Personal Alchemy is a process.
It is the process of deep, embodied personal inquiry.
The process of Personal Alchemy starts with identifying the areas of your life where you want to make changes, gathering the resources to make those changes, plotting out a plan, and then taking steps to implement the plan.
We engage with this large process of change by breaking it up into small, easily implemented small habits and changing them one at a time.
There is a difference between thought habits and operational habits. Thought habits are your beliefs. They describe who you are, or rather who you think you are. Operational habits are the things you do. These two kinds of habits have an interdependent relationship. What you do becomes who you are and vice versa.
Personal Alchemy is founded on the idea that thought habits, or beliefs, are the first habits that need to change in order to successfully implement operational habits into your life. Operational habits only stick when they are backed up by a belief system.
We have all tried to arbitrarily introduce a new habit into our lives and failed. Like that time you tried to go vegan and ended up paleo, or tried to lose 10 pounds in a week and gained 5, or signed up for a marathon you never ran. We’ve all done that. We don’t fail because we lack willpower. We fail because we make the habit our goal instead of making changing our mindset the goal.
The reality is that in order to change how you operate in the world, you have to change your the way you think about yourself first. You think a lot of things automatically that make your life easier, but some of those things also prevent you from doing things differently. We limit ourselves by thinking, “I’m just not the kind of person who…” or “I am the kind of person who always…”
When your perspective shifts, you can start to tune in to misalignments between who you want to be and how you actually behave. Changing your habits becomes easier because you know why you are changing.
It isn’t automatic, though. That part of the program is systematic. You are led through plotting out your personal transformation one tiny step at time. That may sound frustrating, but tiny steps make success actually attainable. Having internalized thought patterns that back up your tiny changes makes deep transformation possible. And likely.
If you want to change how you operate in the world, you CAN, but first you have to change your beliefs and thought habits so that you are not working from a constantly misaligned state.
Imagine a game of Jenga. It is possible to create a structure that does not immediately collapse out of a lot of pieces that are stacked haphazardly, but if one or two of those precariously placed pieces moves, the who thing falls down. Instead, the idea here is to build a stable structure that is so aligned that it can handle a few pieces being removed.
Your life has a lot of moving parts, and you have to be able to maintain stability through all its shifts. The idea of Personal Alchemy is for you lay down a stable foundation of beliefs that support your changing life so that YOU can stay in integrity with your beliefs and habits when shifts occur.
Personal Alchemy is NOT a system of predetermined beliefs, though. I am not going to tell you what you should believe. It is the process of investigating to find out whether the beliefs you hold are useful and making conscious decisions about which ones to keep and which ones to discard.
One of my favorite quotes is, “Religion should not answer your questions but instead question your answers.” Personal Alchemy is not a religion, but the analogy works. Personal Alchemy is the work of questioning your answers.
Through the texts we read, we will look at beliefs about the body, beliefs about the mind, and beliefs about the spirit. The idea is NOT that for you to replace your own beliefs with the beliefs of the authors, but that you start to look at your beliefs, determine what you would like to shift, and explore alternative possibilities of belief.
The physical practices of yoga (asana) are included as part of this immersion for two reasons. First, because I believe that the mat is a laboratory for our lives. On it we can experiment with new thought habits, experiment with them, and start to integrate them into our lives.
Second, finding alignment in the body allows you to have a visceral experience of alignment that you can take into your life. When you find the alignment that is right for you in a pose, you are able to balance effort and ease. Whole new worlds of experience unfold. You start to internalize the idea that yes, you can go through your practice (and your life) misaligned, but the experience will lack depth and richness.
The structure of this immersion is constellational rather than linear. The combination of the readings, the reflections, the in-class exercises, and the asana combine to form a whole. There may not always be a one-to-one correspondence between what we are reading and what we do in class.
Check out the latest course in the Alchemy series, Embodied Alchemy.