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Alchemy of Light: Working with the Primal Energies of Life
by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

Excerpt | Description


Table of Contents

1: Working with Light

2: The Light of the World

3: Consciousness and Change

4: Images of Life

5: Changing the Dream

6: The Alchemy of the Archetypal World

7: Working with Different Dimensions

8: The Waters of Life



Excerpt from Chapter 1: Working with Light

For with thee is the fountain of life:
in thy light shall we see light.
— Psalms 36:9

When God created the intellect, He asked it
“Who am I?” but the intellect was silent.
So God daubed his eyes with the kohl of the light of divine oneness.
Then the intellect said
“You are God!”
— Abû ‘l-Husayn an-Nûrî(1)


Our Higher Self carries a light that belongs to God. When we are born, we carry a spark of this light into our human incarnation; it illuminates the experiences of our early childhood, showing us a world that is fully alive, full of magic and wonder. But slowly, as the adult world closes around us, the spark of our Higher Self gets covered over by the dust and debris of the world, of our conditioning, our desires, our concern with success and failure, our need to compete; it “fades into the common light of day.”(2) It might reappear briefly, as the light of conscience that tries to point us in the right direction or the spark of intuition that comes unbidden into our consciousness. But mostly it is hidden, forgotten like the wonder of the world we saw as children. We no longer see the world by the bright light of what is real; we see “through a glass darkly,” through the shadowy, distorting light of the ego.

But the moment can come when, through the grace of God, the spark within us rekindles and we see again with its light. This is the most precious moment in the life of a soul, when we reconnect with our divine nature, when the journey Home begins.

Our reawakening to this light can take many forms: we might meet a teacher, be inspired by a spiritual text, or in a sudden unexplained moment of truth experience our eternal nature. Whatever the outer form, inwardly the moment is the same: the Higher Self gives us an energy that comes into our heart and the spark of light that is our gift from God begins to glow. The light of the Self awakens and brings its divine consciousness into our life. In this light we glimpse our true nature and the divine in life all around us. Usually the glimpse lasts just for a brief moment, and then the shadows of our ego, our mind, and the world close around us again. But it is enough to turn us away from life’s illusions, to draw us on the eternal search. This is the first step on the journey Home, the journey that can lead us to a full awakening to our divine nature, “the face we had before we were born.”

The journey may seem serpentine, with many wrong turns and dead-ends, but this is part of the mysterious way the Self guides us. As Carl Jung says, “The right way to wholeness is made up of fateful detours and wrong turnings.” Though we rarely realize it, through this process we are working on our light, helping it to shine more brightly. This is the light that guides us on our way, that shows us the path we need to follow; without it we are lost, the journey is just a succession of illusions. When it becomes obscured through our ego or negative patterns, we stumble or lose our way; but then, through longing or despair, through the cries of our heart or the diligence of our practices, or simply through grace, we look to it again, and the light returns to guide us on, glowing brighter each time as our recognition of our need for it deepens.

As the journey takes us on our way, the light within us attracts us to the spiritual practices and the path that can help in its evolution. We might be drawn to music, because the nature of our light responds to music. Or we are drawn to a path of service, because our light can express itself most fully through helping others. Or we find that we are attracted to spiritual practices, to meditation, awareness of the breath, chanting, or to “inner work,” because this is the way our light can free itself most easily from the dust that covers it. Many meditation disciplines and other spiritual practices are specifically designed to help reveal and brighten the light within us, to help us bring its higher consciousness into our life. And the processes of inner work, the psychological and spiritual work of purification and inner transformation, clear an inner space, uncluttered by negative psychological patterns or resistances, where we can have more access to our own light.

Through the wisdom and practical guidance of a path, we learn to see ourself and the world around us with this light. We learn to live a life that nourishes the soul rather than just the ego, that is truly creative and reflects our real nature. We also learn how to work with this light. Through the practice of spiritual discrimination, for example, we learn to distinguish between the light of the Self and the deceptive light of the ego; we see how the ego, frightened of losing its power and control, tries to obscure our real light and misguide us. We discover how subtly and easily we are betrayed by ourself and learn how to regain our true center when we have been misled. We recognize the attraction of the darkness of our lower nature; sometimes we have to choose between our darkness and our light, or fight against negative forces within us, confront and transform our anger and fears. We are taught the wisdom of humility and of learning from our mistakes, and we learn to avoid getting caught by arrogance or false humility that can keep us in the ego’s shadowlands where our lower nature can so easily grip us.

Slowly the path and its practices free us from our negative tendencies and give us access to more and more of our light, more of its consciousness. And as we diligently work upon ourself through our devotions and inner work—as we “polish the mirror of our heart”—so the light within us grows. And this light works its mysterious chemistry, opening life in unexpected ways, revealing more of its magic and wonder. Also, as our light grows, we attract a higher light, a light from the inner world of pure spirit. This is the mystery of “light upon light” in which “light rises towards light and light comes down upon light.”

The light within us and the light from above then work together, growing in strength and purity, helping us on our journey. In fact the journey is the light transforming us, revealing itself within and around us. What we think is our evolution is the evolution of the light of our true nature, expressing itself in our inner and outer life and expanding our consciousness. There is a great difference between a consciousness that sees with the reflected light of the ego and one that sees with the true light of the Self. The ego exists in a world of distortions and patterns of control that are antithetical to the Self. The light of the Self burns away these distortions, though this is often a painful process—to become free of the many chains that bind us, we have to lose what we have believed most precious.

All through this process the light within us grows and becomes more and more a part of our life. Usually this happens so gradually that we hardly notice it, though sometimes we go through times of transition when we are painfully or gladly made aware of our expanded consciousness, as when we have to leave behind a pattern that has protected us or a possession we have been attached to, or when we joyfully awake to a new revelation of our true nature and find life present in unexpected ways.

And so the journey continues, the eternal journey from darkness to light.(3) This journey of the soul takes us Home, where it finally reveals that the light within us is the One Light. There is only one light—the light of the heavens and the earth is the light within our own heart. We are the light of God in the world. The light within our heart is His light. This simple truth of the unio mystica finally takes the wayfarer from the prison of the ego into the ever-expanding dimension of our divine nature and its true purpose; and into a direct experience of the oneness of life.


Traditionally, after the state of union comes the station of servanthood; unio mystica, the awareness of divine oneness, is followed by a deeper commitment to service, a deeper involvement in life. No longer bound by the ego, we are able to give ourself more completely in service to the divine. We are able to realize the deep joy and privilege of being in service to what is real. Then the real cooperative work begins as we work with the light of divine oneness in the world.

In the past, this work has been reserved for those who have made the whole journey, who have traveled the path from separation to union. But there are times in the destiny of the world when the doors of servanthood open wide and anyone who has access to her divine light, who has been awakened—if just for an instant—to her true nature, is called to help with the work of the whole. We have reached such a time now, a moment in our collective evolution when the light of spiritual consciousness is needed to heal and transform the world, and all who have access to their light—at whatever stage of the journey—are needed in this work.

At this time, the relationship of light upon light has evolved in a new way. The need of the divine that calls to us within our hearts is now calling our attention to the light of the world. The world is dying through the abuses of materialism, power, and greed. But now a new light is awakening at the heart of the world, at the core of creation, which contains the potential for a whole new revelation of the divine and a new way of living in relation to the whole of life. We are needed now—not just to cultivate the divine light within ourselves—but to use our light to reawaken life to its real nature and purpose. Our light is the catalyst for the future. The consciousness of oneness that belongs to the Self is needed to awaken the world to the living oneness that is its real nature, so that it can once again fulfill its divine purpose.

The first step in our journey is to take responsibility for our own light and to learn to recognize it, to value and work with it so that it grows within us. But the next step of spiritual responsibility is to realize that it is not “our light” and that it does not belong to us. It is the light of the divine within us and belongs to the whole of life. And at this time we need to offer it back to life, to bring the light of our higher consciousness into dialogue with the awakening light within life, to help the world take the next step in its evolution.

Life is struggling to realize its oneness. Ecologically, the planet is desperate for humanity to recognize life’s interdependent unity, the organic patterns that only as a whole support life. We are stepping into the arena of global consciousness and yet we have not taken real responsibility for what that means—we are still seeking our selfish goals, which the planet can no longer support. And because our materialistic culture has forgotten the sacred nature of life, we have no collective awareness that this shift into global awareness needs a spiritual foundation. We cannot build a global civilization on the sands of scientific or material progress. Unless it has a foundation in what is real, nothing can evolve—the old patterns will just recreate themselves. Do we want a world covered with the strip malls of our outer world and inner desires? Or do we want to lay the foundations for a civilization that honors the sacred unity of all of creation, the oneness inherent within life and within our souls?

This may seem an idealistic choice, naively simple in the face of the complexities of our world, its myriad, seemingly intractable problems. But once we fully recognize the dangers of our present global predicament, we also realize that only if we return to the source of life can there be any future: the band-aids offered by a surface response are no longer viable. And the return to the source is a turning from complexity to simplicity: to the simple nature of life as essence, and to the power, the healing, and the transformative potential that belong to this essence. What we know in our own journey—that a time of real crisis presents us with the opportunity to return to our own center, where we often find a transformative energy and solution beyond our surface imaginings—is also true for the world. The global crisis we now face is an opportunity to return the world to the essence of life at its source. Once that essence is scattered into the “ten thousand things,” it becomes fragmented and distorted and loses its primal power; it is only in the simple essence of life that we will find the wholeness and power the world needs in order to move beyond its current predicament.

If we return to the essence of life that is within each of us, we will discover that something new is being born. What is coming into existence is not a reiteration of past patterns, but a new paradigm, a new expression of the divine—life in its divine nature recreating itself once again. And we are a necessary part of this recreation; we are needed to participate in helping the world to be reborn. Without our conscious participation the recreation of the world will not realize its potential: the light of the world will not evolve.

Taking spiritual responsibility means recognizing that we each have a part to play in this rebirth: that life needs our light in order to evolve. Without the contribution of our light life will continue to stagnate, and the realization of its oneness will not fully incarnate; it will not become a part of our collective consciousness. Humanity will not take the vital step of realizing its role as guardian of the planet. An opportunity will once again have been lost.

But if we embrace this moment and accept our responsibility, then we can be part of what is being reborn and help in the wonder of re-creation. We can help humanity and the world take a great step in their evolution and lay the foundations for a civilization that honors the oneness within all of life and all of humanity. And we can fully participate in how this civilization comes into being.

... chapter continues


Notes from Chapter 1 Excerpt:

(1) Quoted by Sarrâj, Knowledge of God in Classical Sufism, p. 90.
(2) The poet William Wordsworth describes this sad transition:

Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing Boy
But He beholds the light and whence it flows.
He sees it in his joy; …
At length the Man perceives it die away,
And fade into the light of common day.

From “Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood,” ll. 66-76. Wordsworth Poetical Works.
(3) In the words of al-Jîlânî:

It is not the stars that guide us but the divine light.... If only the lamp of divine secrets be kindled in your inner self the rest will come, either all at once or little by little.... The dark skies of unconsciousness will be lit by the divine presence and the peace and beauty of the full moon, which will rise from the horizon shedding light upon light, ever rising in the sky, passing through its appointed stages... until it shines in glory in the center of the sky, dispersing the darkness of heedlessness.... Your night of unconsciousness will then see the brightness of the day.... Then you will see from the horizon of Divine Reason the sun of inner knowledge rising. It is your private sun for you are the one whom Allâh guides.... Finally, the knot will be untied... and the veils will lift and the shells will shatter, revealing the fine beneath the coarse; the truth will uncover her face.

All this will begin when the mirror of your heart is cleansed. The light of Divine secrets will fall upon it if you are willing and ask for Him, from Him, with Him.

From ‘Abd al-Qâdir al-Jîlânî, The Secret of Secrets, trans. Shaykh Tosun Bayrak al-Jerrahi al-Halveti, pp. xlvii-xlviii