For the past two thousand years or more, alchemists have been investigating the spiritual nature of carbon-based life or what could also be described as “the soul’s journey on planet Earth.” Alchemists got good at understanding organic processes – how things gestate, sprout, blossom, fruit and seed; in other words, how living beings transform over time.
Throughout my thirty years of practice as an acupuncturist and alchemical healer, my interest has also focused on the soul – my own and my patients’ as well as the soul of the world – the animals, plants as well as the elements of water, wood, fire, earth and metal. Learning to understand and relate to the subtle energies that move and move through living beings has been the goal of my exploration.
That is why when my husband, Benjamin, suggested that we consider building a website and bringing our alchemical work to the internet, my first response was, “No way! Can’t be done!” Alchemy developed in organic, carbon-based reality where myth, magic and spiritual mystery rather than technology reigned supreme. Alchemy takes time. Its laboratory is the body and the natural world. It comes to life in relationship, in inter-active energetic fields of connection. And beyond all that, alchemy has traditionally been a secret teaching that was transmitted through symbols and riddles not well suited to the mini-bites of web communication. For example, it’s one thing to watch a 30 second time-lapse video of a sprouting seed on YouTube. It’s another thing to meditate for weeks on the burial of the seed, the long dormancy and the first emergence of the pale dicotyledon, and then to observe the miraculous greening as the two tiny new-born leaves devour their first packets of sunlight.
But Benjamin, as well as others who were experiencing our work, continued arguing in favor of the new site. “Not everyone can have an in-person experience of alchemical healing.” “People need access to this information at a time when the world so desperately needs transformation.” And one participant at an Esalen workshop that Benjamin and I co-led, scion to an old lumber and paper-making business empire, sat me down and said, “Books are antiquated. Soon all information will be electronically transmitted. You have to figure this out.”
All these messages got me thinking. What does alchemy look like now? How will it look in the future? As we move into an ever-increasing inter-dependency between carbon-based and silicone-based intelligence, what happens to our notion of the soul?
Silicon-based intelligence exists in a post-dimensional space that often seems to dangerously over-take our embodied sense of being-ness. Creatures of the silicon world exist outside of time and seem nearly immortal (our Facebook selves will leave their footprints in the cyber world long after our corporeal bodies and the selves they sustain have disintegrated). So questions arise:
When I enter silicone-based reality, do the precepts of alchemy still apply?
If the silicone world does not follow the cycle of the seasons, the cyclic soul processes of conception, gestation, birth, blossoming, fruition and death, what is its pattern of growth and development, its true dance and song? How do I encounter this intelligence yet not become myself siliconized and lost to my own alchemy, my soul’s capacity for spiritual transformation?
And then, most provokingly, does the silicone based world – like the carbon-based world – also mirror some kind of divine presence? Does it have its own Tao? Or is my iPad merely a distorted mirror of me? Like the legendary enchanted reflecting pools of the ancients, does my computer screen swallow my soul and show me only my own narcissistic reflection?
I was pondering these questions when I came across the words of Maria Prophetissa, also known as Maria the Jewess, one of the great sages of alchemy and the earliest known woman alchemist. In one of her most famous aphorisms, Maria said, “Join the male and the female, and you will find what is sought.” Leaving aside the gender implications and focusing on the essence of what Maria is saying, we recognize that it is through the union of opposites that the ultimate goal of alchemy is achieved. This joining together of opposites is the Great Work that leads us to what we are seeking – the birth of a new wholeness.
Alchemists throughout space and time tell us that the energy of this union – the only reconstituting agent that actually works – is love. And this, proclaims Maria, is the secret. Love is the connecting link between opposites and between worlds. “There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning,” wrote Thornton Wilder at the end of his 1928 Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Bridge of San Luis Rey, and 500 years earlier, Judah Abrabanel, one of the foremost thinkers of the Renaissance wrote, “Love is the vilifying spirit penetrating all the world and a bond uniting the whole Universe.”
So as we move forward with the growth of A New Possibility, our community and our site for modern-day alchemy, I am taking Maria’s words along with me. I understand that the answer to my quandary about the Internet lies in the attitude and energy that I bring to my engagement with it. The cyber world, despite its plastic, metal and silicone nervous system, is responsive to my energies, intentions and emotional states just as is the carbon-based world. As Lynne McTaggart points out in her book The Field, the more sensitive the research instruments being created, the more apparent is the influence of the researcher’s attitude on the operations. This truth is one the alchemists have understood from the beginning of their investigations.
As I come closer to understanding my relationship to the cyber world, I am beginning to believe that as we humans broaden the scope of our capacities for processing information, we will discover that there is no intelligence that is completely unresponsive to psychic energy. There is no place where the soul cannot find a foothold. The issue is whether or not we choose to take responsibility for what we bring to the world – to any world – we engage with, how we stay in relationship to the energies we encounter.
So if we enter cyberspace driven by greed for money or power, we will create a soulless wasteland no different from the wastelands we have already created on our planet. But if we take Maria’s injunction to heart and come to the cyber community with an attitude of generosity, centered intention, and love, there is no end to the alchemy we can create.