“The Alchemy Tradition is about the transmutation of consciousness; it’s about helping the evolution of consciousness – assisting its forward impulsion and its deepening process.” 15Nice video – Anne Baring –
We are living alchemy always – being transformed always – and yet, as we live our daily conditioned lives, we rarely see what is always present. Alchemical practice explicates the implicate order16Bohm, D. (2002). Wholeness and the Implicate Order, p. 177. of how life transforms, everywhere, all the time.
According to Anne Baring, “Alchemy builds a rainbow bridge between the human and the divine, the seen and the unseen dimensions of reality, between matter and spirit. The Cosmos calls us to become aware that we participate in its life, that everything is sacred and connected: one life; one spirit. Alchemy responds to that call.”17Baring, A. (2013). The Dream of the Cosmos: A Quest for the Soul, p.457-458.
“As an Alchemist, I become the Unity that I seek.”18Kindred, G (2005). The Alchemist’s Journey, An old system for a new age, p. 8 – Glennie Kindred –
Collective Alchemy as an Accelerator of Transformation
The duality in the above descriptions points to the possibility that the alchemy practiced by the ancients might have served as a bridge between the Mythical and Mental/Rational structures of consciousness, as described by Jean Gebser.19Gebser. J. (1985). Ever-Present Origin. In the same way, the practice of Collective Alchemy might serve as a bridge from Mental/Rational consciousness to what Gebser has called Integral consciousness. One definition given by Gebser of Integral consciousness is “a consciousness of the whole, an integral consciousness encompassing all time and embracing both man’s distant past and his approaching future as a living present.”20Mahood Jr. E. (1996). The Primordial Leap and the Present: The Ever-present Origin - an overview of the work of Jean Gebser. Key to this is “a constant opening up in many directions and to many dimensions, from a present sense of aliveness in ‘this is what is,’ to the possible next unfoldings immanent in every moment-of-now.”21Baeck, R and Titchen Beeth, H. (2013) Collective Presencing - Embracing a New Paradigm: Link The paradigmatic shift from Alchemy to Collective Alchemy mirrors – indeed embodies – the shift from Mental/Rational to Integral consciousness currently underway.22There are many ways to parse the evolution of human consciousness and culture. For example, the Lunar/Solar/Stellar trajectory described by Anne Baring, and Spiral Dynamics: Beck D.E. & Cowen C.C (2006). Spiral Dynamics, mastering values, leadership, and change.
The alchemy practiced by the ancients was a slow affair. As Anne Baring describes it: “We are embedded in the world of spirit. Our physical bodies carry cosmic elements that have come from the stars. We are the living embodiment of spirit but we don’t know this. Alchemy is about a slow and arduous process of attunement to this realisation: arduous because the evolution of consciousness takes aeons of earth time and it is so difficult to recover and understand what has been lost over the centuries. Many deeply imprinted beliefs and habits impede this understanding and it is hard to dismantle the structures of belief that have built up over millennia.”23Baring, A. (2013). The Dream of the Cosmos: A Quest for the Soul. p. 458. A hallmark of Integral consciousness – and therefore an aspect of Collective Alchemy – however, is that it has access to all the previous consciousness structures as well as a direct line into ‘Ever-Present Origin’ – the source from which all consciousness wells, and where all potential is latently present. In principle, then, the perceived limitations of “earth time” are erased and we enter the domain of time freedom.24Gebser, J. (1985). Ever-Present Origin. p. 283.
Perhaps one reason why this sought-after evolution of consciousness was deemed so arduous and time-consuming by the ancient alchemists was also because they practiced individually. Bringing Integral consciousness to a collective practice of alchemy can exponentially ease and accelerate the process without sacrificing its rigor.
It is through this wholeness, time freedom and evolved consciousness that the practice of Collective Alchemy can add impetus to the other social efforts and movements currently in motion. It has the potential to leverage the inner and outer transformation needed at this time of planetary crisis.25See below, for how Collective Alchemy can serve in the era shift. The core purpose of Collective Alchemy, then, is to prepare awakening humans to step into co-creative, transformative, generative (r)evolution with all life; to consciously face the rite of passage which is upon us, where “we come out a mature species or we don’t come out at all.”
Collective Alchemy as a Living Experience
From our experience on this journey, we can say that those old alchemists were right! Embracing the Great Work26Another name for alchemy. requires a willingness to be transformed: “You cannot have lukewarm alchemy.” Being willing, indeed, means continually dropping all pretence of knowing who you are, and placing this journey of discovery at the centre of your life and being. It requires consciously choosing to keep turning toward the prima materia and moving into the alchemical fire. It requires abiding in the territory of the individual and collective unconscious and the not-knowing that lies between the present and the emerging future. It requires facing and embracing the fears that arise, emerging naked and perplexed into a transmuted reality, wearing one new layer of the skin of our potential wholeness and still willing to turn back into the fire. No wonder the original alchemists were appalled at the price they had to pay to obtain the philosopher’s stone!27Philosopher’stone: ‘A symbol of the realisation of the alchemical goal of transforming base metal, the prima materia, into gold; identified by C. G. Jung as a symbol of the psychological goal of individuation’. Stevens, A. (1999). Ariadne’s Clue, A Guide to the symbols of humankind. p.437. Given the intensity, what makes the Collective Alchemy process palatable and sustainable is holding the crucible together, witnessing each other’s learning, holding each other in compassion and celebrating each other’s moments of transformation, as we hang on in there together, awakening consciousness and wisdom.
Collective Alchemy in Service of the Era Shift
To show where Collective Alchemy fits in the era shift,28 and why we might choose to practice it, one way of visualising how living systems change is as rising and falling arcs.29See, for example, ‘The Two Loops’ Theory of Change: Link, originally designed by Deborah Frieze and Margaret Wheatley of Berkana Institute, and adapted and updated by Peggy Holman to include the dimension of wave riding: Link. Between the two arcs of ‘old’ and ‘new’ exists a space or gap; an ‘in-between’, rich in potential, possibility, uncertainty and not knowing. Within this transformative vortex of potential resides white-water wave action, often experienced as chaos, grief, terror, exhilaration, aliveness and joy. This is the territory pregnant with potential in which humanity now finds itself, in which we are learning how to surf the waves of change in service of a generative future.
Engaging with any living system means working in complexity — indeed, hypercomplexity.30Hypercomplexity could be the best descriptor for the life conditions calling forth the emergence of Integral consciousness. It cannot be approached mechanistically, but requires a multiplicity of perspectives. This means working in and as collectives. This is where individuals need to come together with their peers in collective practice, not only to navigate the fluctuations of non-equilibrium (the source of new order31“The fluctuation of non-equilibrium is the source of (new) order.” Taegel (2012). The Mother Tongue, Intimacy in the Eco-field, p.287. In phase transits such as these, “the quantum waves become more steep, amplitude increases.” Taegel (2012). The Mother Tongue, Intimacy in the Eco-field, p. 244.), but also to actively seek and shape the field of potential, in order to increase the probability of benevolent outcomes. This the field of operation of Collective Alchemy. As Nobel prize laureate Ilya Prigogine says in relation to such systems far from equilibrium, it is the small islands of coherence in a sea of chaos that have the capacity to shift the system to a higher order.32Prigogine, I. (1984). Order out of chaos: man’s new dialogue with nature.
What is the impact of an “island of coherence in a sea of chaos?” As we expand and deepen the collective crucible of our practice and presence, might we also be expanding and deepening a “basin of fractal attraction”33Currivan, J. (2017). The Cosmic Hologram, In-formation at the Center of Creation, p. 142. that increases the likelihood of a particular future manifesting? Is our collective sensing and coming into coherence affecting manifestation beyond our immediate physical control? If so, how can this be demonstrated, when we cannot know with certainty the impact of any intervention into a complex living system? The study of complexity suggests that any such intervention can best target the level of resonance (i.e. beneath the material plane, in the field of subtle energetics). The science which touches this mystery most closely is Rupert Sheldrake’s study of morphic fields and morphic resonance.34Sheldrake, R. (2012) Morphic Resonance & The Presence of the Past: The Memory of Nature. The morphic field is “a field within and around a morphic unit that organises its characteristic structure and pattern of activity. Morphic fields underlie the form and behaviour of holons, or morphic units, at all levels of complexity. The term morphic field includes morphogenetic, behavioural, social, cultural, and mental fields. Morphic fields are shaped and stabilised by morphic resonance from previous similar morphic units, which were under the influence of fields of the same kind. They consequently contain a kind of cumulative memory and tend to become increasingly habitual.”35Sheldrake, R. (2012) Morphic Resonance & The Presence of the Past: The Memory of Nature, p. 441. This speaks to the relevance and importance of collective practice, where groups follow a specific process repeatedly.
Demonstrable or not, we believe collective practices such Collective Alchemy are immensely worthwhile. We see real- time differences in the presence, capacity, and relationships in the collective every time we come together in an intentional way. Indeed, it might be that “creating a new civilisation is a function of our collaborative capability, with all life. Therefore, when coherent islands co-create with conscious collective intent, the ripple effects have the possibility of generating waves of positive transformative impact, capable of rebalancing the whole.”36 Sarah Whiteley. Research insight from ‘Wisdom & Creating a New Civilisation’ course, Wisdom School of Graduate Studies, Ubiquity University, Ralston, CA. (2016).