Are you feeling rudderless amidst the tumult of the current sociopolitical environment? It may seem counterintuitive, but all you need to do to affect change is turn inwards—not to buckle in on yourself, but rather to find solace and get grounded in that sacred space. Most of us are caught up in the drama of the external world without even realizing it. Although the separation between the external and internal realms seems stark, as each of us views life through a unique but narrow lens, we must zoom out and recognize that we are all actors in the same movie.
Many people spend years stuck behind their lens, and as yogi Paramahansa Yogananda noted, consequently, “they are mechanical products of the factory of their environment, preoccupied with breakfast, lunch, and dinner, working and sleeping, and going here and there to be entertained. They don’t know what or why they are seeking, nor why they never realize complete happiness and lasting satisfaction. By evading self-analysis, people go on being robots, conditioned by their environment.”
We are so entrenched in our own stories that we are unable to see we’ve been viewing things from a skewed lens. Looking at yourself with compassion blasts open your tunnel vision so that you can see negative patterns that have been holding you back.
So what is mental alchemy? Mental alchemy is the ability to transmute negative thoughts or feelings into positives, thereby coloring your reality in a new light.
Mindfulness can help achieve mental alchemy. Mindfulness is all about bringing you to the present moment, without judgment. We might think we are living in the moment when our heads are constantly filled with thoughts, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. These thoughts are obtruding on the present moment, often making us depressed while ruminating on the past and anxious while ruminating on the future.
In the past few years studies have shown that when people practice mindfulness their brain activity is different, more calm.1
Here are three mindfulness steps which can affect mental alchemy:
1) Examine your self-talk and get curious: are you being kind and nurturing, or are being severe and shaming? Would you talk to your inner child the way you talk to yourself now? If you cultivate self-compassion, you are more likely to view and treat others that way.
Consider the Buddhist concept of shempa: emotional triggers which cause us to shut down and keep us “stuck” in mental patterns, or schemas, which don’t serve us well but we often play out nonetheless. It can feel like you’re stuck in a loop and cause suffering. Identifying your schemas can help shed light on thought patterns that are no longer serving your highest good. We can choose to no longer empower these mental loops and replace them with more compassionate self-talk.
2) Embrace the duality of our 3-D plane: there is no light without dark; they go hand-inhand. All of the New Age-y “love and light” bullshit that makes you think that all you need to do is think positively is crap—to truly perform mental alchemy, you must integrate the two to attain balance. Repressing your darker side will only strengthen it and throw off your inner harmony.
For a practical application, consider seeking out Jungian books or psychotherapy. Jung was a master of shadow works. As he saw it, the shadow, “is the invisible saurian tail that man still drags behind him. Carefully amputated, it becomes the healing serpent of the mysteries. Only monkeys parade with it” (The Integration of the Personality 1939).
3) Don’t get stuck in an emotional trap: emotional reactions disconnect us from being in the present. Sometimes our feelings are so intense that we think we are our immediate emotions, forgetting that they are fleeting and here to teach us a lesson.
A good way to gain equanimity and avoid emotional traps is through the practice of meditation. Meditation can help reconnect us with the present through breath work and mental relaxation, helping us detach from the ego which confuses us into thinking our emotions are us.
These three steps can help change the world because, as the Dalai Lama said, “Inner peace is the key: if we have inner peace we will be able to deal with situations with calmness and reason. Without inner peace, no matter how comfortable our life is materially, we may still be worried, disturbed, or unhappy because of the circumstances.”
If we are in pursuit of a more unified global village, we must be able to embrace the polarity in our own mind. It takes courage to look inwards this way, but the effect will ripple out to influence a more altruistic social order. So, the next time that external chaos is gnawing at your peace of mind, turn inwards to transmute the apparent circumstances of transgression.
1 Ramel, W., Goldin, P.R., Carmona, P.E. et al. (2004). The effects of mindfulness meditation training on cognitive processes and affect in patients with past depression. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 28, 433–455.
Author: Rachel Sierzputowski
27 year old writer from NYC who has had the privilege of living all over the world. She would now like to explore the inner realms further and has felt a deep calling to seek out the healing plant ayahuasca.