Between you and anything that you might wish to influence there is a relationship. If either party in a relationship changes, the relationship itself is changed. In turn, any change in the relationship changes both parties. So if you wish to change something, the first thing you must do is discover the true nature of your relationship to it. Then you will be able to see how to change it by changing yourself. This is the basic logic of alchemy.
– Catherine MacCoun
It’s a hard truth to understand that everything boils down to how we engage and relate to each experience. We humans are a really resistant bunch. We love to look at everything/everyone else and tell it/them to change and just how to do it. We exert a lot of energy into trying to make things different in our experience so we don’t feel out of control, anxious, scared, etc. inside. We avoid sharing what the painful experience in our hearts is in favor of anger, criticism, and attempts to control another so we can feel at ease. We run away from ourselves and from our experiences so much, thinking that we’ll be safer that way. Only problem is that we usually leave a trail of destruction, hurting others we love, cycling through addiction, alienating ourselves from the connections we truly want, and waking up to find we don’t like the way our lives look and feel to us. We’re usually asking ourselves, how did I end up here?
My answer is that we ended up there because we left ourselves over and over again. We weren’t listening or paying attention to what was happening inside of us and fully engaging in relationship with that inner experience. We kept trying to find a way to run away from that inner experience because we were uncomfortable. In my case, its how one day I could wake up and find that I’d spent almost a decade in a relationship that ate away at my soul, and I came out of it with an enormous mess to clean up all alone with two kids to provide and care for and no means to do that.
I’ve been working with this practice of engaging each experience solely based on what is happening within me because of the experience. What is challenging is that I always want to do something about it outwardly or run away from it, so it really takes a lot practice. The mind will try to tell you that you need to yell at someone or go have a drink or think about something else or try immediately to fix the experience.
So now I do my best to engage all the sensations in my body, feel the core emotion happening in there, love myself like a parent would a child, and start an inquiry about what’s really happening and whether there’s another way to look at it. If I’m angry I feel every sensation of that anger and really notice where I want to pull away from it or change it. I’m more honest now about my inner experience where before I would try to sugarcoat or keep anyone from knowing what I was truly experiencing.
What I’ve learned is the greatest intimacy and connection comes from sharing how sometimes sad and volatile my inner experience can be. I’m striving to be someone who can sit in that experience with another and not try to change them or fix their feelings. I can only do this by practicing it with myself. When I do it, I often find myself led to realizations about what is really happening with me that I didn’t see before. I’m led to myself, and the discoveries are so eye opening.
The experiencing of a thing, an emotion that arises from an outward circumstance, changes me but only if I fully let it. When it’s done with me and I’ve lent all of my consciousness to myself in those moments, I’m now looking with different eyes upon the same situation, experiencing it differently, and then often the situation changes.
I find this hardest to practice with my 12-year-old daughter. I want her to change how she does things because her actions often bring up huge amounts of charged emotion in me. That emotion is in me and has always been there. She didn’t come along and drop it into me. She came along and pushed the button that caused it to erupt and spill all over the place. It is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done to try to stay present with myself as I experience it and not lash out at her. I lose that battle often and then I try again. I try again to engage it and change me knowing that my relationship to her actions is about control. She makes me feel out of control and it’s terrifying. When I’m terrified I try even harder to control and it isn’t pretty. Letting myself feel terrified may be a tall order but it keeps me in relationship with me and from there I can share my inner experience with her and the healing happens. I can’t say I’m fully there or maybe even close but I’m committed to the practice.
Emotional alchemy is me changing me through the full engagement and experience of my emotion. Using the power of my heart to transform what I feel. Then I can change my relationship to the experience and the world I experience changes. If everyone gave this level of personal accountability a try, we’d be experiencing a very different world together.