May 18, 2021

The Alchemy of Trauma: Turning our Wounds from Lead to Gold.


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In ancient civilizations, wounds were understood as the first step in a larger rite of passage. Wounds were so critical to the growth process, in fact, they were sometimes given intentionally.

The people of these cultures understood the inherent power of wounds to transform themselves and others into wiser, more empathetic versions of themselves. They understood ordeal; they also understood the power of transformation.

In modern times, we humans have become quite adept in the language of “wounds.” We are also fluent in the family of words that circle our wounds —triggered, repressed, victim, narcissist, empath, trauma, and toxic.

But we’re not as skilled in using wounds as catapults into a greater, deeper rite of passage.

Instead of our wounds becoming a starting point for deeper wisdom and understanding, they settle beneath our skin, becoming internal scars and tattoos that mark us, identify us, and soon merge with us. At this point, we no longer know where we end and our wound begins.

When we do seek healing for our wounds, too often we rush the process by giving ourselves imaginary timelines and Herculean expectations.

“This shouldn’t take this long.”
“Other people would’ve moved on by now.”
“Why does this still hurt so much? What’s wrong with me?”

Or, we try to bypass the work by telling ourselves we have healed, or perhaps that we were never actually hurt at all.

“That was a long time ago.”
“It doesn’t bother me anymore.”
“Lots of people have it worse.”

We berate, we scold, we measure, we judge ourselves. We gaslight, we bypass, we dismiss.

Until at some point, without even knowing it, we have become attached to our wounds, even finding comfort and solace in them. Our wounds become part of our identity.

When I sat down to write my first book, Embodying Soul: A Return to Wholeness, I was prepared to share stories that I believed I had healed from. But the more I delved into these stories, the more I realized I was only partially healed from my wounds. There were angles I’d never considered, wisdom that I’d never mined. I had to admit that I was, in fact, walking wounded.

I still am.

All of us are, probably.

We all have stories of betrayal, pain, and hurt that remain within us, unprocessed and undigested. All of us have traumas, losses, failures, and past regrets from which we believe we have healed, but we have not. Not fully. Some of us know this consciously; others of us deny it.

When we have not transformed and worked with our wounds, they transform and work on us.

They talk to us— telling us what we can and can’t do, who we can and can’t be. They shape us, giving us boundaries that become barriers and cautions that become limitations.

Lead weight

The wounds go where we go. They’re a heavy, lead weight on our consciousness, stifling us and preventing us from our freedom—freedom which is the birthright of every human being.

Over time, we get so used to carrying this extra weight around, we don’t even remember another way of being in the world: a lighter, freer, more spontaneous expression of ourselves.

We are not designed to carry all this extra weight in our psyche. We do not need to carry around this extra weight. By so doing, we deny ourselves the opportunity to turn our wounds into wisdom.

The science of alchemy

Alchemy is an ancient science that sought to turn lead into gold. Or, for our purposes, alchemy is the ultimate science of transformation.

Through understanding the practice and stages of alchemy, we can learn how to use our wounds as raw material to make gold —gold in our case representing greater consciousness, awareness, and wisdom.

From an alchemical perspective, our wounds are just the first step in a three-step process of growing wisdom.

Burning Stage

Because our wounds are solid, like lead, it is impossible to shape them into wisdom without first melting them in the fire of transformation. Metaphorically speaking, the “fire” in this case is our attention, our commitment, our discernment, our persistence.

We have to willingly walk into the crucible with our wounds in hand, where they will initially be made more visible and perhaps more frightening. Wounds must be looked at, examined, and dissected from every perspective and angle.

During our time in the crucible, our wounds slowly lose their shape and melt into what alchemy calls First Matter. I think of First Matter as the raw ingredients that make up our universe—what existed before the Big Bang. Or, we could think of a sandbox filled with sand, or clay dumped onto a potter’s wheel. In First Matter lies all the potentials and possibilities for future growth.

After the lead (our initiatory wounds) are sacrificed to the fire of transformation, they burn down to harmless ashes from which something new can be formed.

Sorting Stage

Once the ashes have cooled, we begin the tedious process of sorting through the remnants. Only then can we separate what belongs to us from what doesn’t, and ultimately reshape the wound into lessons that benefit us and help us grow.

This stage can look like this: When I revisited some wounds from this deeper place, I saw how not only had I been hurt, but I hurt other people— sometimes even intentionally. Until this point, I was in denial of that part of myself. That gave me a great opportunity to do a lot of atonement, forgiveness work, and compassion work, all of which led to a greater sense of my wholeness and our oneness as human beings.

The sorting stage is for deciding what we will carry forward into our rebirth and what we will not. It takes time, patience, and a lot of self-compassion. But it is where the gold begins to take shape and, eventually, shine.

Rebirth Stage

When we emerge from the crucible of transformation, we are not the same person we were when we walked in. We might live in the same house, or drive the same car, or work at the same place ,  but inside, we have completely transformed. When we emerge on the other side, we are wiser, stronger, and eventually, over our lifetime, we grow into a wise elder— true gold in a society of so much lead.

It’s really our choice. A wound can either be a lead weight that holds us back from our freedom, or the first step in an alchemical rite of passage to greater wisdom.

We can either let our wounds fester and confine, or we can use them as a catalyst to live and lead from a place of greater wholeness.

From an alchemical perspective, every wound is nothing more than an initiatory event, ripe with the potential to be turned into wisdom.

If there is no wound, there is no place from which to begin the work.

I guess it’s a good thing, then, that we are all walking wounded.


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