Insanity, Alchemy, and Me

It’s been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, but the saying only holds true when referring to insane or destructive behaviors. In our normal lives, we constantly do the same thing over and over, expecting different results . . . and we get them. We rise at the same time each morning, eat the same breakfast, drive the same way to work, go to the same job, but we don’t expect each day to be exactly the same as the day before. It can’t be the same — there are too many variables.

In a closed system, perhaps, the saying would hold true, but since there are no closed systems, we normally get different results. Writers and other creative people experience this every day. We sit in the same place, pen in hand or fingers on the keyboard, and open our selves up to the creative process. Sometimes the words flow and sometimes they don’t. Athletes deal with differences in performance, sometimes they are in the zone and everything is perfect, and sometimes, though they do exactly the same thing as always, their performance is off.

This expectation of different results was the basis for alchemy. We picture the alchemists doing the same procedure repeatedly to perfect their experiment, but the truth is, they did the same thing over and over again in exactly the same way in the hope of getting different results. Sometimes everything came together as they hoped, and they got the desired results, transforming lead into gold or themselves into a higher form of life or atoms into energy. (Or so the legends say.)

Why would the alchemists expect different results by doing exactly the same thing? Because they knew they did not live in a closed system. The earth hurtles around the sun at 67,000 mph. The sun hurtles around the galaxy at 140 miles per second. The entire universe is also moving and expanding, so from one second to the next we are in a completely different place with a possibility of different factors. Add in more localized variables, such as humidity, temperature, sun spot activity and solar winds, and it would seem insane to do the same thing over and over again and expect the same results.

After my moment of happiness yesterday, when I could feel that I was exactly where I was supposed to be, doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing (simply “being”), I decided to do the same thing again today. Not surprisingly, the results were different. I stood in the same place, repeated the same mantra (“I am happy”), felt the breeze and the heat, smelled the sun-warmed creosote bushes, inhaled the clean air. It was nice, and I felt peaceful, but there was no moment of clarity as there was yesterday. I truly did not expect the same results. I know about variables. The day was hotter, the sky a paler blue, no jackrabbit loped by but humans in their motorized vehicles were driving around disturbing the air currents and creating sound vibrations. I might not have slept as well as I had the previous night, or perhaps I’d dissipated my mystic energies in exercising before going for my walk, which I didn’t do yesterday. Still, it felt good standing in the desert, doing nothing but being, so I intend to do that very same thing over and over, expecting different results each time. And therein lies sanity.

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