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The Golden Elixir:

Evolutionary Change and the Post-Modern World

Lee Irwin,  2010

In a recent conference call with the Guiding Voices, we addressed a question asked
by Pir Zia: “Is the spiritual quest always essentially the same or does it evolve over the
course of human history . . . [and] what distinguished the emerging spirituality of the 21st
century?” We heard eloquent overviews by Robin Becker and David Spangler and many
sincere voices added to the depth of the conversation [link to discussion].

I would like to address one issue of our conversation: what is the relationship
between evolutionary transformation and rootedness in tradition, lineage, and the spiritual
realizations of past teachers? There is a creative tension, one we all face, in reconciling the
teachings and traditions of the past with the tremendous global changes of the present. Our
current era is one of dynamic change, fraught with all the eddies and currents of conflicting
interests and aspirations, stirred by the plasmic energies of technology, and heated by
increasing sensitivities of personhood - in gender, age, ethnicity, community, language,
ideology, and local, layered identities no longer confined to simple bodily perceptions. Our
awareness is increasingly enhanced by interconnectivity, electronic media, and a multitude
of cross-disciplinary perspectives. Our thinking is no longer able to dwell in the immediacy
of a particular perspective without tremendous resistance to alternatives that pull us, often,
in contradictory directions.

Everywhere there is froth - popular ideas, fads, events, and views - that arise from
the sea of turbulence like airy phantoms whose allure is an effervescent image, promise, or
practice in the Now that all too often quickly collapses into the same turbulent sea from
which it came, promises unfulfilled. We live in an age of promises and compromises
resulting in both disaster and possibility, on an unprecedented scale, where suffering and
violence is still a wide spread human, animal, and planetary problem. Transformation has
hardly begun to heal the fractured psyche of our collective life; savage brutalities continue
to be enacted, confusions mislead, fears paralyze, and death is still a barrier to peace. I
cannot describe the world as balanced or harmonious, even though I fully believe that it is
the inherent power of cohesion, manifest in and through the natural world, that pulls the
tide of our confusion back toward a calmer, more mature perspective in the Now. We are
veiled beings, even in the moments of our most ecstatic insights, there are still more veils
to be lifted, still more seeing to be beheld, more depths to give perspective, and more living
necessary to nurture the gift of life into its full flowering.

I believe that the unfolding of our potential, our capacity to grow into the sacred
human, is a long process and that in this on-going process, the turbulence of the present,
its eddies and whirlpools stirred by remarkable technologies, sciences, and discoveries, is
still, only a phase, only a stage we will pass through into even greater challenges. Yet, even
as a stage, I know that it surpasses my own life and existence; I will not live to realize the
changes I see coming. But when I lift a veil, I see technology brought into new balance with
the deeper needs of humanity; what stands forth for me is the need for healing, for human
respect for all life, for a reverence that holds life as a sacred relation based in love as a
profound depth of care. Does love evolve? Do we really believe that we are able to be more
loving than the love generated by the great souls and hearts of those gone before us who
have love intensely, bravely, deeply, even to the sorrow and sacrifice of their own life? Is it
not possible that those gone before, without the gloss of technological abstraction, without
the glamour of globalization, saw the pain and sorrow of suffering more directly, without
buffering, and acted? Can we say our love is more perfect than the Buddha or the Christ,
even though our problems are more complex and demanding?

Is it not also true that our problems, our insufficiencies, genuinely stem from the
very lack of love necessary to bring balance into the world? We are perhaps more deficient
in love than ever before because we are also so distracted, so idealistic, so removed from
suffering which is utterly real, painful, and embodied. The animals suffer, without doubt we
are their destroyers. The land suffers, we plunder and exhume and build, barely thinking of
the resources and qualities we burn. The water suffers, polluted and stained almost beyond
recovery. Human beings suffer, deprived of heart-centered leadership, lacking education
and a just context for growth. The solution is not technology or evolution, but a recovery of
an inner vitality of relatedness, a loving kindness, that can provide the context for healing in
the face of change. As creative agents of this radical change amidst competing practices and
ideas, it is our challenge to each become a stable center whose grounding is not moved by
the wind, who can bend and not break, move and not fall, or if fallen, to get up and forgive.

The image that comes most strongly is that of a Soul Tree, one deeply rooted in the
robust, rich soil of embodied life, where the fruits of this Tree is every individual soul,
nourished by a Golden Elixir. This elixir is the sap of the Tree, a clear, moist, generative
flow of living vitality that rises from the nourishment of the roots, synthesized with the light
of every leaf, to produce growth and fruitfulness. The good fruit is the embodied life, the
dropped soul who springs to life and craves the recovery of that elixir; who sinks roots into
the local soil, draws moisture and light, and despite storms and winds and terrors, is not
stunted, but suffers through the changes, ring by ring, however thin or wide, to sink deeper
into the archetypal wells where love can flow freely and thus inform our knowing of the
world. Even if the leaf is small, even if the flower but a tiny mandala, still the fruit can be
sweet or pungent, or healing, whatever is necessary in that context. The fruit cast of by
every tree is nourished by its soil, it embodies the local and the deep elixir; growing in
context, it’s vitality thrives through higher light and deep well soil to produce the endless
variety of the possible in actual forms.

When I read the writing of a great teacher, or hear inspired words, observe a work of
art or dance or hear the music of the soul - sometime sorrowful and sad, sometimes joyful
beyond words - I celebrate deep connections to the past. Those souls inspire me and I will
never cease to reverence their lives and art and teachings. But that is also true in the
present, the souls that still inspire and make me more aware, soulfully, of the depths of
partnership that challenge me to open and share the joys and sorrows of others. Is that
evolution? Or is it an affirmation of an ancient truth - to love and be loved, to heal and be
healed, to know and be known? And doesn’t that love come out of the earth, the very place
of manifestation, through body, the very temple of divine indwelling? Like DNA, the two
strands are entwined - the one strand of recovery and the other of discovery - I recover the
depths of soul that I know was known before,transmitted through generational wisdom,
embodied by others, lived in joy and sorrow; and, I discover the emerging context, the new
and the just coming-into-being. The linkage between them is life-itself; it is like Jacob’s
Ladder, linking the two aspects, we climb it at the risk of becoming fully human and
therefore, fully responsible for the healing of the world we co-create.

What this gives me is a sense of place, of belonging to humanity, to rootedness is a

shared Elixir of transformation. I believe that the Golden Elixir is a kind of essence that
expresses or symbolizes Divine Indwelling, in me, in you, in all nature, the Infinite Within
All. And this Elixir, which is life vitality, a fluid medium, a taste of honey, can open mind and
heart to greater awareness and is, indeed, the Gift of Life. It is intrinsic, we do not create it
but we can, somewhat to our own detriment, distill it, refined it, and turn it into a vanishing,
diminishing vapor through abstraction and removed ideas or words. It’s not the words that
matter, but what they communicate; not the type of tree, but the value of the fruit; not the
juice, but every part - the root, the body, the heart, the soul, the sap, the mind, the leaf,
the whole being harmonized. It’s not exactly evolution and its not exactly something from
the past; perhaps there is no “exactly” but only the loving approximations we make
through gestures of caring communications with others.

I think what really matters is how deeply and genuinely we can love, care for others,
do our world work without thoughts of self-aggrandizement or concerns about our possible
errors. What do we embody? How do we incorporate and share the life force? We must at
least try to do our best, not as what might be or become, but in terms of what is now,
embodied by me and by you as real, limited, partial beings capable of drawing on that
indwelling elixir for the benefits it brings to all our relations. Perhaps we can embody a new
vision or possibility, or perhaps we can be a living presence of what is or has been, but what
has been is the unbroken lineage of embodied beings capable of love and healing,
overcoming remarkable challenges, and offering in the midst of suffering, a true gift of
grace. If we can cut through the glamour and stimulation of the immediate present, the
subterfuge of the possible, and approach every instrument with humility, use what is helpful
for the healing of the world and its beings, then, perhaps we can call it “evolution.”
Otherwise, we becomes captives of a dream that has no body, a tree without roots, a
crystallized salt that has no mercury to bind it in the slow fire of love. It will take
generations to accomplish this transformation, but each or us can add to the beauty if we
can become the beauty gifted to us through Spirit. We must become it, embody it, live it,
share it, that is the challenge, step by step, day by day - growing, that we might truly be
fruitful and multiply.

Thus I would say that the spiritual quest has always been changing, has never really
been the same. All spiritual traditions bare witness to the dynamics of internal debate,
discovery, refinement, that has always challenged the static tendency toward reiteration
and repetition. What evolves, is our understanding of the elixir, its work, with
transmutations in the human heart, the context within which it is expressed. The outer shell
of history is the visible movement, the inner nut is the embodiment of spiritual practices by
great souled beings, and the oil of that nut is the sweetness of the elixir that permeates the
teachings of every illumined soul. The spirituality of the 21st century is really no different,
whatever its shell or inner forms, it is nourished by that Indwelling vitality that urges us to
accept transformation as our path, to become vessels for the overflowing abundance, that
affirms, heals, and uplifts a world, a friend, a child, a soul in need, or simply celebrates the
gift of beauty bestowed on the world for inspiration.

Prayer of the Earth

My heart is not large enough to

comprehend the Mystery.
Nor resilient enough to resound
to every song, nor subtle enough to
hear every Voice on the wind.

The World is so vast, so great and wide and deep

and all my dreams are like tiny shells
cast by ocean on an endless shore.

I’ve made a mandala of those shells, to leave

a sign; I know it won’t last, be washed
away, taken back into the Deep.

But even if every shell is ground to dust,

the mineral and salts and sweetness
dissolved into oceanic atoms,

I know that the Light will shine

a life-giving heat, evaporate the molecules
of soul, and gather them into clouds
and rains and storms

To spread that water dust on the tongues of leaves,

on the fruit, in the earth, through the root,
into the very entrails of the eater

Where I can live and relive with joy,

both eater and eaten, both nurturer and nurtured
both in-nature and beyond-nature, neither
born nor reborn

But a constant element of what I cannot comprehend.

I celebrate that Mystery, I offer a prayer
whose form is vague but whose
intent is sincere
I offer thanks, for the life given, for the gift,
the joy and the sorrow, the intensity
and calm, the insight and
the illumined arrow
that pierces my
soul center
as Love,

[This article was published at:]