Emotional Alchemy: Holding the Pain, Transmuting the Darkness

Emotional Alchemy: Holding the Pain, Transmuting the DarknessMy contention is that if we really want to get in the evolutionary fast lane, we’ll dedicate one hour a day to our meditation practice. For most people, mornings are the best time—before the world gets going and our opportunity to sit quietly slips away. So many of us tend to make excuses and skip our practice if we don’t do it first thing. If we put first things first—our meditation and interior practice—it is not time wasted. In other words, time spent sharpening the sword, or sharpening the plow, or whatever our instrument is, is not time wasted, because we’ll get the job done much more easily, more gracefully, and more creatively. More often than not, we’ll wind up doing just what we’re supposed to be doing. If you get your practice embedded in your morning routine, I think that within a few months—or a few days—you will profoundly agree with me.

Another thing we need to learn how to do is to hold the pain that comes up for as long as it takes. For example, a couple of weeks ago, I went through a meditation and felt like I was in a deep, deep place of pain and despair. It felt really heavy, and it felt bigger than just my own personal stuff. There are different levels that we can tap into when we are dealing with this stuff, just like we can tune into alternate radio stations. Sometimes, the pain and suffering we encounter is in the realm of the collective. In this level, things seem to not even be time-related; it’s like past, present, and future are all together. So, I listened to the heart-of-pain in my body, and held it, for an hour. It was deep.

It’s really hard to sit in the soup, to stand in the transformational fire of the pain and the hurt, but this is what we’re called to do in order to grow spiritually. A lot of it is just training ourselves to stay there and not run. Often, we say things like: “Oh my God, I’ve got to go! Let me get on the internet. Let me logon to Facebook. Let me play a computer game. Let me have a drink. Let me get distracted. I’ll go visit a friend. I’ll walk the dog…” Pain is seen as the enemy and something to be overcome, whereas, actually, it is our ally and our great teacher. The process of this is not just to be happy, it’s to wake up! And in order to wake up, we have to include it all—all of the states that arise in the vastness of our own essential, true selves.

Later on that day, I did the practice for two more hours. I just sank into it, and sure enough, it finally began to lift. I’ve gone through this process many times, both personally and with the people that I work with. Eventually, it’s like, “Okay. I’m okay. The darkness has transmuted. It has shifted.”

My brilliant Integral Recovery intensive assistant, Charlie Hopper, and I were talking about this process of transmutation, and he pointed out that what we are doing is emotional alchemy. Carl Jung wrote a lot about this, and a lot of Jungians talk about the alchemy of the spirit. There is the exoteric, or outer, alchemy that people have tried mucking around with—trying to create gold out of lead, or refining baser metals into more refined metals. But the real heart, the esoteric aspect of alchemy, is the inner work and transmuting the darkness of the human soul and spirit into the light of wisdom and compassion—the awakened self. That’s what this feels like.

Emotional Alchemy: Holding the Pain, Transmuting the Darkness

Cultivating the capacity to hang out with the pain that arises in our meditation practice also makes us more compassionate, because we really have to expand our borders in order to handle that kind of deep pain. If the pain gets too deep, we have to expand into a limitless awareness—God self, spirit self, Buddha nature, however you want to say that—in order to be able to handle it all. When we do that, it’s pretty damn easy, because this deep spaciousness, consciousness, awareness, witness, emptiness, whatever this mystery is, and however we language it, is truly without boundaries. It’s truly infinite. It can take the suffering of the whole planet or the suffering of a million universes all at the same time, because it is boundless and its nature is wise, loving, and very good. It is such a mystery; everything seems to emerge from this essential witness.

A couple of days after I had this recent experience, a client, a recovering alcoholic, called me (or texted me) and said, “I’m really depressed. I kind of want to drink, but it’s not so much that I want to drink—I just want to die.” This is the same deep kind of despair and depression that I am personally well acquainted with, and when she said, “I meditated an hour and I’m still just here,” I said, “Well, meditate more hours.”

The next day, I got a text that read, “I meditated four and a half hours…” (And that, by the way, is heroic, but hey, sometimes it takes heroic measures when you’re really, really suffering.) She said, “You know, I’m better. It was so big. It was huge. It was the whole universe, and then it just diminished and diminished. I’m okay now. Thank you.” I found that really inspiring.

It is essential that we share our stories with each other about our practice, and about how we learn to do this inner alchemy—how we learn to transmute our so-called deficits, wounds, hurts, traumas, all of the awful things that happened to us, and the process of being in the world into wisdom, compassion, love, joy, creativity, goodness, and caring. It’s a truly remarkable process, an inner miracle. We are the alchemical vessels; we are the heart; we are the Holy Grail. We are the container in which the miracle can happen, if we know the formula, know how to use the tools, and know how to put these things together like the alchemist.

And now, with meditation technologies such as brainwave entrainment, biofield technology, and the Profound Meditation Program, we have these incredible new tools that put us into these deep, deep states and get us to deep, deep levels, where transformation can really happen. Then we have to bless the darkness, bless the pain, bless the despair, bless the rage, bless the homicidal stuff, bless the suicidal stuff, just keep blessing and blessing, being with it and letting it express itself in the soma, in the vessel, in the Holy Grail of ourselves. From that, the gold, the beautiful light, the love, the healing, and the engaged compassionate self emerges—at a time when we’re all really needed to show up in this way.


Adapted from iAwake Technologies’ free, weekly teleconference call on April 17, 2013.

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John DupuyJohn Dupuy is the CEO of iAwake Technologies and the founder of Integral Recovery, a holistic addiction treatment approach inspired by Ken Wilber’s Integral Model. He is also the author of Integral Recovery: A Revolutionary Approach to Alcoholism and Addiction, recently published by SUNY Press. As a pioneer in the use of brainwave entrainment in therapy and personal development, John has dedicated his life to helping others deepen their spiritual practice and transform their lives.


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  1. The Way of Gratitude, Part 3 on November 26, 2014 at 10:46 am

    […] towards transmuting them into something useful. This reminds me of when John Dupuy talked about the alchemy of emotions. In a way, I’m talking about the same thing—not letting negative emotions take over. I have […]

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