I have always considered myself a reluctant alchemist—only eager to change after continually banging my head against the wall no longer seems to offer the refuge it once did. Mine has been a life of reinventing; a life that to a great extent, has been predominated by seeking. It’s only now that I’m approaching middle age that I have begun to get a glimpse, an idea of that which I’ve always been looking for.
I am by no means a religious person, but I have come to believe that my greatest hope lies in faith—my ability to trust in the need to step out of the comfortable to find a “better me” on the other side. We can see evidence of this inner pilgrimage as far back as the medieval period, in the words of the religious scholar St. Anselm of Canterbury. “Faith seeks understanding. I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand.”
I trust that deep down, we are all prisoners of our own process of alchemy. As we struggle to make sense of our place in this world and in the lives of those we touch, often we are left with self-induced isolation and inner rebellion. We grapple with the contradiction of trying to carve out our own niche while simultaneously aching for a real sense of belonging, a communion with the circle of people who envelop us.
Life is not meant to be lived in one place—and by that I am not referring to physical local, but to the level of growth or understanding we have reached. Embedded in a constant refrain of cultural clashes and witness to the generational discord within our own families, we are ever reminded of the necessity to move forward in our thinking, or we risk our greatest fear—remaining isolated, alone in our mind.
If we are indeed all seekers, personal alchemists, what are we to make of this human journey? Whenever I wrestle with issues of transformation and inner quest, I turn to the Buddhist traditions, which I believe offer hints, or signposts, that help unlock the mystery for me. Words attributed to the Buddha offer: “Your work is to discover your world, and then with all your heart, give yourself to it.” The simplicity of these words resounds a deep sense of love. What can be more “human” than to discover that which you are looking for, and with an open heart “give yourself to it” and send it back into the world.
When I look at what I have been seeking, three themes dominate--affection, connection, and revelation. And within each of these predominant themes, there are three other elements that are intricately entwined—the physical, the emotional, and the spiritual. So much of my personal validation comes from affection I seek in those I love dearest. I need only turn to my relationship with my partner to see how I am nourished physically, emotionally, and even spiritually, by making myself vulnerable and opening up to the uncertainty of change. When I turn this lens out to a broader scope, I acknowledge how much I seek connection with others. An issue I continue to struggle with is building bridges in those connections so that I can engage at a more emotional level within these relationships. This need for emotional connection is further exacerbated when the relationship involves another man. As men, we have been raised to insulate our emotions, and thus, our interactions with other men are inclined to be either competitive or jocular, but rarely substantive. And finally, I see that now more than ever, my seeking entails a degree of revelation—an insatiable need to uncover “what makes me tick.” It’s said that you can’t get to where you’re going unless you know where you are.
No matter what path you may find yourself on, and for whatever you may be seeking, remember to be kind to yourself and allow the time needed to get to where you are going. Ours is a world in which distances are shrinking and time feels as though it is accelerating. The actions you take now to bring about change may not deliver immediate results, but with patience, may bear fruit later when you are indeed ready to embrace the alchemy you set forth. In the words of Paulo Coelho, “The two hardest tests on the spiritual road are the patience to wait for the right moment and the courage not to be disappointed with what we encounter.”