In ancient China alchemy was part of the larger tradition of Taoist body-spirit cultivation that developed from the traditional Chinese understanding of medicine in the body. The alchemists tried to refine base metals into gold believing that immortal life would be delivered if the “fake” or synthetic gold was ingested.
Alchemists wanted to transform things into something more valuable such as converting copper, lead, iron and tin combined with cinnabar (a mineral with a reddish brown colour often found at deposits of mercury, or more lethal components such as arsenic and sulphur into gold. Taoist alchemy was concerned with transforming human beings so as to give them longer life and bring them closer to the Tao. They worked in laboratories, grinding, mixing and eating various substances together in search of the magical compound.
This became known as waidan (external alchemy) because it involved adding something to the body from the outside. Waidan included following a dietary regimen which prescribes certain foods. These outer practices could include the ingestion of medicines, herbs and pills to bring about physical changes within the body.
Yet it wasn’t only the Chinese who were alchemists. Alchemy was practiced in Mesopotamia, ancient Egypt, Persia, India, Japan, Korea and in classical Greece and Rome.
In ancient China many people died or had psychological difficulties after taking certain elixirs. They were also certain grades of immortality so when the alchemists died the level of immortality they achieved was determined by their corpse. If their corpse was sweet-smelling, it was believed they had achieved immortality in an ephemeral state. When their corpse disappeared, leaving behind only their clothes, this form of immortality was known as shih chieh hsien (corpse-free immortals).
Over time the inner purification or transformational practices known as neidan (inner alchemy) began. Neidan techniques included composed meditation, visualisation, breathing and bodily posture exercises. The breathing exercises were used to preserve Ching or “life essence” and bodily postures were used to improve qi or “energy” flow in the body. This interior alchemy, which did not involve external physical compounds, was practiced to achieve longer life, purity and closeness to the Tao so that the practitioner could transform the elements within the body into pure forms that would promote the energy of life.
It is interesting how today in the 21st century people still try to transform themselves for the better using more benign means such as philosophical and spiritual practices. In today’s knowledge economy, entrepreneurs are the new “alchemists” aspiring to turn their ideas into “gold”. Personal computers, tablets, smart phones, the Internet, online search engines, laser surgery and laser precision tools, only imagined decades ago, are the new “elixir” of wealth.
Ideas have the power to transform. Ideas and new concepts can be turned into marketable products and services. The process, unfortunately, is often practised by “alchemists” not unlike their ancient charlatan predecessors who claim that they can turn your ideas into gold or instant wealth. Yes, transforming ideas from mere thoughts, notions and inclinations into income-generating opportunities seems almost magical.
But the graveyard of new ideas for products and services is scattered with many foul-smelling corpses. Ideas that were ahead of their time, ideas that didn’t appeal to potential customers, ideas that didn’t have a market, ideas that were killed off before they had an opportunity to grow over time organically like seeds.
Getting the right combination to unlock the power of ideas and transform them into viable products and services may seem like a mysterious art. However, over the years the processes for idea generation, evaluation, market testing, business planning and implementation have been developed by researchers and entrepreneurs. New vehicles to test ideas include producing a minimal viable product (MVP).
New products and services are the lifeblood of the economy, initiated by small businesses and entrepreneurs as well as big companies with large R&D (research and development) budgets to ensure that they constantly innovate and not fall behind.
If you have an idea for a product or service and you are struggling to materialise it, I can help you through my hands-on experience with proven, rock-solid processes and systems without any magical alchemy. Curious? Find out more here.
I wish you a happy and prosperous New Year.