Into the Abyss
There is a point at which, to really move forward, a realignment has to occur within the self. This is a deeper process than Calcination – it questions the ego, but it pivots our whole position of awareness. Rather than re-establishing an identity, it relinquishes attachment to ANY identity, even one which was broader from our initial perspective.
This is a challenging process. So much energy has been tied to one’s ideal, and the thoughts, words, and deeds that align with and serve it. But even this attachment needs to be dropped during the Fermentation phase. There is a complete openness, reprocessing, letting go, loosening up. Bullshit detectors are impeccable. Nothing less than complete honesty, razor-sharp truth will do. There is no patience for lies, deceit, delusion, or any form of overextending oneself. Pure Awareness stands at the heart of it all.
One of the challenges of this phase, which may also be a catalyst, is recognizing the dissonance between oneself and the world, culture, or community. There is a deep re-questioning, a re-evaluation of everything. Nothing is passed over or hidden. It is all exposed, laid bare. In this acute perception, waves of cynicism may even pass. If the stage isn’t completed, one could become fixated on this cynicism. Egotism and narcissism could result. While one may have a broader perception, it is still bound by blind spots.
The way to move through Fermentation is, first and foremost, to honor and respect all feelings while not attaching oneself to them. This hearkens back to Calcination and some of the other phases, and is truly an important process throughout one’s movement through alchemical transformation. Observe what arises, be present with it, and yet allow it to move on.
Secondly, it is critical to maintain a spacious curiosity, or humility. While one may feel wiser, remember that there is always MORE to be revealed; there is never an end to any process or path—each perspective is relative.
You may find a curiosity and devotion to the Truth that has no bounds. You will lose the need for expectations, as well as adornment of concepts. Most words used to describe spiritual experiences, or reality will feel hollow and inadequate. You will want to pierce any illusion and have pure understanding. This impulse is a call from within yourself, from a place you are not consciously familiar with. Any attempt to add words to your experience or interpret it is a distortion. Fermentation has no need for baggage.
While in earlier phases, it was useful to explore symbols and our relationship to them, to write and journal, to find something to fixate on in order to guide us, these were merely ways to hijinx ourselves into new levels of awareness. They were tools.
It becomes necessary, at some point, to drop everything. We pass through an Abyss. This can feel devastating to some. It has at times been referred to as a Dark Night of the Soul, though that idea carries with it its own loaded interpretations. Comparison will not be helpful, and nothing conceptually can really prepare you for an experience in which concepts lose their meaning. The prior alchemical stages have served to clarify one’s soul and activate qualities of awareness that can carry naturally over into this and future stages, but progress can’t be forced.
Resting in the Chrysalis
What can be very helpful for the Fermentation phase is giving oneself the time and space to process. Listen to your instincts about how much engagement and activity is appropriate for you, and let yourself be okay with needing alone time, if that’s what feels right. There is a lot occuring on a subtle level—just as in physical fermentation, where billions or trillions of microbes are changing the basic nature of a substance underneath the surface. Likewise, in alchemical Fermentation, your sense of Self is being transformed.
You may want to take a retreat for yourself, perhaps planning some time out in the woods or in a location that calls to you. You may even just find time throughout each day to dedicate to yourself. This is a great time for meditation, and a chance to deepen your meditations further. You may find it helpful to also do something physical each day, such as stretching or yoga, hiking, walking, lifting weights, or practicing a physical artform or discipline, like Chi Do taught in the Lineage of King Salomon.
As far as your meditations go, while it is best to listen to your intuition about how to proceed, you may want to experiment with vacancy of mind, or void meditation. You start out by noticing the spaces between thoughts during thought observation, or mindfulness meditation. Gradually, you pay more and more attention to these gaps. Vacancy of mind allows space for, what some say, “God to rush in.” Do not force this, though. It is more about moving naturally into a state of mental stillness that already is there.
Besides a few practices such as these, perhaps the best thing to do is simply allow this process to unfold on its own without trying to direct it. Be patient. Give yourself much free, spacious time. You may want to avoid consuming media, such as TV, books, and the internet. Allow yourself to just be.
Loss of Seeking
Sandra was a nurse who’d been working in a hospital for over a decade. She loved her job, had a wonderful social circle, and tended to keep herself healthy. She had so much compassion to give, and had a strong spiritual practice of yoga and meditation. She felt she did all the right things in life.
But one day, as she was preparing to meet with her family for brunch, she felt different. She didn’t quite know what it was—just a sense that things weren’t right. It wasn’t connected with anything specific, so she wondered if maybe it was the result of less sleep the night before.
As she joined her family and they started talking about cousins and their shenanigans, Sandra found she couldn’t focus on the conversation. She had a sick feeling in her stomach. She felt disconnected. What was going on?
Her family noticed something was off and asked her about it, but she was at a loss and simply cited lack of sleep and a hard work week. When she came home to her partner, she felt troubled by how this growing feeling of disassociation might impact him. Thankfully, he was busy with projects and didn’t notice, so she took the opportunity to be by herself and hope that this would pass. She tried watching TV, but felt irritated by the shows she skimmed through, even a show she used to love. It wasn’t the same. She listened to music, and she zoned out a bit. But it didn’t really help. She even tried journaling it out, but words didn’t come easily, and she ended up feeling more frustrated.
Weeks went by. Her feelings deepened. She felt totally alien from everyone. The world was bizarre. It seemed fake, somehow. Not just in a social sense, but really fake. She found herself questioning often, “What is the point?” She wasn’t even suicidal, because she questioned the point of that, too.
Sandra became very crass with people, even patients at the hospital. She didn’t consider it rude, just blunt and honest. She had no patience for sugar-coating anymore. Why waste time and energy on that? She was upfront with doctors and other nurses about things she thought they were doing wrong. And she didn’t care about any hierarchy of authority, which felt increasingly artificial to her. This caused tensions at work and she knew people were talking about her behind her back by their body language and, well, just a 6th sense.
Her husband, concerned about her, gave her a list of psychiatrists. But this infuriated her. What was he implying? That she was broken and needed to be fixed? They argued over this, and she realized that, though she’d been worried at first, she was feeling more and more like the veil was being pulled from her eyes and she was becoming sober to reality. Everyone seemed to be missing this.
Sandra felt she could read people more clearly and see their hidden motivations and agendas. She no longer wanted to be social with friends—they only wanted to talk about things that completely bored her. And her family loved to gossip, which made her uncomfortable being around them, too. There was a sadness from feeling this disconnect with everyone, even a grief. It was almost like something was dying.
Sandra told her husband she needed to take a few days to herself, for her own well-being. Her husband agreed it might be good for her and they worked out a plan.
She went ahead and booked a cabin near a lake. She only brought the bare minimum of essentials, and spent most of the time strolling through the trail around the lake, or sitting at the water’s edge. The air was fresh, and everything was pristine. Luckily, few tourists came here, so Sandra was mostly alone.
The days passed slowly and serenely. Sandra found she didn’t need much to entertain her anymore. She could simply stare at her surroundings for hours and let her thoughts run by. Initially, she had many serious thoughts, urgent existential questions, deep inquiries into her soul and life and reality. But these faded as she lost interest in answering them and allowed them to flow on, observing them with amusement. Somehow she knew that no answer would suffice.
As this realization deepened, she came to understand that the whole process of seeking would never suffice. She surrendered to what at first seemed a devastation, a gasping climax that reached its final breath…until even that vanished, and there was an awareness beyond anything she could describe.
Returning home from an illuminating experience, Sandra no longer felt frustrated, angry, or despondent. She simply felt alive. She realized everything was a game, and that was wonderful. A beautiful, cosmic joke. She laughed and went about her life. This time, her actions flowed not from a sense of need, but a sense of love, without any expectation.
“When there’s the intention to understand, there is attention without the distraction of the desire to attend. Then the mind is not disciplined, controlled, pulled together and made to be still. Its stillness is natural when there’s the intention to understand. No effort, no conflict, is involved in understanding.” – Jiddu Krishnamurti