The Alchemy of Relationship
by Tom Kenyon
This article was taken from the Magdalen Manuscript (ORB Communications).
Many of us do relationships the way we play poker. We do everything possible to get the upper hand. And if that fails, we bluff. We pretend to hold cards we don’t have. We cheat. We lie.
And while this is the model for many a relationship in our post modern era, it is not the model for Sacred Relationship as described in the Manuscript.
Let me be very up front here. Sacred Relationship is not for everyone. In fact, I suspect that there are far fewer persons capable or even willing to undertake it than there are those who prefer to play emotional card games.
This type of relationship demands utmost honesty both with oneself and with one’s partner. Instead of hiding our cards, we lay them all out on the table. All our hopes, all our fears, all our petty and jealous thoughts, all our conniving: all of it gets laid out in the clear light of awareness for our partner to see. And he or she must do the same. It will not work if there are back doors unlocked with mental escape in mind. It will not work if both partners are not absolutely impeccably honest with each other.
And the reason for this radical type of honesty is that without it, the Alchemy of Relationship cannot take place. Now this may be a new term to many, even students of internal alchemy, since the dynamics of intimate relationship are rarely discussed in the four major alchemical streams (Egyptian, Taoist, Yoga Tantra and Buddhist Tantra).
So I think it might be good to define what I mean here, and to lay some type of foundation. Like all types of alchemy, this type of work is about changing one form into another. The form, in this case, is the inter-dynamics that have become habituated between two people. After a while, people tend to get into ruts. The liveliness that existed at the beginning of the relationship begins to fade. Both people become more or less unconscious. The harsh reality is that it takes continual vigilance and effort to keep a relationship conscious and alive.
Many relationships drop by the wayside because the partners are either unwilling or unable to make the efforts required to sustain them. Instead of experiencing the newness of each moment within the relationship, a kind of dullness seeps in over time; what used to be exciting is now boring. And worse, a kind of psychological and emotional lethargy sets in, and both partners succumb to the dulling effects of unconsciousness.
This type of unconsciousness is a death knell to psychological awareness and insight; and although it is rarely mentioned, this type of unconsciousness has a negative effect on one’s spiritual life as well.
So the form that needs to be changed within a relationship is literally the form of interactions that habitually take place between the two partners.
Like all types of alchemy, there must be a container for the reactions to occur. And in this case, it is the container of safety and appreciation that provides the reservoir for transformation.
If there is a lack of safety or appreciation, this type of alchemy cannot be undertaken. And if you have decided you wish to try this type of alchemy in your relationship, I suggest you do an analysis first. Honestly assess if you feel safety and appreciation in your relationship. If you don’t, you will be wasting your time trying to undertake this type of alchemy with your current partner. I suggest you focus your efforts, instead, on the solitary practices mentioned in the Manuscript. If you still want to give it a try, get your partner to talk about these feelings of danger and lack of appreciation that you are feeling. Only if and when they get resolved, should you consider taking on this type of alchemy.
So now we have two of the three elements needed for alchemy: something to be transformed (the habitual patterns of interaction) and the container (the safety net, if you will, of the relationship itself). A third element is needed; and that is, of course, energy to drive the reaction. There is usually plenty of energy in relationships in the form of neurotic patterns, hopes, fears, and desires. We’ll get to those in a moment, but for now I want to talk about steel.
Our psychological selves are much like swords made from steel alloys. They have been forged in the hot searing foundry of our childhood, in the formative pressures of our early experiences. It is this early period of life that bonds the elements of our psyches together. And like steel, this was done under immense heat and pressure. Some of us were abused by overbearing or downright hostile or even destructive parents. Some of us were left to our own devices without any kind of support or guidance. And every kind of parental/child relationship falls in between these two polarities. The possibilities of childhood pressures are virtually endless, and so too are the psychological alloys that result from these types of experiences.
There is a lot of talk about the child within in many personal growth groups, and while there is certainly value in making contact with this younger self, it is not always pretty. Our cultural myth is that childhood is a time of innocence, a time in which everything is right with the world. For some children this is true; for many it is definitely not.
I remember being at a fellow therapist’s house for a party quite a few years ago. Most of the adults were practicing therapists, psychologists or psychiatrists. I had plopped myself in a big oversized sofa, and, sipping my Pepsi, I noticed a remarkable event. One of the therapists had brought his son and his son’s best friend to the party. It was clear that the two boys were buds. They were playing some kind of card game and respectfully giving each other a turn. There were no attempts at cheating, and they seemed to be in a bubble of camaraderie.
Then the boy’s father came into the room and asked both kids if they needed anything. They both looked up with cherub faces and smiled. No they said, in the cutest little boy voices. The father patted his son on the back, and as he walked off, he nonchalantly patted his son’s friend on the back as well. For a moment, his son looked at the incident in abject horror. You could see that he could not believe his eyes. And then as his father turned the corner into the other room, his son pulled back and hit his best friend in the face!
This was not childhood innocence. This was childhood rage. He was not willing to share affections from his father, not even with his best friend. This type of jealousy is typical of higher mammals, and we are, for all our self-righteous self-congratulatory delusions, still mammals. No matter how high we get spiritually, we will, for as long as we live, share traits with our mammalian brothers and sisters.
The inner life of a child is often far different than those around him or her imagine it to be. Surrounded by both dangers and opportunities, the psychological life of a child is directly shaped by how he or she chooses to deal with them. Whether it is something as life threatening as a deranged parent or a child molester, or seemingly innocuous as whom to go to the prom with, does not in some ways matter. While the impact of fighting for one’s life may very well imprint a child’s behavior well into adulthood, the little decisions of life, like who to socialize with or not, also have impact. All these major and minor decisions create internal psychological heat and pressure. The alloys of one’s personality get bonded together or burned away. The sword has been tempered by the time we reach adulthood, and the alloy of our personalities has been set.
Some of us emerge from this childhood foundry with rock hard edges; others of us are blunt. Some of us hold our edges, and some of us can never seem to hold anything.
The thing about steel is that it tends to remain in its original form once it leaves the foundry. And one of the few things that can ever re-configure the alloy is if the steel gets as hot as it did when it was first formed.
In the alchemical work of Sacred Relationship, we voluntarily put ourselves back in the foundry. The heat that arises between two people when their neuroses rub against each other can get quite intense. If both people can find the courage to be radically honest with themselves and with each other in these searing moments, the psychological alloys can be altered. A new type of aliveness then enters the relationship fueled by the energy of psychological truth.
The thing is–most of us will do almost anything to avoid psychological heat. When we get uncomfortable, many of us get the hell out of Dodge. Now for some of us this means literally packing up and getting out of town, or at least out of sight. For some of us it means that we are physically present, but no longer emotionally present. We numb up. We become automatons. We move and talk, almost like normal, but we have retreated far, far inside. Others of us numb ourselves with alcohol or drugs. And some of us do it with television. We humans are, after all, quite clever and creative. We can find all sorts of ways to avoid facing ourselves. In fact, they are far too numerous for me to list here. But I suspect you get the idea. I guess the real question here is this–what do you do when things get psychologically too hot for your taste? What do you do when you are on the verge of feeling something that you don’t want to feel?
For those in Sacred Relationship such feelings are a call to presence. It is a time to be radically honest, and for both partners to express their true feelings no matter how embarrassing or scary they might be. By speaking their truths to each other, an enlivening element enters the dynamic. Psychological honesty results in psychological insight. And with insight there is hope for awareness, and with awareness there can be change.
This chapter is hardly a manual for the Alchemy of Relationship. It’s mainly, I think, a warning. Magdalen alluded to this in the Manuscript. She called it obscurations to flight. That sounds wonderfully exotic doesn’t it? Well, it isn’t very exotic when the obscuration is clearly in your face. And it isn’t very exotic feeling when the foundry of the relationship gets so hot that you feel you are dissolving (psychologically that is). It takes courage and fortitude to stay in the foundry when the heat begins to weaken the stability of one’s self-perceived image. Few of us care to look foolish, scared, petty or jealous. And we will often go through elaborate means to hide these feelings from ourselves or others.
But in Sacred Relationship these things invariably float to the surface like mud that has been stirred up from the bottom of a barrel. The thing is to realize that this does not mean you are doing it (Sacred Relationship) wrong; it means that you are probably doing it right. As Magdalen said in the Manuscript, the power of the alchemy extrudes, or pushes out, the dross. This can be fascinating when the dross is being pushed out of your partner, but it is truly horrific when it extrudes out of you.
What makes Sacred Relationship sacred is that it is truly a holy way of being. The root of the word holy actually means to make whole. So… when we do something that creates wholeness (in this case psychological wholeness), we are engaged in a sacred or holy act.
In the crucible of mutual safety, honesty and appreciation, it is possible to forge a new kind of self. This new self is psychologically more honest, more aware and freer than its counterpart before entering the foundry of relationship. And like the phoenix that arises from its own ashes, this self has wings. It can fly places that it could only imagine before.
There are mysteries here, and treasures that await those who have the courage to enter the depths of themselves and their partners. It is not, as I said, for everyone. You will probably know if you are a likely candidate because you will feel it in your soul, your heart.
If you enter this path, know that there are no manuals. There is precious little guidance out there. The path to spirituality has traditionally been one of solitude. And while times of solitude may be necessary for those in Sacred Relationship, something has turned. They agree to walk the path to godhood together, side by side, through both heaven and hell, through the brilliant summits where all things are suddenly crystal clear, and through the dark valley of psychological death where it is hard to even see one’s foot in front of the other. And yet through the darkness of not knowing, a deep primordial force begins to rise up. It requires an unusual type of holy trinity – three things for it to do its most holy task- mutual safety, psychological honesty and appreciation of the Beloved.
Have a good journey!
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