Turning Adversity Into Alchemy

AlchemyChristina Sarich, Staff Writer
Waking Times

“All adversities are here to help you. They can become instruments of your progress.”  ~ Swami Rama

Would you return a really expensive gift from a friend that you’ve coveted for ages? What about the opportunity to uncover one of your own personal assets, long hidden by years of accumulated dust and wanton negligence? As odd as it seems, adversity is as valuable as any material gain, and more potent than power or prestige. You can turn a huge upset in life into pure gold.

It happens all the time. It’s the alchemy of spirit – turning bad luck, devastating circumstances, and mean, unfeeling people into your greatest allies. Adversity serves both personal and global growth of the planet.

Eckhart Tolle once said, “Whenever something negative happens to you, there is a deep lesson concealed within it.” Sure, in the heat of a tough moment, a statement like this might make you want to laugh at someone like Tolle. What do they know about adversity?

In a phrase – adversity is spiritual growth.


  • Swami Sivananda, speaking on the Taittiriya Upanishad has said:

    “. . .adversity draws out the faculties of the wise, makes the idle industrious. A smooth ocean never made one a dexterous captain of a ship. The storms of adversity rouse the faculties and talents of an individual and generate prudence, skill, fortitude, courage, patience and perseverance. Adversity makes one think, invent and discover. Great persons and saints have been tried, smelted, polished and glorified through the furnace of adversity.”

    Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer and of Pixar Animation Studios, once overcame adversity with pure genius, and grit. He said in his Commencement address at Stanford:

    “I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months. So why did I drop out? It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates. … My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college. . .”

    Jobs later got fired from Macintosh after turning it into a $2 billion dollar company. He still loved what he did, so he started over. Finally, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and told he wouldn’t live more than six months. He lost his life to the disease, but his existence is a testament to turning lemons into lemonade.

    Michael McCann knows about juicing sour fruit, too. His story is exceptionally inspiring. He was hit in a car accident, and his best friend driving the car died on the scene. He was helicoptered to the hospital, and was in critical care for several weeks. He overcame his accident, but was left in a wheelchair. He now uses his experience as a platform to teach others how to overcome the most demoralizing of circumstances.

    In the children’s story of The Velveteen Rabbit, our adversity is given foremost attention. In the narrative of the story the rabbit asks, “What is real? The Skin Horse replies, “It’s a thing that happens to you”.  “It doesn’t happen all at once – you become”.  “Generally, by the time that you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. . . but these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real, you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

    What adversity, what challenge, doesn’t make us more sympathetic to the pains and hurts of others? Tribulations brew compassion, and who in the world couldn’t use more of that?

    The irony is that we try to avoid pain – we attempt to learn from books or from mentors, but it is experienced pain that sharpens our axe on the anvil of life, and reforms our consciousness into a newly formed flower. Sure we can learn from fun, bliss, and even joy, but without the experience of pain, would we even know what these things are? These wounds become the alchemy of our spirit.

    “Alchemy is the quest for an agent of material perfection, produced through a creative activity (opus), in which humans and nature collaborate. It exists in many cultures (China, India, Islam; in theWestern world since Hellenistic times) under different specifications: aiming at the production of gold and/or other perfect substances from baser ones, or of the elixir that prolongs life, or even of life itself. Because of its purpose, the alchemists’ quest is always strictly linked to the religious doctrine of redemption current in each civilization where alchemy is practiced.”

    Have you changed anger, fear, jealousy, distractedness, stubbornness and timidity into productivity, bravery, focus, clarity, and fearlessness? Then you’ve experienced the alchemy of adversity.

    The truth can hurt – but it can free us.

    Treat pain as a friend, not something to ignore or run from, and you will find gold – quite literally.

    Here are three ways to turn adversity into your greatest gift:

    1.  Are you in a relationship with a friend, family member, lover, or business associate that causes you pain?

    Look honestly at the situation and understand how you are creating it – yes you, not the other person. That pain is serving as a teacher (or mirror) for you to uncover truths about yourself you may not want to acknowledge. Once you can look at them honestly, you can change. This is a priceless gift you give yourself. “Water becomes clear and transparent when in a quiescent stage. How much the more wonderful will be the mind of a sage when poised in quiescence! It is the mirror of heaven and earth, reflecting the ten thousand things” ~  Zhuangzi, Chapter 13 (369-286 BCE)

    2.  Have you reached a dead-end in life, unsure of your next step?

    Sometimes we reach the proverbial cliff and wonder if we shouldn’t just jump – I say – do! Some of my most rewarding moments in life have come when I felt so much pain that doing the same thing again just wouldn’t work anymore, and I had to take another turn. I had to take a chance on the unknown because the tried and true were simply worn out. This holds true for jobs, your life purpose, your lover, your lifestyle habits like eating healthier or working out, and even the friends you choose to make. JUMP!

    3.  Look at pain as a stage.

    If we were forever comfortable doing the same thing, we wouldn’t learn to walk, talk, or even eat. It is the hunger in our bellies that teaches us to chew, the longing for interaction with the world that causes us to explore it with our five senses, and the need to move from a stuck place to a new place that causes us to walk. Think of whatever it is you are going through now as a developmental stage similar to what an infant or young child goes through. It wont last forever, however, you must master whatever lesson this pain is trying to teach you before you can ‘pull up’ onto the next rung of the evolutionary, spiritual ladder. Today a caterpillar, tomorrow a butterfly. Those little creatures actually turn to goo before they develop the cells that will transform them into a winged creature. Whatever it is that is turning you to goo now, won’t last.

    “The wound is the place where the light enters you.” ~ The poet Rumi

    About the Author

    Christina Sarich is a musician, yogi, humanitarian and freelance writer who channels many hours of studying Lao Tzu, Paramahansa Yogananda, Rob Brezny, Miles Davis, and Tom Robbins into interesting tidbits to help you Wake up Your Sleepy Little Head, and *See the Big Picture*. Her blog is Yoga for the New World . Her latest book is Pharma Sutra: Healing The Body And Mind Through The Art Of Yoga.

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