So we’ve been around and around these circles within circles. Where have we ended up?
Throughout this long work, we have attempted to illustrate the importance of self-investigation into underlying assumptions in order to escape the chains of cultural conditioning. With explanations and examples, we showed negative consequences of mindlessly following the Mob. Similarly we showed the positive consequences of following one’s Inner Voice by developing Conscious Awareness. Within this framework we developed the Alchemical metaphor of the Firing Process.
The Firing Process has a few different elements, including the Cauldron to hold the Energy and a Flame to cook the Energy. On broad levels the Energy could be thought of as Human Life; the Cauldron as the Body; and the Flame as Life’s activities. The point according to this metaphor is to cook the Human Life in the Cauldron with the Flames so that the Human achieves Transcendence or Transformation.
If the Firing is successful, the Human becomes a Buddha in Buddhism, an Immortal in Taoism, a Sage in Confucianism, a realized Master or Guru in Hinduism, or Self-actualized in Western Psychology. In short if the Firing Process is successful, one realizes their full potential as a Human being. On one level, we have called this the fulfillment of one’s Destiny. On another level, we have called this the ability to experience the Bliss of Being completely without the distraction of emotion-filled thoughts and desires.
Alternately, if the Firing is unsuccessful, then one becomes a victim of Fate. This could mean an early death from self induced diseases - a life of unfulfilled potentials, aimless wandering without purpose - an existence filled with neurosis, fear, free floating anxiety, anger, and disappointment. In short, the unsuccessful Firing means that the Individual becomes a Victim of Circumstance rather than the Master of their Destiny. On more immediate levels, it means that the Individual is unable to experience the Bliss of just Being because they are so wrapped in the thought world of expectation and anticipation.
It is apparent from these descriptions that it is desirable to have a successful Firing, at least under this metaphor of Life. What then are the components of a successful Firing?
On obvious levels the Body Cauldron must be strong enough to contain the Life Energy and transmit the Energy of the Flame. The Body needs to be fed properly to build strength so that it is not too flimsy or feeble to endure the Firing. In short, this simply means a good Diet. On deeper levels, the Body needs to be purified of obstructions so that the Energy of the Flame can be easily and completely transmitted to the Life in the Cauldron. This is the Body/Energy work of Tai Chi, Yoga, or any other form of exercise, which is designed to open up the energy channels of the body, to allow the blood to flow naturally throughout the body, enlivening the cells so that the entire Body is free of blockages.
Note that while this Bodywork is a crucial part of the Firing that it only has to do with the strength and flexibility of the Cauldron to transmit the Energy of the Flames. While the ignorant frequently think that Bodywork is the ultimate goal, it is only a beginning step. Many spend their whole life cultivating the Cauldron, without ever really beginning the Firing. Their life continues to be filled with emptiness and anxiety - dominated by fear and anger - reacting to life’s circumstances rather than flowing with Bliss thru the channels of Life. While Body and Energy work are essential they are only the perfection of the Cauldron. With no flames and nothing in the pot, what’s the Point?
The second crucial element is the heat of the Flames cooking the pot. The heat of the Flames is determined by the intensity and frequency of the Practice. While frequency is important, it means nothing if it is not hot enough. If the oven is set at such a low heat that it never cooks the Bread, then the dough of Life just remains dough, never becoming Bread, although the practice continues day after day. The intensity is too low to raise the temperature to cook the Bread.
This has a few reasons. Perhaps there are too many things in the oven. The meat stays raw - the Bread doesn’t rise - and the crust of the Pie remains dough. It is necessary to concentrate the Flame of Practice on the right amount, else the Firing will be unsuccessful. Dissipation of the energy on too many specialties dims the intensity of the Flame. Doing one thing well is more important than doing many things in a mediocre way.
A second reason why the Flame is not hot enough is that the Individual’s attention is distracted from the Flame itself, concentrating on results rather than the process. Distractions from fame, fortune, the satisfaction of trivial material desires or emotional thoughts dims the intensity of the Flame. Investigation into underlying assumptions assists one in the process of eliminating these distracting influences to allow the Fire of Practice to burn brighter and hotter.
We have spent a lot of pages attempting to elucidate the nature of these underlying assumptions. While one motivation for investigation is to avoid victimization by external circumstances, the other, perhaps more important reason, is to clean the Mind of extraneous thoughts so that the Fire can burn hotter to achieve a successful Firing. Under this view of Life, these extraneous thoughts are a call to Action rather than something to be ignored. Ignoring these distracting thoughts only means that they will regularly dim the Flame of Practice, potentially disabling the Firing. This call to Investigation is what we have referred to as the Return Arrow. The Veering arrow takes us away from Direct Experience; the Return Arrow brings us back. While the Return Arrow is not the Direct Experience, it is a necessary component in order that the Flame of Practice is not diminished.
Note that the investigation of underlying assumptions only intensifies the Heat of the Flame. It is not the Flame itself. Nor is it the Cauldron. Nor is it the Life that is being cooked. While essential to the success of the Firing, it is only a preliminary step - Preparing the ground. The ignorant spend their entire life on body and mind purification thinking that this is where it’s at. No matter how pure and hot the Flame and Cauldron are, if there is nothing in the Pot, there is nothing to Fire. It is like cooking an empty pot. What use is there to a strong oven and intense flame if there is no dough to cook? If one gets stuck at this level, meaninglessness and boredom follow. There is no Quest, no Firing, just purification of the elements of the Casting. Without gold, how can one make jewelry? If an Individual spends his entire time on mind and body purification, at the expense of his Child, he has missed the point.
This essential purification of the Mind/Body complex that we have called Person is called self-cultivation. While a necessary precondition for the Journey - while crucial as a foundation, it is only the first step.
In the next section we are going to investigate the birth of the spiritual embryo and the raising of the Child.