I recently experienced the David Bowie exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum, and ever since, I can't stop thinking about ch-ch-ch-ch-changes. (:
Bowie was an artist who clearly had no interest in stagnation. When I think about change, this quote by writer Anaïs Nin comes to mind:
"And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death. Living never wore me out so much as the effort not to live."
I love that. It reminds us our lives are not unlike the lives of flowers: ever-changing. And to resist change is, truly, to resist life. Your cells are constantly reproducing and replacing themselves. Can you imagine a rose refusing to bloom? Or a rose refusing to wilt when its season of blossoming is completed?
Changing is living. I think we—as human beings—have a special gift, though: the ability not only to change and to grow, like a kitten into a cat, but to transform and transmute, like a caterpillar into a butterfly.
"Transmute" is not a commonly used word (if you're a spiritual book junkie like me, though, you see it everywhere, haha), so here's the definition:
transmute: verb. to change or alter in form, appearance, or nature especially to a higher form.
It's often used when referring to alchemists, legendary people who transmuted base metals into gold.
One famous story of transmutation is Jesus's first miracle, turning water into wine at a wedding in Cana.
As a child, I was always less than impressed by this wedding story. Partially because I didn't drink wine as a child. And partially because it seems a rather blasé miracle debut, no? I mean, we're talking about the dude who we all know is going to rise from the dead later in the book, you guys, so why is the pastor preaching on this wine thing, yet again? (Little me could be quite judgey and spent most of Church doodling and passing notes.) (No offense, JC, you have an open invite to any party I ever throw.)
Now that I've learned the benefit of reading the Bible symbolically instead of literally, I can't believe how much this story moves me.
[Aside: One unexpected side effect of my meditative practice and spiritual work is Bible stories that were pounded into my head as a child are suddenly imbued with symbolic meaning. Trust me, no one is more surprised by this than me.]
Is there anything more inspiring than taking something so ordinary and prevalent and transforming it into something so divine—not average wine, the best wine, and after everyone else had assumed the party was over—and doing this with nothing but the power within you?
When I think of something that is literally everywhere, I think of water. Look at a map of the world, the clouds in the sky. When I think of something that is energetically everywhere, I think of pain. Pain, like water, presents in many forms—physically, emotionally, mentally—and can range from discomfort to agony, but is, at its core, suffering.
Most people, consciously or subconsciously, kind of pass their pain around, and then pass it down, from generation to generation. We all know this. We all know children who play out the exact same struggles as their parents. We might even be those children. But what if we didn't have to be? What if we could transmute?
French philosopher, activist, and mystic Simone Weil puts it like this:
"Pain and suffering are a kind of currency passed from hand to hand until they reach someone who receives them and who does not pass them on."
That quote is taped to my door. We often hear of the importance of paying forward acts of kindness—and obviously I think that's great—but I think the sister concept of not passing on your pain is wildly underrated. A co-worker once told me when I worked in corporate: "Don't make others miserable just because you're having a miserable work day."
But it becomes tough—because then, what to do with the pain? Most of us would like to run from it, hide from it, or dispose of it somehow, and ASAP. Weil provides an alternative:
"We must not wish for the disappearance of our troubles, but for the grace to transform them."
Obviously, transmutation might not be easy. Spiritual growth can hurt; refining gold takes fire. But we possess more power to persevere than we generally give ourselves credit for. And on the other side—the other side of sitting with, feeling, and receiving pain and suffering without passing them on—are states of being so astonishing they're irreducible to words. (I feel I've experienced very brief flashes of these states. "Peace" and "joy" probably come closest to describing them. A peace, as Paul says, that surpasses all understanding.)
But you cannot get to the other side if you spend your life running away from and avoiding pain. As Rumi reminds us:
"If you are irritated by every rub—how will your mirror be polished?"
This is what I'm beginning to believe: To resist change is to die. To change is to live. And to transmute is to live consciously. To live with intention. To live in a higher form.
Why drink a life of water when you could drink a life of wine?
Why settle for a life of base metals when you could be living a life of gold?
You are the alchemist. And the party isn't over.
with Love and with Light,
p.s. David Bowie went through a serious third eye phase. Shout out to the sixth chakra! Rest peacefully, Ziggy Stardust.
p.p.s. Book rec this week is Anaïs Nin's Henry and June. Only read this if you want to read about lots and lots of sex. It's extremely sensual (and it's nonfiction, which is wild). It's also beautifully written and Anaïs, as expected, delivers mind-blowing quotes.
p.p.p.s. "Many of us spend our whole lives running from feeling with the mistaken belief that you cannot bear the pain. But you have already borne the pain. What you have not done is feel all you are beyond the pain." —Bartholomew