The Alchemy of Befriending
We have just passed the celtic festival of Imbolc, marking the time of year that the life force is about to come back to the land after winter. The celtic goddess Brig is associated with healing, poetry and smithcraft. Which got me thinking about the fire element and its alchemical nature: fire is known in many traditions as an agent of transformation, and I experience it imaginatively as a force that can bring our own aliveness back.
My own relationship with the fire element has taught me about the life force as ‘inner fire’. Through the practice of befriending, I’ve begun to integrate the energy of anger and fear that I used to suppress (because I was so averse to how it felt), although it would always find a way to ‘leak out’. Now that I’m not so afraid of it, I experience that energy as an inner fire that fuels aliveness and creativity.
Befriending is a practice that has always felt like a kind of alchemy to me: as we transform our relationship with emotional energies, they shift and change too. What is befriending? you may be wondering. It’s a way of getting to know the parts of ourselves that we’ve banished or exiled. Instead of rejecting and pushing them away, we learn to embrace and let them in.
This takes patience, and courage. It can be a fierce process, as we transform our wariness and aversion in the fire of kind awareness. (The word friend, after all, is only one letter away from fiend). So why would we want to risk it? I can only speak for myself, and say that it’s been more than worth it to learn how to tend my inner fire instead of trying to tame it, to get to know it as a protective ally against a dominant culture that seems determined to eliminate all forms of feeling-energy.
Once, while immersed in an imaginative practice, I asked my inner fire what it wanted and it told me ‘I don’t want you to be numb’. This was a huge turning point for me. I started to let that life force energy feed my enthusiasm and inspiration, and become something of an energy of ‘the warm hearth’.
If you’re interested in trying some befriending, there are various imaginative, creative ways to do this. Here are a few:
Meditation – like ‘Support Your Self’ or ‘Befriending Difficulty’ on my meditations page.
Journaling – you can dialogue with a part of yourself or an emotional energy in writing. There are some ideas for this in my post Mindful Journaling, or the ‘Support Your Self’ meditation can be used as a guided writing exercise.
Embodiment practices – such as very gently tracking the sensations of energy moving through the body. This approach can help to increase our capacity for feelings of aliveness in the nervous system. ‘Discovering the Body’ gives a sense of this on the meditations page. There are also some ‘One Minute Mindfulness’ practices for embodiment in my video ‘Be Present’
Art – drawing, poetry, music and stories can help us to explore and relate to ‘exiled’ energies in a way that feels safe and empowering. Some of the pieces in my short story collection ‘The Girl Who Survived’ were drawn from my own experiences of befriending.
Main image – ‘The Fire Bird’ (courtesy of my son)
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Currently my own creative energy is also finding expression in ‘Transforming Lawn into Urban Permaculture’.
On the subject of creativity as part of a mindfulness practice, Retreat West (who published my story collection) are starting an online Mindful Fiction Writing course in April – you don’t have to have prior experience in writing, it’s suitable for anyone who has an interest in both mindfulness and writing. (I’m not involved in running this course, if you have any questions about it, contact Retreat West directly).