Living the Dream The Alchemy of Inner Work
Alchemy is the art of living in the daytime with your night eyes open. Once you enter the alchemical laboratory, the distinct delineation of the sunlit world begins to blur. Sleeping and waking are no longer opposites but rather exist on a spectrum of conscious and unconscious existence. Real and imaginal modify each other as you open to a twilight awareness quite different from the radical certainty of modern reason. To enter the laboratory, you must pass through a gate to a place you both know and have never known before. The simplest things—a cup of water, a star-shaped leaf, the scent of honeysuckle, a black crow pecking in the snow— take on meaning, become beacons, night lights, reminders of truths, and guides to next steps.
The work of modern-day alchemy is also the art of living in the night world with your daytime vision engaged. Unlike the trance states induced by a magical drumbeat, rhythmic incantation, and whirling dance of shamanic healing or the ego dissolution and spontaneously expanded states of hallucinogenic plant medicine, alchemical practices require conscious, engaged participation over time. The tools and practices of alchemy are meant to strengthen the relationship between your unbounded spiritual awareness and your unique, individuated self as well as between you and the living wisdom of the planets, plants, minerals, and beings of the world we inhabit.
In order to be effective in the alchemical laboratory and survive the disassembling challenges of transformational healing, you need to stay firmly in touch with your critical mind and capacity for rational evaluation as well as with your imagination, your body wisdom, and your heart. As an alchemist, rather than abandon the dream world to a busy morning, you steadfastly cultivate an ongoing practice of relating to your dreams. You use your conscious mind to initiate a pause. You take a few minutes to reflect. Why did my grandmother come last night covered in a blue veil, carrying a basket of starfish? Why did I dream about the old shingle house with the unhinged door banging in the wind? Why is there a kangaroo standing just outside my car window? Why do I keep coming across that same leather-bound notebook? What does it remind me of? Who gave it to me? What message do I need to write on its parchment pages?
The goal of alchemical work is not to split night and day apart or to fuse them together, but rather to resolve the paradox they present. Our work is to stay in relationship with the sun and the moon—to our thinking mind as well as our imaginal awareness—as they exist in us simultaneously. The resolution of this paradox allows you to perceive reality as it is—not a prison of matter devoid of meaning, endless bills, exhausting work, ten-second blips of disheartening media, and debilitating aches and pains, but equally not an idealistic spiritual fantasy that dead-ends in addictive numbing, fundamentalist repressive religious dogma, denial strategies, or dissociation.
In those rare moments when my day and night eyes see at the same time through the same window, time and eternity collide. When I no longer know if I am dreaming the world or the world is dreaming me, I wake up. I remember a world I knew before I had words to describe it, a world that waits just around the corner of morning and hides behind the curtain of the night. Remembering to remember all this is the gift of dream work.
Adapted, and reprinted with permission from Weiser Books, an imprint of Red Wheel/Weiser, The Alchemy of Inner Work by Lorie Eve Dechar with Benjamin Fox is available wherever books and ebooks are sold or directly from the publisher at
www.redwheelweiser.com or 800-423-7087