel admitted. Then at the periphery are those who are kind of, in some way attracted by the divine glory, but a little bit hesitant and then of course outside those who are not admitted really in the temple because they would destroy it, they would define it by sacrilege.
Right now perhaps you could start moving the head down. So actually, what you could do is make several circles as you exhale and then when you need to inhale then you bring your head down. It depends how fast you move of course. Perhaps you have noticed how when, after having acted rather violently upon those aspects of oneself that one wants to reject, one rebound they fast, just like a ball. It’s all done in one breath.
Inside the area of the temple is not totally homogeneous. As I said the closer one gets towards the center, but also there’s a difference between the bottom of the area of the temple in the top. It gets more and more rarefied as one reaches the top. That’s the realm of the Holy Spirit. And the thing about the third part, which is concentrating on the altar, the heart is that one brings the Holy Spirit down into the heart. In other words, a very high aspect of one’s being is incarnated, or is reincarnated, brought down into one’s heart. That is what the Christians call the quickening by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit that is always represented as being above, descends like a dove. upon the altar, pure white, albino. The Hesicasts, the early Christian hermits lived in the desert, called it theosis, the divinization of the human being.
I’d like to add that this is the secret of transformation. That in fact you cannot transform yourself by trying to rid yourself of the aspects of your being that you don’t like, nor develop the aspects that you’d like to develop. It doesn’t work that way. One has to touch upon the catalyst that sets off the operation and that is the Divine Spirit, the Holy Spirit.
Now, the downward motion followed by the upward motion is so fast, it takes place so fast, that one doesn’t have much opportunity to notice that there’s a kind of cover over one’s heart. One tried to get rid of the grosser aspect of it, all those things that one got rid as the head came down, but one will notice that it is one’s personal emotions that becloud, or enshroud the heart. That’s the bushel, the light under the bushel. So that the third stage does require not only the cleansing of the temple, but also dealing with residue at the purely emotional level that beclouds the heart.
The Sufi say, I think it was Rabia al Adawiyya, who said this, “There’s only room for God in my heart.”
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