Alchemy eh? Well before we get onto what I think, here’s what good old Wikipedia has to say …
Alchemy is an influential philosophical tradition whose practitioners have, from antiquity, claimed it to be the precursor to profound powers. The defining objectives of alchemy are varied, but historically have typically included one or more of the following goals: the creation of the fabled philosopher’s stone; the ability to transform base metals into the noble metals (gold or silver); and development of an elixir of life, which would confer youth and longevity. Alchemy is recognized as a protoscience that contributed to the development of modern chemistry and medicine. Alchemists developed a framework of theory, terminology, experimental process and basic laboratory techniques that are still recognizable today. But alchemy differs significantly from modern science in its inclusion of Hermetic principles and practices related to mythology, magic, religion, and spirituality.
And now for the quote that has lead me to write a post about it..
“You are an alchemist capable of turning your pain into art, transforming negativity into creativity, anger into compassion. Face it – you need garbage to make compost.
It takes commitment to traverse mountains of bullshit in the dark; there’s no way out but through. You’ll also need a sense of humour, trust me”
– Gabrielle Roth
As I shared with my students today, lately I’ve been highly inspired by the wise and beautiful words of (the late) Gabrielle Roth, creator of the 5 rhythms dance movement. The quote above is one of my favourites from her book ‘Sweat Your Prayers’.
5 rhythms is a spontaneous dance, a deeply connected form of movement therapy that roots the dancer into the archetypal energies of their being. “Therapy, I don’t need therapy!” Honey – we all need therapy, and we get it whenever we feel good in a wholesome deep down kind of way. Like reading a book, cooking, walking in the country, doing yoga… not shopping in the mall, or frowning at a spreadsheet. You get the idea. Dancing the 5 rhythms lets you feel totally wild and free. It’s basically like one big conscious rave. The hardest part is letting go of your inhibitions – but that’s another subject altogether!
So as the name suggests, there are 5 types of rhythm that you’ll hear in a typical ‘5 rhythms class’, each one distinctive and designed to tap into different parts of our personality, our soul, our history, our energies. By the end, you’ll have danced yourself through a musical circle of life, from flowing to staccato, chaos to lyrical, and ending in stillness. It’s a bit like a yoga class except it’s up to you how you move. The way it’s like yoga is twofold. First, you move with the breath and to your ‘own tune’ -breathing into the parts of you that are tight, anxious, sad or confused – and that’s a personal process. Second, you draw all those disconnected pieces of yourself – the missing bits of the jigsaw puzzle that is you – back together. The breath is the tool for your own personal transformation, your own alchemical healing. In dance and yoga we can face some pretty strong emotions – as one of my students said this morning. We can choose to face it and work through it or back off into a comfort zone. Unless we stay with it, we’ll never know what’s on the other side, and we’ll never expand..
“Astronomers tell us that most of the universe is made up of invisible missing mass known as dark matter. Some of them see light coming out of this dark matter. I do. And in the stillpoint of this light I see the alchemist spinning fear into love and pain into prayer” – more of the good stuff from Gabrielle.
Ah, we’re all made of stars right?
So this is where I get to connect Gabrielle’s theory of alchemy with some teachings from one of the great contemporary leaders in the yoga world – Ana Forrest. Ana talks about transforming the negative energy of fear into power and strength. She talks about getting up close to your fear and working through it (something she knows a lot about having suffered horrendous abuse as a child which she describes in her book ‘Fierce Medicine’). I guess we’re all familiar with the popular phrase from the well-known book, ‘Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway’? It’s the same idea. Ana has developed her own form of yoga therapy for processing difficult emotions. I’m just exploring this at the moment, so will probably share more about this in the weeks to come.
Both yoga and the 5 rhythms are about the weaving back together of our disparate parts to find more energy and harmony in our lives. The structure of a yoga class will activate and balance all the energy centres or chakras, just as a 5 rhythms class will activate all the tribal elements of your being. Both practices take you on a journey deep inside to that part of you that is unchanging, ever present and defiant of that phrase ‘the only constant is change’. It is only by working through and fully embracing all the moving elements of ourselves that we can learn how to change our day to day reality. The breath is the key to unlocking our alchemical revolution…