They are always with us, mothers of myriad worlds, lighting countless nights, each the pivot of her own system, pouring out her own flame whether there be a planet there to catch it or not. They are patterns in the sky, bright orbs, guiding lights, shining spheres—our own compassionate sun a sister among them.
A star, though equally exposed on all sides, cannot be taken from behind. She is fully herself, so transparent one may not look on her long: a beautiful picture of empowered vulnerability. She illumines all her own, effortless in her generosity, as each shines for her sisters of her mother’s light. Once, upon seeing our own world’s sister (the morning star), the Buddha said:
It is lovely to know the stars at the Summer Solstice, just as the sun dips below the Northwestern horizon, and before the moon rises high and bright to add her own magic to the clouds. We can see them only in the lee of our sun’s bathing light, hid behind our own world’s shoulder…oh for the beauty known only in the shadow of the earth!
How well do you know the touch of the stars? Have you ever pondered their pattern, felt their tides of sorrow or joy? Have you looked for them late in the evening, or come out to them before dawn? Have you let their light reach you?
But the touch of the stars is the song from which all things were made. It is the fire of all suns, a chorus of radiance, the music of their tug upon one another, their worlds, and their beings. It would be a sorrow to have lived, and to have missed it.
- Transmission of Light, translated by Thomas Cleary
- Kensho: The Heart of Zen, translated by Thomas Cleary
Tension is the nature of diversity, and diversity is beautiful, whether it resonates of harmony or dissonance. Harmony is itself the resolution diversity asks for, and dissonance is the asking. The I Ching says it this way:
But harmony is only possible after there has been a parting, and dissonance, the agony of desire, only intensifies as resolve nears, yearns until unison is found. Songs are born of them:
Genders diverge this way, then long to meet. They are diverse and expressive as they evolve within individuals, cultures, and species like language and thought. They are an expression of who we are through what we are made of, the shape of our own restless flames: they have never been confined to Male and Female.
In our own gestation process, Female is first, Male comes later, a specialization. But they are not two, not only two: they are as fluid as the process they are born from, like the path of water pulled from sea into cloud, then drawn from cloud back into sea, forever in dance whether in sparkle of dew or turbulence of storm. They are like the romance of Sea and Sky.
But in between they are beauty and mystery, neither Sky nor Sea, expressing our world. They are mists rising from rivers, clouds hanging between hills. They are the dust of falling flakes, the flare of sun showers, bouts of cloudburst; they are tricks of hovering haze, spells of steaming hot springs, and plumes of erupting geysers. They are colors of coming and going, songs of departure and reunion.
We are born just as we are into the heat of such tension, springing brightly as sparks from the blaze, leaping lightly as melodies from taut strings. Embrace it, for it is from the chaos of tension itself that harmony is born.
Alchemy: level the furnace, add the ingredients, prepare the catalyst and the harmonizing agents, seal the cauldron…and then begin the firing process. These are the demands of the work, and once begun, timing is everything. The work itself is volatile, but that’s why the results are transformative.
Stories are worth making, worth telling. They say much in a few words, because in fact they are not made of the words themselves. Instead they become a vessel in which their words have meaning, presenting a context that brings their words to life. But the storyteller is to stories, what stories are to words: a cauldron that gives them life. But this process doesn’t just happen by chance.
The work is difficult, but worthwhile, because once accepted, stories change minds, redirect flows of thought, spark new ideas or create interactions between old ones. They can be rejuvenating, or potent like a medicine (an imbalance to correct an imbalance), or they can become infectious. They are an alchemy of thought from which perspectives arise, and not even the teller will come away unaffected. In this they are like the dangerous work of internal alchemy.
So what is leveling the furnace? It’s making sure of your ground, of your basis. As the alchemist, you have the most at stake. Your thought should be in accord with reality as is or it will not hold up. A false story will reveal you; your bias will show. You should be sure of this beforehand: will you come out of this process with your sanity, or will you lose something? If it’s level, the cauldron won’t spill.
The ingredients are what is to be transformed. They are the behaviors or thought patterns you want to affect. You must know them as your own, and be able to choose them wisely: the wrong ones will turn out badly, and too many saturate the brew. How well do you know the subject matter you are working with? There cannot be any guesswork or the elixir will be ruined.
Preparing the catalyst and readying the harmonizing agents is a practice; it is the apothecary’s craft. It takes time to develop these, because it is already difficult to be a vessel for evocative ideas, let alone being capable of administering them to others. Catalysts ignite, harmonizing agents make receptive: have you refined your ideas, tempered them, worked them out with others? Will they be medicine or poison? Regret will be useless once the firing process has begun.
When the contents are ready it’s time to seal the cauldron. The work is delicate: it must proceed without interruption, and you must be vigilant. You must respect the work, commit to it: you are the alchemist, you cannot look to others or it will boil over and the ingredients will be wasted. Are you ready to embrace the fierce internal pressure of the transformative work? It depends on you alone.
Finally, there is the firing process itself, where it all comes to life. This may be in the writing or in the telling, but it has a life of its own. The writer draws from her living connection, the storyteller from her source and the listeners themselves. There is no room for doubt or further considerations at this point: light the fire, stoke the flame, cool and hot, listen and watch, add the mercury, stabilize it with the lead. If the furnace is level and the cauldron sealed, the work will progress, and the elixir will take form. Are you ready to risk the alchemical process?
The alchemy of storytelling is your own task of self transformation.