If you are willing to put some energy into learning the basic principles of change, you’ll find that your bliss is right there – like snow on a ski field. I can’t recommend living your bliss highly enough. It is the most thrilling pastime I have ever come across.
Recently I had the pleasure of lunching with one of my brother-in-laws, whom I had not met before. As everyone usually does, there came the point when he asked me to describe what I do for a living. I always find it difficult to explain exactly what I do because my vocation, if that’s the word, is so multi-faceted, but I thought I must have done a good job when my relative responded by saying, “Well, I guess there are many people like myself who would love to leverage their passion into a satisfying way of life.” They were not the words I had used, though exquisitely spot-on.
Joseph Campbell, the mythology guru, always asserted that the highest potential of we humans is to live our bliss. It’s a wonderful ideal, evoking an incredible sense of passion and freedom. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be in a position to do exactly what they would love to be doing, being who they would love to be, and – luxury of luxuries – still having their world conform to the way they would love it to be? After all, that pretty much sounds like a description of heaven, and, sadly, while virtually everyone dreams of heaven, not many people get there.
In the Bible we find the classic saying: “Many are called but few are chosen.” I’m sure something has been lost in translation there. I don’t believe in a chosen few. It’s more conceivable that, of the many called, only a few work out how to follow the calling. The one thing in life that still takes me by surprise is when people say how much they would love to follow their bliss if only things were different. Even people that we would normally perceive as powerful betray their lack of true power by uttering words to that effect. I remember meeting the director of one of Australia’s big four banks who told me: “I’d just love to play music but I have a wife and three kids.”
Sadder still are those who try and then fail, reinforcing the idea that following your dream is just that – a delusion. A lady came to see me once, very disillusioned with the universe and the whole notion of “do what you love and the rest will follow”. She had given up her job as a senior nurse in a big hospital, taken out a whopping great loan and gone travelling, expecting some great new direction to unfold for her. She was shocked when all that happened overseas was that her money ran out.
The reason people don’t get to heaven is because they can’t see how they can reach it from where they are. Sometimes, the desperate or the half informed take the dumb hero option and throw themselves over the edge in the hope of being rescued by some miracle, only to be “dashed against the rocks by reason of their own folly”, as the Hermetic philosophers liked to say. This creates a cosmic paradox, in that to do what you love you just have to begin doing it, and yet, when people seemingly do take unconditional action in following their dreams, they are generally bound for failure. Most people are aware of the statistic that nine out of ten new businesses fail.
Nevertheless, just because people don’t know how to change, it doesn’t mean that change can’t be managed in a very effective and powerful way. The first time I tried skiing, I seriously believed it was impossible until an instructor taught me the principles involved, after which I began to enjoy the second most thrilling pastime I have ever come across. Most things are easy, never mind possible, if we just understand the principles involved. Successful change is facilitated by its own set of principles.
Joseph Campbell was so interested in mythology because he discerned in the collective wisdom of the ages a consistent blueprint for self-actualisation, a dynamic in which we shift from being the slave of our conditioning to following the sovereign calling of our hearts. As I understand it, alchemy is the time-honoured study of this process. If, as physicist Amit Goswami says, quantum physics is the science of possibilities, alchemy is the science of intentionally shifting from one possibility to another, one paradigm to another, i.e., transmuting states of mind.
While self-actualisation involves a dramatic shift in consciousness, one that transports the initiated into a parallel universe, it is still governed by a set of principles that is no harder to handle than learning to become a good skier. With 16 years of practising and teaching alchemy under my belt, I propose that there are five essential steps that will lead inexorably to anyone being transformed from gobbling turkey to soaring eagle. Follow these steps and you’re guaranteed to leverage your passion into a very satisfying way of life.
Step 1: Take the time to learn how you create your own reality
In metaphysical terms the feminine principle is considered to be the creative aspect, and as the feminine aspect of mind, your subconscious is the part of you that creates your reality. In many traditions as diverse as Neoplatonic philosophy and the Kahuna culture of Hawaii you will find the premise of three levels of consciousness: the super conscious, being our higher mind or self; the self conscious, being our waking, rationalising self; and our unconscious, the limited, conditioned self. These levels of self are constantly providing input into the subconscious, which then creates according to the messages it receives.
I think that it’s important to note, first, that the subconscious makes no moral or ethical distinctions. It is a fertile void, and what gets planted in that void grows out of it. Secondly, the subconscious is constantly receiving messages, many of them contradictory. So it determines which messages have the power, and then creates them. Metaphysically speaking, the state of your life at any given time is a reflection of which messages in your consciousness are being given the most energy.
Step 2: Develop your awareness
While everyone may know that they have one set of eyes through which they see the world, few people realise that two distinct personalities share those eyes, and that what they see when they look out at the world are totally different pictures. Both the super conscious and the unconscious have their own modes of awareness.
The unconscious mode of awareness is perception, which means experiencing reality through the senses, mainly thoughts and feelings. Perception is very tricky because, while it appears to be conveying reality, it is actually conveying our conditioning. The definitions we hold unconsciously about ourselves, others and the world create an impression consistent with what we believe, not with what is.
Intuition is our super conscious mode of awareness. It is the awareness we experience outside of our thoughts and feelings, free of our limited notions of time and space. When we try and work things out, we subconsciously refer to the definitions stored in our unconscious, thereby triggering our perception. Intuition is born of innocence, that quality of not needing to figure everything out.
The quality of information that these two modes of awareness gives us is vastly different, and as a conscious creator, you need to know the difference between them, and be able to tell which one you’re being informed by in any given moment.
Step 3: Know your identity
They say that a fish doesn’t know the water it is swimming in, and so too are we so steeped in our identities that we cannot see them without the proper awareness. Your identity is the person you have become by adapting to how you believe yourself, others and the world are. Your identity is great in that it gives you your personality, your passion and your humanness. At the same time, it is the part of you that is always working on ensuring the conditions it believes your safety and survival depend on. It is the part of you that creates the impression that you are not ready for change.
While our lives can seem incredibly diverse and complex, our identity is surprisingly basic, and as a consequence, limits us to an equally narrow range of fundamental experience. Our beliefs and perceptions, and the patterns of behaviour and experience they manifest, become easily identifiable with the aid of personality typing systems like the enneagram, astrology or numerology, and the deeper, objective awareness of a functionally developed intuition.
Step 4: Know your passion
If you truly love something, it means that you want it for its own sake, not because you believe it will get you something else in turn. The nurse I mentioned before did not go for what she loved; she did what she believed she had to do to force a shift in her life. Magic does happen when you go for what you love, but the truth is most people simply do not have the awareness to know what really matters to them. They fail to see how their identity is tied up in what they go for, and thereby do more to perpetuate their identity than move towards their bliss.
True end results are easy to manifest. The trick is to discern true end results from egoic agendas, which entails sinking through your perceptions to the vision of your heart. The ability to get out of your own way and stand in innocence is crucial to uncovering your genuine passion.
Step 5: Prepare yourself for what it takes
To quote Dr. Stephen Covey, “Personality will only get you so far, but character will take you all the way.” One of the negative side effects of the self-help movement has been the proliferation of the magic bullet fantasy. People have been encouraged to assume that there is some belief clearing technique, some affirmation, some magical insight, some do-good practice that will change their lives without their having to contribute anything from within themselves.
When you understand alchemy, though, it is a function of inner harmony – tolerating all the forces at play in your consciousness, not giving them any energy until you’re clear where you want the power to be. You assign your unconscious messages the power by reacting to your thoughts and feelings, and you give your super conscious input the power by making centred choices. Character, as I understand it, is not about avoiding painful feelings, but about upholding a set of values. And the value at the heart of alchemy is serving inner truth.
My old mentor, Scott Washington, used to say to me, “Don’t be a seeker – be a finder.” If you insist on searching for the magic bullet, good luck, but if you are willing to put some energy into learning the basic principles of change, you’ll find that your bliss is right there – like snow on a ski field. I can’t recommend living your bliss highly enough. It is the most thrilling pastime I have ever come across.
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