Guest blog by Erica Witt: The Alchemy of Happiness
To make the analogy with alchemy, there is a pot, a cauldron, a holding, for these moments of happiness. It is ourselves. There is a choice to be made. These moments can disappear in the pot. Become memories or dismissed because they have vanished and cannot be commanded to return. To believe that these moments have an identity and an elusive presence, a recurring value takes careful observation and effort. just like the effort of building up the skills and the artistic techniques, and repetitive practices and endless hours of experimentation and play that go into the mix of creative endeavour. How many years did the alchemists put in, slaving away over a hot pot? How long does it take to hone and polish creative skills, sculpture, painting, musicianship, writing?
Besides the effort and the willpower and determination there are other elements to learn and manage and put to use. Self doubt and hubris to be negotiated. Is what I am making rubbish? It's not as good as I thought. So and so does it better. There's a long line of illustrious forebears and Great Artists and Creative Beings way beyond comparison. Why bother? Why me? And then there are our stories and distractions to be heard, the ones about being discovered, late in the day, as a misplaced genius or a budding wonder.
The moments of happiness don't care about all that. The end product is no business of theirs. But the skills that throw up the spark of happiness also make the pot, the container, the alchemical transformer. Noticing the sparks of awareness, treasuring the moments of beauty and simplicity, creates a responsiveness both to ourselves and the outside world. A recognition of something that is in all the atoms of the universe.
The alchemical pot takes the sludge of our everyday world and shakes and stirs it. What is created in the process is sparks of connection and beauty and love. All the things we Sufis talk about and long for and work hard to create the right biosphere to transform the sludge as best we can.
Perhaps we are playing our part in what the old alchemists called The Great Work.
For me, this is all being tested afresh. Our home is littered with things that I have made, painted, sculpted, sewn. We are getting older. How many of them do I want to keep? Many are half finished or could be taken further. ( i am not a Patrick Heron, or a Barbara Hepworth, much as I would like to be. I am Erica Witt. )
Added to that, I have just developed, the diagnosis is very recent, Parkinson's Disease. Among the various neurological symptoms, over the past six months I have developed an increasingly violent tremour in my right hand and arm. Writing has become spider squiggles. Stone carving is exhausting, painting is fraught with drips and shakes and impromptu squiggles. Frustrating. Anxiety escalates easily and I find myself down the lane marked Why Bother before I have even put my coat on.
What is fascinating tho is how I can call on something other in myself. Sometimes. I slip into the melancholy " why bother " or the illusory, delusory, repetitive realms of anxiety. I believe them both because they have become part, it seems, of the autonomic nervous system, like the uncontrollable muscular spasms of my arm. And then, at a certain moment I remember. I also have a choice. I can open my eyes wider, which involves lifting my head a little and taking a breath in, also an involuntary movement once I have started the process. A spark comes into view, left field. It flashes at me. Remember me. I am your Friend. Go outside. Look at the sky. Smell the air, the autumn leaves, listen to the traffic and the noises of busy lives. Open your heart, be peaceful, phone a friend.
Little sparks of unbidden happiness lighting up my world. Have those moments of beauty looking up from my creative endeavours, coalesced into an inner spaciousness. Time will tell and innumerable provocations will test. May I remember a deeper happiness holding me gently in the palm of the universe. Unbidden. Not earned. Searched for and not forgotten.
This was written for a series of talks on the Alchemy of Happiness: see sufiway.org