The practice of alchemy, the science and art of transforming substances from one form to another, dates back over 2,000 years. Traditionally, alchemists worked with metals and are most known for attempting to turn lead into gold.
Some believe that alchemists were successful at turning lead into gold yet withheld their secrets. Others believe alchemists were eccentric failed scientists, wasting their time on an impossible quest for the “philosopher’s stone.” And still others, including Swiss psychologist Dr. Carl Jung, believe alchemists used “lead” and “gold” as metaphors for transformation of the human psyche. Hence, the essence of alchemical principles is found in all of today’s greatest transformative philosophies, including Buddhism, Chinese medicine, and yoga.
At the heart of it all, regardless of whether ancient practitioners ever turned lead into gold, alchemy carries the primordial knowledge of how to transform one thing into another. As this transformation can apply to all levels of our being—physical, mental, and spiritual—it can certainly be applied to help us shift from a state of wakefulness or restlessness into a deep, peaceful sleep.
Use Alchemy Throughout the Day: Break Down and Digest
Alchemy says that in order for a substance to be changed from one state into another, it must first be broken down completely. What this means for us and getting a good night’s sleep is that we cannot fall asleep until we’ve done some “breakdowns” throughout the day.
The concept of the “Monday morning quarterback” works somewhat here, where we review and critique the “plays” we made during the day so that we can grow and learn (without berating ourselves). Think of this as the process of regular digestion and assimilation that allows us to go to bed with as empty a mind as possible. The same way it’s difficult to fall asleep on a full belly, it is equally difficult to do so with a full mind.
Here are some guidelines on how to perform your daily breakdown:
Take time throughout the day to pause and evaluate what’s working and what’s not. A bad day only becomes so if we keep telling ourselves it is so. Pull back, and re-engage only when you’re ready.
Commit to making life changes if and where needed. Sleep is often hard to come by when one’s life is not in harmony with their beliefs and passions. While these changes cannot always be made overnight, making the decision to change a relationship, get a new job, or start a new self-care regimen can help you rest better at night.
Forgive yourself for errors and missteps. Instead, commit to learning from them.
Seek out friendships and relationships where you can talk through the events of the day without judgment.
Use Alchemy at Bedtime: Hermetically Seal Yourself
All successful experiments in alchemy (for example, the modern day practice of transforming plants into tinctures or elixirs) take place in a hermetically-sealed container, left alone for long periods of time in a dark, quiet place. This means: nothing in, nothing out.
Therefore, to transform your waking self to your sleeping self, hermetically seal yourself in your bedroom in such a way that you cannot be disturbed. Some tips include:
Turn your phone off or keep it on silent.
Ensure that the room is at a comfortable sleeping temperature.
Make sure your room is as dark and quiet as possible.
Try not to get accustomed to needing television or some other distraction that will disturb the mind.
Use Alchemy at the Liminal Stage: Explore the Imagination
Rather than tossing and turning if you’re having difficulty falling asleep, try to rest peacefully within the liminal stage. This is the place between waking and sleeping. In alchemy, this middle stage is where the real magic lives. It’s the space of imagination; the place where we can meet our ancestors or receive advice from a spirit guide or muse. Take the time between waking and sleeping as an opportunity to explore your consciousness.
Some other tips to step more fully inside this liminal stage include:
Listen to a yoga nidra meditation.
Journal or write down and review your dreams.
Experiment with active imagination practices.
Spend some time getting to know your creative muse, the part of you that might be keeping you up with ideas!
Use Alchemy in the Morning: A Rebirth
The more naturally you wake up, the more our minds and bodies will be ready to settle the next night. This is because if the mind knows that it will be able to rise naturally, it can let its guard down. But if it knows it’s going to be awakened by a blaring alarm, its defenses will remain high.
Tips here include:
Follow a consistent rising time.
Wake with the sun.
Try to avoid alarms (especially avoid snoozing!).
Rise slowly. Feet on the floor first, then pause. Take some breaths. Then stand gently.
Take some time to write down any dreams, as they are messengers from our unconscious. Spend time throughout the day considering these messages.
In alchemy, the rebirth is a reawakening to a new way of being in the world. Begin each day with a fresh outlook, having shed as much of the previous day as possible, and continue this circular process of breaking down, hermetically sealing ourselves, enjoying the liminal stage, and rising each morning like the phoenix from the ashes.
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