An Alchemist’s Shame

Pride is nearly a stranger to me and I know shame intimately. Science, art, and philosophy provide me structure for courage. Through courage, I might get to know pride. Shame still clings and attempts to interfere with my healing and growing and knowing of what I’m capable of. Shame carries embarrassment, self hatred, and hates philosophy, art, and science.

[Content Warning: mentions of colonial racism, colonial violence, cultural appropriation, ableism regarding mental illness]

Together, the trio form an amateur alchemy practice: botany, herbalism, psychology, symbolism, occultism, history, chemistry. What you believe to be alchemy may not be what I do, but I am a student of alchemy nonetheless. I’m healing my relationship with life and the world life plays out in. I’m learning the intricacies of healing and changing.

But when my fiancé is speaking to someone and refers to my practice as ‘alchemy’, I experience an intense wave of embarrassment. Anyone who knows me also knows I’m mentally ill. I cannot escape the facts of my mental illness.

I always fear my deepest faith and hope and understanding will be assumed to be symptoms. I’ve written at length over the course of the last decade of my grappling with the intersection of gnosis and psychosis. In the end, I trust my medications and doctors, and I trust the evidence I have for what negatively and positively impacts my life.

Christianity, in general, gets a free pass to be overtly a extravagant and mystical. The Catholics get away with being cults, they have elaborate mythology, extreme and dramatic rituals, have amassed wealth and corrupt power, and have been proven to have caused widespread, devastating damage.

World religions and spiritualities contain many commonalities but depending on who and where they come from, they’re met with either social power or oppression. In many ways I’m very privileged. Being white, being accepted by my family, living on farmland, these are factors I must be aware of. The atrocities committed against Indigenous communities have impacted every aspect of existence here.

Unlearning racist and colonialist teaching is an ongoing process, but included is a necessity to understand the roots of stigmas— cultural spirituality is still persecuted in North America, animism and Indigenous knowledge has been continuously threatened, shamed, and abused. I cannot describe in my words the pain and prolonged suffering caused to the peoples of this continent.

There seems to be no end to the selfishness and entitlement of whiteness. If I cannot take pride in how I rewire my brain, I am relinquishing a gift to myself and perpetuating the empowerment of colonialism. Guilt tied to not fitting colonial ideals is dangerous. White guilt is too, another form of selfishness. The factors which can amalgamate into white guilt are also what educate and motivate. The horrible, disgusting truths can teach to create a better reality, how to not repeat mistakes. Self flagellation accomplishes nothing. The horror is a drive to prevent continued suffering.

White spirituality continues a tradition of theft and abuse. Every niche includes both appropriation and white supremacy, including hermeticism in which sects steal from closed Judaic practices. Through my research I can follow convoluted webs of entitlement. As an alchemist, I have a duty to understand originations.

I have a duty to understand the colonial reflections within my shame and embarrassment. All are interconnected, everything influences everything.

The same shame which wishes to keep me from transparency around being mentally ill and transgender, is what rises to greet the word alchemy. The shame is historical, it is association and conflation. If a person belittles me for my ways of being, reacting with more shame would only reinforce old and warped perception. A belittling person is an opportunity to converse and relay my understanding.

Here I sit on land which isn’t mine to sit upon, with a destructive trail of ancestry. To be embarrassed of this avenue of healing, which teaches unlearning and rebuilding, is to care more about the opinions of my ancestors of capitalism than those of my ancestors of alchemy. Do I value tyranny? Absolutely not.

I must allow myself pride so that I may be humble, so that I may confidently say, “I disagree with you, here are my reasons why. Let’s discuss this.” So what to do? I will be an alchemist. I will perform a transmutation.

Excitement feels like fear and therefore easily transforms into it. The reverse is also true. Rather than fighting against the physiology of anxiety, I’ve been practicing working with it. Accepting the natural reactions of my body allows me to stop reacting with my mind and begin responding. I understand the sensations are not inherently positive or negative, it is my mind which decides. 

I can reconnect with the memories of excitement leading up to proposing to my fiancé, the pounding of my heart when we touch, the thrill of art, science, mischief, movies, gifts, joyful secrets, discovery, finding a cool bug, and I can be excited. 

If I decide to be excited when alchemy is brought up in conversation, I honour myself. I build the strength I need to fulfill my dreams of making local change and being an educator.

Pride, I will know you.

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