I was working last weekend as a craniosacral therapist in the Sanctuary, the lovely healing area of this year’s Body and Soul festival. The theme of this beautiful Midsummer music fest deeply resonated with me when I heard it was 'Alchemy' because this word/world has captivated me since my teens on so many levels.
First it relates to a period in history that I am particularly enamoured with: the medieval maelstrom of effervescent experimentation, creativity and poetic, adventurous, heroic living at a time when being Christian was still very close to being Pagan, to being connected to Nature through its healing powers (apothecaries and witches/healers), its cycles (astrologers), its lore (bards) and fantastical “bestiary”(church art and monks’ illuminations of sacred manuscripts on parchment paper were full of animal and plant symbolisms).
Alchemy is also a philosophy of life as you embrace it with child-like curiosity and excitement and learn to mix all its elements and experiences, be they good or not, to transform them into fodder for the body and soul, into nuggets of growth.
It is in that spirit that I chose to study for a degree in History. I absolutely adored going to my Medieval and Ancient Greece History classes. I was gobbling up with glee all this story-telling of epic adventures, heroines and heroes, interpretations of myths: the secrets of life told through the acts of God-like creatures, the birth of democracy, Aristotle’s philosophies, Socrates’ wisdom and Plato’s Ideas…
This was alchemy to me too as these were assimilated like pure gold in my creative, bubbling psyche.
It is also a great excitement about the world and all its possibilities that motivated someone like the fascinating franciscan friar, scientist and alchemist Roger Bacon (c1214-c1292) to play with base chemicals and metals and transmute them into more sophisticated forms. He wrote that, “Alchemy is the science of how to prepare a compound or elixir, which, if added to base metals will transform them into sophisticated metals.” He also said, “Cease to be ruled by dogmas and authorities; look at the world!”
Can you feel and hear his enthusiasm for learning and living? Seen through craniosacral lenses, this passion heralds great internal and external resources and reflects vibrant health in the system.
The famous ‘elixir’ mentioned by Bacon was also referred to as the famous Philosopher’s Stone: the transmuting key that supposedly could turn base metals like lead or mercury into sophisticated ones like gold or silver.
As an echo to this process, the father of craniosacral therapy, William Garner Sutherland, talks about the "transmutation" of the 'Breath of Life" ( a term he borrowed from the Old Testament), a wind-like universal organising force, into living matter.
The manifestation of this potent elixir is the cerebrospinal fluid, the life-giving fluid. He wrote, "Within that cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) there is an invisible element that I refer to as the “Breath of Life.” Sutherland also spoke of "liquid light" to convey the extraordinary potency of the CSF.
Meanwhile, the father of osteopathy and Sutherland's teacher, Andrew Taylor Still famously said, "The cerebrospinal fluid is one of the highest known elements that are contained in the body, and unless the brain furnishes this fluid in abundance, a disabled condition of the body will remain. He who is able to reason will see that this great river of life must be tapped and the withering field irrigated at once, or the harvest of health be forever lost." ( Philosophy and Mechanical Principles of Osteopathy, A. T. Still, MD)
These two visionaries gave more substance to intuitive beliefs that were already held by indigenous people like for example the Navajo Indians who speak of a "Holy Wind" presiding over the conception of a new life when the mother's wind meets the father's wind ( See more in The Spell of the Sensuous, David Abram).
Likewise in medieval times the soul was thought to be located in the breath, "le souffle de vie"(the breath of life) in French. Medieval philosopher Hildegard of Bingen interestingly stated, “The soul is a breath of living spirit, that with excellent sensitivity, permeates the entire body to give it life. Just so, the breath of the air makes the earth fruitful. Thus the air is the soul of the earth, moistening it, greening it.”
Matching the inner and outer realms, interconnecting all that is, alchemists like yogis and sufis were mystics on a quest to be at one with the eternal divine flow of Life itself.
In fact metals were symbols of a higher cosmic order, each matching a planet: gold was the Sun, silver the Moon, quicksilver Mercury, lead Saturn, calcium Jupiter, iron Mars and copper was Venus.
And being immortal is returning to the cosmos where it all began: Source, the Origin, the stars whose elements we share --being at one with the same force that organises the Universe at large; the Breath of Life.
As I write this my eyes well up and I feel that same sense of deep humility and awe as when I am witnessing this mysterious force at play when a biodynamic craniosacral session enters the slowest rhythm of Long Tide and all is pure love, timeless and interconnected.
Yes it was pure alchemical magic holding the field for physical and emotional transformations to unfold at Body and Soul.
The theme was inspiring and inspired.
I am reminded of these beautiful verses by Zen Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh
Now you know the sacred is everywhere. Now you know the miniature is inside you. You find the essence if you can find The gift moment that has all of it inside— A deeply felt, fully breathed life