Friday meditation: On the alchemy of reconceptualization

Fine phrase this. So what’s this (he consults his piece of paper) ‘alchemy of reconceptualization,’ as you call it?

It’s an ongoing process of making sense of one’s life. It involves surveying the parts of your past and transforming the self. Bear in mind that it’s not a one-off, and yet there are rest stops along the way.

And what is to be gained for the practitioner of this bewitched alchemical art? 

Quite a lot, I should think. To begin with, the practitioner learns how to ‘sit pretty’ with the past. She neither regrets (an excess) nor forgets (a defect). She somehow finds the mean between regretting and forgetting. Second of all, she is learning how to put her life in order. Practicing alchemy is all about putting her feet–one foot, two foot–back on the ground.

You’ve been talking pretty abstractly. But how does one actually do this? 

I won’t say that it’s paint by numbers, but I would say that there are exercises you can do. The first exercise might be termed “inventorying”: you inventory your past in order to draw up an account of your powers, potent experiences, and capacities. The second exercise could be called “salvaging.” You take in hand those powers that are useful and workable and leave behind those that are neither. Salvaging entails holding onto the right things and letting go of the rest. I take it salvaging is also, and finally, a gathering together and setting before you of just those workable powers.

This leads me to the last exercise: the magic of transformation. It’s not clear to me how this happens or the degree to which we can make it happen, and yet it does happen. By “this,” I mean the axial turn given to these workable powers, the unification, the harmonization, the enchantment of the salvaged past–in a word, the re-conceptualization of oneself. The past is turned to use and is somehow reborn as something other–something other without losing the trace of the past. It feels like magic. (This feels like magic, the end of a 10 year odyssey: “I’m a philosopher. I put lives in order.”)

I’m still skeptical, but I like the idea. It sounds… attractive, so I’m willing to give it a try. Shall we?

Yes, let’s. Do you see the crook in my arm? Just loop yours through like so… and away we go.