The key phrase ‘Inner work’ in the title is a bit of a misnomer I must admit from the start. All work that deals with change is inner work and I would stretch it as far as saying that there is nothing but inner work albeit what our sense experience might tell us. Alchemy is about inner work that leads to purification, transforming the metaphorical lead into gold, and ultimately reaching our highest human potential. The idea of an alchemist working in a workshop concocting potions is an iconic reference to alchemical processes but it’s only a metaphorical and symbolic one reflecting deeper layers of meaning mostly dealing with inner psychic work.
One of the key elements in alchemical work is in fact the deep understanding that the inner is reflected in the outer and the outer is nothing more than a reflection of the inner. The process of real deep inner work is always within the confines of this deep truth. The alchemist is one that has learnt to see beyond the immediacy of common sense experience in whatever he or she does.
There are four elements and potential effect of alchemical work. There is first an expansion of consciousness and awareness which is the foundation for the other three elements of change. There is then the deeper understanding of energies and vibration that lead to a shift in one’s own energies and ultimately, a shift in reality. Thirdly there is a deep transformative change that comes out from the reformation of deep structures in the ego self. Ultimately, and most importantly, there is integration – the process of embodying all these refinements and corrections in our physical reality.
As you’ll see, all of the four stages of growth are connected to some type of inner work (I call the ’S’ work – as they all begin with the letter ’s’).
#1 The Alchemy: Expanding Within (Inner Work: Sensing)
This word is pretty important because it is the driving force behind creation, inside everything that is. So expansion takes on a special position in the vocabulary of personal and spiritual growth. It denotes change but more importantly it is a type of change that is directly linked to growth.
When our awareness expands, our consciousness is tapped into more fully or is embedded more wholly in the here and now. But what does expanding your awareness really mean and how is it directly related to personal growth? Our awareness, first and foremost, is the bread and butter stuff of our consciousness. Yet our awareness could be quite limited, narrowly focused on certain things in our outer life, or on the other hand not focused at all but dispersed and scattered all over the place. An expansion of awareness involves going beyond the immediacy of experience or unlocking yourself from what is robbing you of your attention, and being gently aware of a much broader field that is more complete and encompasses a deeper understanding of the Self.
The thing that is radically counter-intuitive though is that expansion of awareness is not how we usually envision expansion – inflating outwards – but rather is a inflation into the inner dimensions of Self. So this expansion is not what we usually experience in our outer physical world. This is where some things need to be made clear.
Consciousness does not change, shift, expand or contract. It never does as it is a perfect whole. What changes is the awareness of those dimensions in which consciousness is embedded. We are effectively multidimensional beings in that what we call consciousness, at least as understood within spiritual knowledge, is present in many dimensional layers of existence. We experience consciousness through our physicality at this level. Yet consciousness goes way beyond the limits of our physical experience. At higher levels it is no longer related to the notion of self or ego but is a universal field of consciousness deeply entangled and inseparable from everything else that is. At its highest level it is creation itself, One, source, God or whatever your preferred reference to that deep profound mystery is. There are many layers in between, yet it is one and the same consciousness.
Following this notion, the idea of expansion of awareness is really awareness of the other dimensions of consciousness within this physical one. In other words, expanding your awareness means being aware of your other dimensions of being within your physical embodiment. Spiritual growth is not about going ‘higher’ but an involution of the higher levels of being within the awareness of your body-mind.
The Inner Work: Sensing
We are living in an age where feeling have been suppressed and where the intellect reigns supreme. I say feeling in the broader meaning of the word, hence ‘sensing’ in general and not feelings as just connected to human emotions.
So, the inner work here involves going into and beyond the normal 5 senses that we are so accustomed to perceive (and yet even here it is heavily suppressed and very weak). It means moving our attention from the external world through the interface of our common 5 senses, to the ‘inside’ dimensions using more of the ‘subtle’ senses. The action of sensing is an active-passive one. It requires being aware, first and foremost of what is going on in your inner life – the stream of thoughts, feelings, the body, subtle and not-so-subtle messages from your subconscious. Hence why they are called the subtler senses because they are not the normal biologically hard-wired interfaces of seeing, hearing, smelling, touching and tasting. They go into and beyond that in order to pick-up subtler signals from our entire body-mind, eventually becoming stronger and more clear.
This widening and deepening of the act of sensing is crucial for bringing about an expansion of awareness into the inner dimensions of being. More or less of it determines how slow, mild, fast or sudden this process is.
Practical notes: Dream journaling is an important practice into dream work such as lucid dreaming. The concept makes sense and is applicable to other domains of inner discovery, particularly when training how to pay more attention to the subtle inner messages of the mind and body, and your intuition in general. So a really down-to-earth hack to reinforcing the habit of ‘listening’ to your inner currents is writing down ‘what comes to you’. Do not be afraid of it being erratic or incoherent at first. You will get the hang of it, just like me writing these notes here effortlessly and without giving too much thought. It just flows out of my subconscious and ‘higher consciousness’. Happy writing.
#2 The Alchemy: Shifting Gears (Inner Work: Sifting)
Following expansion of awareness there is always a shift in perception – together with a change in the quality and meaning it brings to our understanding – and unfailingly with it comes a shift in energies which can manifest themselves in many forms either for a really brief moment or permanently. The most important one comes through an opening of the channels of our bio-energetic field. This is what the ancient medicine and spiritual traditions refer to the chakras or main energy centres that channel the flow of a universal life force referred to by many names across cultures – Qi, Prana, Lung, and others lost through time or translation.
A shift in these energy systems can bring about too many effects to mention here but can be anywhere from physical vitality & health, will and determination, to intuition, creativity, ecstatic joy to a sense of union with the divine.
Of course no volume of work can do justice to this immensely vast topic. These shifts in energy are literally like shifting to higher gears of living. Your view on life can shift by a small to large degree depending on how strong or continuous these shifts are. Your entire reality is also seen to change because through this change in energies you are more connected to the deeper aspects of who you truly are. Some refer to this as being connected to your divine nature. Reality also changes because you start understanding things from this deeper and more connected space. You start being more aware, and in tune, with how everything is ultimately energy, information and vibration. You start seeing the world as being more of a super connected ecology of energy and intelligence and less of a material place.
The Inner Work: Sifting
When you hit on higher notes of energy, or higher octaves for that matter, you enter into a new rhythm and at first a ‘cacophony’ (composed of an incoherence between both high and low notes) that you are not accustomed to. This shifting of energies (which for most of the time is positive, energising, liberating and life-changing) require a process of sifting. Therefore shifting requires sifting. I see these energetic shifts pretty much like switching lanes on a motorway. You need to adjust your speed and focus, otherwise you might as well stay where you are and avoid danger.
Practical notes: In order to do so with growing life energies you need to help it with sifting through those aspects of your life that are creating tension, drag and resistance (the lower energetic notes). You need to grow more accustomed to hearing and identifying those notes. This is a little bit of energy class 101. By identifying the new ‘high energy notes’ and contrasting them with the low ones, you can use more sensing to pick up more and more of the energies you need to stay tuned to. In simple, non-metaphysical language, keep up with what moves you and shakes you and stay away from what weakens your vibes.
#3 The Alchemy: Transformation (Inner Work: Sincerity)
Expansion together with shifting energies brings nothing less than a re-formation of many patterns that have been conditioning us since childhood.
What do I mean by structures here? They are the beliefs, personality traits, patterns of behaviour, thought-forms and dispositions that are hard-wired in the body-mind. They are always there in the backdrop even if we might not be aware of them. Still most of them unconsciously drive our life choices and how we respond to circumstances. In many ways they define you and bind you to a set of life paths. They are also repetitive and keep on reinforcing themselves through habit and repetition (as we act them out) and this is why it sometimes feels that we are stuck to the same cycles and same situations and relationships. This is the power of our subconscious mind.
So the expansion of your awareness together with a shift in how you process energies are two powerful agents that bring about this reformation of structures by breaking them down or dissolving them and recreating new (more positive) ones.
Any meaningful change, in fact, happens through a crisis, or series of crises, which ultimately means a temporary dissolution of structures.
Another powerful agent of change is when crisis is forced upon us externally through a life-changing event we are not sufficiently equipped to deal with at the moment. This is of course less desirable but it will happen if the other two factors are not there to put the work. Change can happen either through inner work or a violent external force. The good news is that to a large extent, we have a choice even though we believe otherwise because we think that sh#t happens and that’s life – we can’t control it. While this is true to varying degrees (depending what events we are talking about), it is also true that external circumstances are gateways to open us up because we are resisting and hindering to grow out of our own accord. These are the balancing forces of life at work. So naturally if we are ready to grow out of our own free will and volition, through doing some real inner work, then we are also not needing for life to hit us like a brick wall as a wake up call.
The Inner Work: Sincerity
Real transformative change can never happen without being sanctioned by your innermost truth. That’s a pact that every soul upholds. It has to pass the test of truth in order to happen. This is why inner work has to be done with utmost sincerity. You need to approach your inner dark corners with less apprehension and more sincerity and honesty. This means being open, non-judgmental and compassionate to what comes up to your consciousness from the darker recesses of your psyche. This is real inner work, or shadow work (or more casually – Sh#t work because it involves dealing with bringing up and clearing sh#t – what I would personally consider the only true spiritual work that is needed). Being sincere actually helps to soften the discomfort of ‘seeing through’ your shadow rather than making it harsher. So don’t be afraid to be sincere with yourself.
Practical notes: ‘Talk to yourself’ whenever you feel some resistance, doubt, or feel sunken in some feeling. Ask yourself where is that feeling or restriction coming from. Be open and be sincere to receive whatever may come because if you are truly sincere and open, the answer will come even from the innermost depths of your unconscious. This is real practical shadow work – ‘seeing things through’. It can be one answer or can open up doors to more deeper insights.
#4 The Alchemy: Integration (inner Work: Synthesising)
The last part of the cycle of growth is integration and as you might have guessed it is the most important one since it is always the one that gets missed out on the most. Integration is about tying things back together, particularly a new whole out of the restructured parts and aspects of the self after doing inner work.
Let’s take an example of what this means. Let’s say you have been in a dire situation with your finances or perhaps your relationships never truly worked out but quite oppositely brought a lot of suffering and heartbreaks. You never got to understand that this has something to do with yourself. You have always got down to blame life circumstances, your luck and most of all, the other people who you perceive as being the cause of that pain or those heartbreak. You have always wanted a break from the streak but never really understood why it keeps on happening over and over again.
Somehow you decide to start working on this and look into yourself with honesty and courage. You become aware of things you have never been aware of before, particularly about traits and beliefs that you have carried with you all your life. You start being conscious of patterns of behaviour you have been acting out and the way you were constantly reacting to or triggered by certain situations. For example you notice how you have been particularly reactive to certain words and actions by previous partners and you understand you were perceiving this as a sign of abandonment or rejection even if you were completely blind to it at the time. You could only feel the pain of it.
Deeper awareness into the issue brings you to understand that this fear of being rejected has been playing a major part in your life, even outside of romantic relationships and into many areas of your life. You have also seen yourself take certain life decisions based on the perception of this threat of rejection. In short, it has conditioned you immensely.
And deeper still you come to realise that this fear of being rejected was imprinted in your early childhood through being left alone with your grandparents or caretakers for long periods of time, or for feeling that one of your parents wasn’t forthcoming in affection or perhaps that you were literally rejected at some point in your life.This has created a strong fundamental belief that has shaped your entire life down to the small details.
And so through expanding awareness, and therefore bringing up this piece of insight into your conscious awareness (this can be uncomfortable and brings about a lot of resistances at first), you dissolve it. This opens up a new space where new energies come into play and fill in that new space. You shift gears. You realise how much energy was being drained by this one thing alone. At the same time all this brings about a transformative change in oneself that can be felt as dramatic as a new born self or a new life. Now here is where integration comes in.
All these beautiful realisations and shifts in perception and energies will only be short-lived if we do not integrate it in our everyday life. We need to anchor it back into our day-to-day world…into all that is familiar to us. The way this is most commonly done is through practice, repetition and staying vigilant of the inner saboteur (hint: your subconscious mind) that will try to derail you and get you back to the old patterns it is so used to. Why? because the way to replace some belief embedded in the subconscious mind is through repetition until it becomes hard-wired and also because the transformation might still not be complete and old structures (beliefs, assumptions, emotional blocks, etc) could still be active thus dragging your back to the opposite direction of positive change and transformation.
This is why integration is so important because it closes the lid on and finalises the cycle of growth by etching the change and transformation into our subconscious mind. Repetition is one of the easiest tools to etch something into our subconscious mind and this is why repeated affirmation seem to work wonders for most people.
The Inner Work: Synthesising
Integration is a bit of a post-production work. It requires you to ‘go back’ and recollect, merge and synthesise things together. It requires the process of bringing back the parts to a new whole. This act of synthesising your insights and new aspects of self also calls for dedication and some patience. Post-production work is not glamorous but it is more than worthwhile.
Practical notes: This is a good opportunity for using affirmations and visualisation because synthesising is mostly subconscious programming work. Do a set of positive affirmations (coupled with visual cues if you like) multiple times everyday that keep on reinforcing the positive change you would like to become a permanent part of your life.