Emotional Alchemy

In 2001, the term “emotional alchemy” was used by Tara Bennett-Goleman to describe a way of helping reframe and release negative and disturbing emotions.  She brought together the practices of Buddhist psychology and mindfulness with insights from cognitive therapy, psychotherapy and brain science to help people release themselves from mental and emotional habits that prevent them from being happy.  Let’s take a quick look at the components of Emotional Alchemy.

Mindfulness is a meditative awareness that increases our ability to see things as they are from moment to moment and without judgement or attachment.  It is resistent to the distractions around us, which is why we can use sustained attention to the movements of the mind itself.  It is a new way of paying attention to the world around and within us.

Buddhist psychology views our emotional problems as temporary and superficial.  It emphasizes what is right with us, instead of fixating on what is wrong with us.  It acknowledges that we have disturbing emotions but sees them as covering our essential goodness.  Our darker moments and most upsetting feelings are an opportunity for uncovering our natural wisdom, if we choose to use them that way.

Alchemy is a metaphor that Bennett-Goleman uses to explain the process.  Traditionally, alchemists sought to use the philosopher’s stone to transmute lead into gold.  In the more philosophical schools of alchemy, lead and gold were metaphors for the internal states.  Through psychological and spiritual transformation, the alchemist transformed the psyche’s lead into its golden nature.  It is an internal, not external process.

Cognitive Therapy is used in many settings to help people change negative thinking patterns into more useful ones. Thoughts and emotions are connected;  by changing one, you can often change the other.  Sometimes it is our limiting, self-defeating thoughts that prevent us from working through and releasing disturbing emotions.  Habitual thoughts that hold a negative emotion in our psyche need to be recognized and then transformed into something that is more positive and helpful.  A thought that no longer holds a disturbing emotion captive allows that emotion to be acknowledged and released from its bond.

Psychotherapy involves going within to recognize patterns of thinking, feelings and reactions.  it strives to uncover the internal workings and connections between thoughts, feelings and behaviour so that those preventing our health and happiness can be replaced with more effective ones.  There are many approaches used in psychotherapy – too many to list here. Yet the end result of all approaches is for the person’s health and happiness.

Neuroscience has proven that the brain stays plastic throughout life, changing itself as we learn to challenge old habits. It has also shown that there is a crucial Choice Point – a quarter second – during which we can reject a self-defeating emotional impulse.  But one must notice the impulse in order to reject it!  Otherwise, it continues to be our “default setting” and our automatic response.

Putting this all together means finding the time and space to allow for self-reflection and appreciation, practicing mindfulness meditation and learning to recognize our  impulsive, self-defeating messages quickly so we can choose a calmer, more positive approach and reaction.  Although it can seem overwhelming at first, remember that this is ultimately for your health and happiness. And this shines brightly to those around you. When health and happiness are intact,  your inner and outer worlds can become calm, compassionate, and joyful.

So why wait?  Time to just be…..


Article written by Pat Antoniak Registered Nurse-Registered Aromatherapist and owner of the Natural Comfort Wellness Centre in Tsawwassen, BC

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