From Western alchemy we inherit a threefold process model. One articulation of the Sulphur-Salt-Mercury triad could be these three phases of process: arising, where processes begin or initiate; sustaining, where processes maintain or perpetuate, are nurtured or grown; and dissolving, where processes loosen, decay, transform, and die.
We can think about our goals, ambitions, and projects as larger triangles in which this process unfolds through many micro-triangles. Two years ago I launched his blog and committed to posting one entry a week, which was its arising. Now I continue to honor that commitment and promote the writing as best I can, sustaining it. Some day I may end this commitment and dissolve this blog, perhaps turning its content into a book, perhaps erasing the content in a fit of piqué, perhaps simply stopping altogether. I’m only listing possibilities.
In the meantime, each entry of this blog is its own process of arising, generating ideas and starting the first draft; sustaining by continuing the draft unto completion; and dissolving by editing the draft and eventually declaring it “done enough” to publish.
Each phase is necessary. Dissolution opens the space for something new to arise. Each phase also has its attraction and challenge. How do I know when it is time to move from one phase to the next? Confusion over phases of work leads to conflict in groups. One person commits to sustaining the project as it is, and sees it as their role to protect the project from any threat to its continuance. Another person thinks the project broken, flawed, or damaging, and wants to push for its dissolution. Another person has all these new ideas for ways to change the project, and wants to let those arise. In my observation, the person committed to sustaining tends to have the most power, in part as a function of the role itself. We need power to keep something in motion, and power-over derives in part from fear of changing things as they are.
Identifying our work phases is like the orienting practice of “triangulation,” finding where one is by picking three visible landmarks, finding those landmarks on a map, and using the angles of vision to approximate where one is. When I think about where I am in relation to my dream, am I still in the process of arising, initiating change? Do I need to dissolve some responsibilities or habits that are taking time and energy away from my goals? Do the processes in place sustain me, do they need sustainment? What’s working? What’s not working?
One lesson this model offers is that we can inhabit each phase fully and allow the energy of our project to move in its own way, in its own time. I can begin with a simple intention—“I want more intimacy in my relationship.” I can allow intimacy to arise within me, to suggest activities that would increase intimacy, to start new habits, to start conversations. If I can do this without too much attachment to what “intimacy” should look like, I have more flexibility and focus to discover what ends up working in my relationship, and then bring those working strategies into the process of sustainment. I can also discover what does not work, what impedes intimacy, and let those strategies dissolve.
Presence with the process where it is, as it is, helps us to flow into the next best step with greater ease and less distress. When a process is ready to die, then sustaining it only causes stress. When a process is so deeply entrenched that to challenge would be taboo, we might better focus our efforts on dissolving rather than trying to start something new. At the same time, we might step away from the entrenched process altogether and focus on the arising, bringing something new into the world that might one day challenge things as it is once it has the strength and sustainment to tolerate a direct challenge.
What is arising in you? What are you beginning or longing to begin?
What needs nurturing? What needs to be sustained?
What is dissolving? What is ending?
If you are looking to reconnect with enthusiasm or integrity in your work or life and in the Seattle area, consider checking out this workshop coming November 6, 2014.