3 min read

Art Perfects Nature

Art Perfects Nature
Photo by Francesco Gallarotti on Unsplash

The medieval alchemists are famous for their belief that one could turn base metals into gold. What is less commonly known is their thesis, the theory underlying their contention.

The alchemists believed that in each base metal there lies a 'seed' of gold.  Their research then was to discover how to make this seed grow quickly.

Whether or not we question their beliefs about metals, the principle is not entirety unsound in living organisms. The ancients simply believed everything in the cosmos to be living, modern science has divided things into biological and non-biological.

We have expended great amounts of time and energy in trying to accelerate plant growth, for example. And it works, no one can dispute the results there.

Getting back to alchemy...

Alchemists believed that 'Art Perfects Nature', positing that all of Nature is in a state of growth & development towards a more perfect state.  Modernity has a parallel concept in 'progress', which is applied more in the socioeconomic and technological sense.

Art was viewed as a means of accelerating Nature's lawful processes.  Art meant the techniques by which Natural Law takes place in moments rather than eons of time.  Again, there is scientific precedence for premature aging, artificial weathering, etc.

There was some debate in the ethical arena regarding what could be done and what should not be done. Some subscribed to the 'Greater Good' line of thinking aka 'the ends justify the means', while others argued that one could not break Natural Law in the process of speeding things up without a karmic backlash.

A simple example of this is when we stretch a rubber band past a certain tension point and it snaps. For this latter group, the trick was to figure out just how far one can safely push growth.

I covered all this background in order to discuss the psychological implications of alchemy.

Many alchemists derided the 'gold-makers', those who focused soley on material gains. The real magic was in perfecting the interior nature of the human being. Character development, to put it concisely.

Anyone who has worked on self-discipline, self-development, or has trained children, can testify to the fact that things do not progress instantly. Expectations must be managed. Overnight magical change is unreasonable, appearances to the contrary are soon uncovered as deception.

However, if we keep in mind the idea of acceleration, we can begin to work on efficiencies.  We must accept that we are what we are at the moment, our poor habits, imperfections and all.

True growth happens over time. The same situations will keep reappearing, our default reactions and responses can only gradually improve.

But the wholehearted acceptance of this enables us to focus on shortening timelines.  If we are angry, we are advised to count to ten. When we are impulsive, we could try instituting a policy of waiting 24 hours before making a big decision. If we are procrastinators, we can attempt to procrastinate less. If we drink too much, we should cut back on drinking.

Trying to institute a ban on our vices tends to backfire. Gradual change is much easier, albeit slower. Permanence can be achived by tapering off of unwanted behaviors, while gradually installing new ways of living.

This is unappealing because we have become accustomed to instant gratification. We want what we want and we want it now.  But life does not work that way. We end up paying Rumpelstiltskin with our firstborn... in other words, in the attempt to be better, we can fall deeper into neurosis.

Patience must become our motto.  We can become the person we want to be, it is not impossible. What is impossible is becoming that person overnight. Expectation management is vital.

I hope this has been of some value. If it does not apply to your life, perhaps share it with someone it might be helpful for.

Thank you for reading and have a blessed day.