The Alchemy of Pain

I’ve been thinking a lot lately, about the metaphor of the phoenix rising from the ashes. I have always had an affinity for this one, in particular the way that it seems to point toward an inner alchemical process. One of moving toward the flames of discomfort in order to reveal the pure and authentic self.

In my book I wrote, “The phoenix doesn’t rise from the ashes by running away from the fire, it gets burned and then rises again.”

I think these days I would add a bit more nuance to that sentiment.

Today, I would say that it’s only natural to want to avoid all the difficulties that go along with being human. I’d even go so far as to say we are wired to avoid the pain of suffering.

Then add to that mix an ever increasing pressure from culture at large to be positive, to be healed, to be better, to have it all together, to be a better version of ourselves.

I know that for me, there are certainly moments when I want to skip the ‘fire’ part of this metaphor. I want to rise up, shiny and new, without the pain of getting burned.

So what I want to focus on these days is normalizing the resistance, the avoidance. The tendency to want to fix it before feeling it.

It makes me want to implant some new messages into the cultural narratives around self-improvement. Narratives that allow room for difference, uniqueness, for finding our own individual way through the fire.

Maybe even narratives that see imperfections as superpowers. Or messages that recognize our woundedness isn’t bad or wrong, but simply human. And perhaps even the very way for us to truly reach each other, in empathic resonance.

There is a popular Rumi quote that says something along the lines of: “The wound is where the light enters.“ Which is lovely, but I feel like these days, a useful addition to that sentiment would be that the wound is where we might connect to others, through our raw and real humanity.

The wound is where we can be found. The wound is the birth place of compassion, humility, and trust in something greater than ourselves alone.

So maybe the fire part, in fact, isn’t so bad. Yes it’s uncomfortable. Yes I’d love to bypass it at times. And also, when it’s used as an alchemical formula for connection, for embracing authentic humanity, perhaps it can be a reminder that we are all connected in one way or another. Because we are all human. Wounded or healed. We are human.


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