Everything can change in a moment; we have little control over the outer weather patterns as we make our way through the landscape of a life. But we can become masters of the inner landscape. We can use what happens on the outside to change the way we function on the inside. This is the moral of the great teaching myths. The hero conquers a monster; the heroine completes a quest; the reward at the end was there all along—the true self, the awakened consciousness. Joseph Campbell said, "What all myths have to deal with is transformations of consciousness. You have been thinking one way, you now have to think a different way. Consciousness is transformed either by the trials themselves or by illuminating revelations. Trials and revelations are what it's all about."
When we have been through a trial and survived it—or better still, transformed its terrors into revelations—then we begin to approach other adversities with a different attitude. Change and loss may still knock us off the horse, but soon we are back in the saddle, stronger and wiser than ever. As life progresses, and we continue to transform and refine our consciousness, we gain more insight and humility, greater strength of character, and deeper faith in the meaningfulness of life.
But how do we do this? How do we transform terror into revelations? How do we stay sane and courageous in the midst of a trial? Throughout this book I have described the process of transformation as a journey of brokenness leading to openness, descent to rebirth, fire to Phoenix. Difficult journeys are best taken in a sturdy vehicle, or at least with a trusty guide and a helpful toolbox. In this appendix, I offer a toolbox of practices that have helped me on my journeys of descent and rebirth.
The practices I use most often to stay on track during a Phoenix Process are meditation, psychotherapy, and prayer. These tools continually encourage me to keep my heart open and my mind awake when I would prefer to shut down or go back to sleep. The practice of meditation has helped me develop a steady heart and a less reactive and agitated mind. Psychotherapy has opened me to an inner world of cause and effect. At a critical time in my life, it pushed me to take responsibility for my own happiness—to stop waiting for that elusive someone or something to mend and define my life. Prayer gives me solace and strength; it is a reassuring companion on the road. Together, these tools have helped me become an alchemist. They have shown me how to transmute pain into growth.
Other tools have helped me as well. Storytelling in group settings is one of my favorites. Telling our story helps us feel connected to others as we go through difficult times. When we sit with fellow wayfarers, sharing our trials and revelations and listening to theirs, our struggles seem less like personal vendettas and more like myths in the making. Writing in a journal is another tool that I use. It is often easier for me to be honest with myself in the privacy of the written word. All sorts of artistic pursuits, like writing or painting or singing, are alchemical. Physical exercise and movement—including sports and yoga and martial arts—are also basic to transformation. They keep us strong and lively; they bring our revelations all the way down into the body.
But the tools that I come back to most consistently, and the ones that I am best able to describe here, are meditation, psychotherapy, and prayer. I may have come through many of my dark nights without them, but I do not think I would have done so as quickly, or as fully, or with as much good humor.
Sometimes these tools—especially meditation and therapy—seem tedious and boring; at other times they can be intimidating and challenging. We may want to give up. But the hard work demanded by a Phoenix Process, and the courage required to break open and stay open, are worth every moment of struggle. The payoff is enormous: We come into the liberating presence of our authentic self.
The meditative, psychological, and sacred practices I offer here cannot be learned just from reading a book. They are best done with a teacher or therapist, and they may take several years of practice to bear fruit. Please use the brief instructions here to introduce you to a method that you can develop more fully in your everyday life, or to inspire you to revive an ongoing practice.