Updated: Apr 6
Here are detailed instructions from an ancient letter, on how to turn copper into gold:
Step 1: Take 9 chicken eggs
Step 2: Place them in a pot and seal the pot...
Step 3: Place the pot in the garbage (area where you keep garbage, figure outdoors in a dirty area) for a minimum of 30 days
Step 4: Open the pot and you will find that in each egg there is one worm
Step 5: Take all the contents of the first pot and place it in a new pot and cover it. The worms will eat up the contents inside and then they will start eating each other until there is only one worm left.
Step 6: Open the pot and burn that one big worm inside the pot until you have ashes. Make sure not to stand too close as the smell is like deadly poison.
Step 7: Grind up some copper and sprinkle some of the ashes on it and it will turn to gold.
We humans are still experts at alchemy, with or without chicken eggs. We still believe in transforming nickel into silver and copper into gold, milking meaning from tragedy and comfort from crisis. And it's true that there will always be a seed of potential meaning in every bad thing. Potential because it doesn't lie in the tragedy, but in we shamelessly resilient humans who can alchemize it into being.
So let us alchemize, and shamelessly.
For those who are social distancing at home, take some advice from a hermit-caretaker of an Italian island, Mauro Morandi: "I read a lot, and think. I think many people are scared of reading because if they do, they'll start meditating and thinking about stuff, and that can be dangerous. If you start seeing things under a different light and be critical, you could end up seeing what a miserable life you lead or what a bad person you are or the bad things you did."
Read and introspect anyway. To know yourself is the first step to changing yourself, and because changing yourself is nothing more than chipping away at the habits which obscure your true identity, self-improvement can't help but increase self-knowledge.
Morandi continues by explaining why he abandoned his yearly travels across Europe, "I just didn't feel like traveling anymore -- no interest," he says. "I understood that the most beautiful, dangerous, adventurous and gratifying journeys of all is the one inside yourself, whether you're sitting in the living room or under a canopy here in Budelli. That's why staying at home and doing nothing can be really hard for many."
I used to think that traveling could open my eyes to the wonder of life, could save me from monotony. I graduated from a rural high school in Kentucky, where I was always arguing with racists and kicking against the feeling that you could melt inside one of these small towns, could be trapped if you just lingered a little too long. But as I traveled Mexico, Korea, Argentina and finally, Europe, I was surprised by how little traveling seemed to affect so many people I met. There was the expat American mom who hated Koreans and complained about each cultural difference. There were the humanitarian Americans who viewed Mexicans with a holy pity rather than curiosity. There were the Brits who used Italy as an exotic backdrop for their partying, not stopping for a moment to look deeply at their surroundings.
The world's many cultures correspond to the many cultures inside the individual. We really can come to know ourselves and cultivate our inner diversity by exploring foreign places. But this exploration receives meaning from our inner awareness, and exotic places will awaken nothing deeper than their sensory stimuli if we don't first learn how to sit in silence in our very own skins, gathering perceptions and cultivating depth from the beautiful banality of our everyday lives.
Rainer Maria Rilke wrote a letter from Rome, "No, there is not more beauty here than in other places, and all these objects, which have been marveled at by generation after generation, mended and restored by the hands of workmen, mean nothing, are nothing, and have no heart and no value; but there is much beauty here, because everywhere there is much beauty."
Rilke was a poet, and I trust his perception. He also wrote, “If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself, tell yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for to the creator there is no poverty and no poor indifferent place.”