Lead and Gold

Every year I intend to slow my pace and take the time to relish easing into the deepening winter, like a train arriving at its final station, the rhythm of its rapid motion gradually opening up into a satisfyingly steady chug. But this year, as with most lately, I have come instead to an emergency stop. It’s a long-held ambition to live in tune with the seasonal rhythms, but resisting the wild pace of contemporary life is not something I have yet mastered. This year I was tackled into a horizontal position by the virus that scuppered my last two family Christmases, and so much else besides since 2020.

After my initial horror, and one very sweaty and unbearable night, the notion crept into my awareness that I could take the unmistakable cue to Stop Right Here, as a gift. More often than not, finding gratitude for illness is a hard pill to swallow as it comes with plenty of discomfort; FOMO and in my case the monkey-mind which, although my muscles and bones are calling for stillness, is still racing up and down the projects and ‘to-do’s, unwilling to let them slide.

But this time I chose powerfully to sink into place. I sat down (when I wasn’t lying down) lit my candles and turned away from the ‘to-do’s. I saw my chance to listen inwardly, deepen my inner stillness and from there find resource. It always feels like taking deep care of my self, to notice and honour exactly what there is to feel in my lived present. It is the touchstone of my practice and my own healing. So, it is never more nourishing than when that lived present is painful, imperfect, aching and stuffed up. Everything softens, and then its noticeable that there’s more than the symptoms, way more to be revealed, heard and held. I can listen for my resistance, my resentment, my resilience and my compassion, notice what battlefields I am fighting on and whether I can lay down my armour and my arms or not.

And that is not all there is to welcoming what insights illness can offer us. I took the opportunity whilst laid up to dive back into the inspiring pages of the most wonderful book I have read on the principles and practice of Five Element Chinese medicine: Five Spirits by Lorie Eve Dechar. This book has to be read to grasp the depth of the writer’s understanding and commitment to transformational healing. Her writing resonated again, with my personal experience of how and why the invocation of the mythological parts of ourselves fuels the shifting of psychic energy. This powers real physical and emotional transformation through processes that remain exquisitely & necessarily mysterious. I paid particular attention on this reading, to what is referred to in ancient Taoist Alchemical tradition as ‘left-over chaos’. I think I brushed over this part on previous reading, which is just what we are liable to do with ‘left-over chaos’. It’s the muck, the odd bits and unsavoury bits that emerge in the process of creation, unavoidable side-products of the splitting of eternal oneness of Tao into the opposites that create everything in the manifest cosmos. Crucially this left-over unwanted stuff; ‘sludge that accumulates at the bottom of the engine or the dregs at the bottom of the soup pot that no-one wants to eat’; corresponds to our irritating symptoms, our persistent negative emotions, personality traits we want to kick out, our obsessions, pains and bugbears: signs of disorder that cry to be engaged with and somehow reintegrated into the whole. These show the way to elements haven’t been factored into the sum total of a person: they are our alarm calls, and invaluable signposts on the way of the healing process. Though maddening, they are the most valuable tool we have: precisely the ‘treasure in the trash’. Our pathologies are the very stuff of transformation, to an inner alchemist, the lead that can be turned to gold.

The place that transformation takes place is in the deepest darkness, the yin womb where light is received and ignites the never seen before. Its where we have to go at endings. And beginnings. Dropping down like lead. It is the shortest day of the year. The darkest day of the year and the point of deepest descent. Hold steady for the sparking of the new and unknown that can only happen once you’ve reached this depth, quiet and emptiness.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top