Receiving messages from the Universe regarding what you're supposed to do with your life and things you should pay attention to are fraught with confusion. I would much prefer it if large golden rays of light would break through the clouds and the Heavenly Host would sing a chord in a major key. In this way, there would be no confusion, and I could look up and say, "Ah yes. I should be getting a Clue along about now."
For the record: this is not how it happens.
My Sifu said that we should all of us relax, give it up, and focus on wholly being in the Now of things (Daoists are like that). I took this away with me, thought about it for a week, then went back and asked, "What if the Now really sucks?" Meaning, "What if you're, say, being tortured by an emotionally abusive family member and you can't get away?"
"Then be with that pain. You have to be with that pain and understand that pain until you can transform it into something else. That's very much part of the spiritual alchemy the Daoists studied."
Which may be true, but I was still left with the feeling that the Daoists could bite my butt. (For the record, I spend a lot of time wanting to smack my Sifu when he starts talking about Daoists. You could be bleeding and need a band-aid, but a Daoist will just smile and hand you a box of chocolates.)
A few days later I was talking to my acupuncturist, and I mentioned having strange dreams about the past and bizarre emotional reactions to cleaning out my closets. (Acupuncturists want to know this stuff. Seriously. It ties into bocked meridians and elemental excesses.) He replied that yes, out of balance meridians can keep us from performing the kind of alchemy that can transform a difficult past into something that can propel us into our future.
Alchemy is one of those "read only" words -- we all know what it means, but it doesn't come up in conversation a lot (Hey Bob, how you been? Haven't seen you in a while -- done any alchemy lately?). It wasn't the heavens opening up, but for two people to say that to me in the same week regarding difficult emotions... I don't think it's going to get much clearer than that.
So I've thought about this alchemy thing and what it may mean, and it comes down to this: we are so making this up as we go along.
And that's the point: we are making this up, not somebody else. If you want to accept chocolates from a Daoist or work on your stagnant liver chi, that's your business. Both the placebo effect and passive aggression are totally underrated. And if your past sucked and people hurt you, accept it. Assimilate it into your being by recognizing its existence and then use that alchemy to transform it into a better story.
Which, I suspect, is the root of much (though not all) art. "Use it," they tell you in theater, meaning, "Use this emotion and put it into your character when you act." As I writer I can never whine "There's nothing to write about!" (Though I will have to wait until everyone dies, or I'll be sued.) And as a visual artist, well... Open your eyes. Be in the Now.
Alchemy. I'm surprised we don't talk about it more.