Distilling Our Experiences like Moonshine

On a recent trip to North Carolina I got to taste Moonshine. I’m not sure how genuine its manufacture was and I seriously doubt that a clandestine outfit up in the Appalachian Mountains was concocting this ‘water of life’ on dark, moonless nights. The oily slick of the liquor followed by the throat-burn and then the warm internal glow it gave me had me imagining  what sort of ingredients went into the distillation process that delivered this impactful liquid.

I remember studying chemistry at school and university and for some of our more complex laboratory work we would set up distillation apparatus – a junction of pipes and tubes, bulbous flasks and tapped pipettes. We would combine various chemicals and powders and heat and cool the liquids as they monotonously dripped from beaker to flask. The end products were purified tinctures that were then further tested for levels of perfection.

But distillation is also about our ability to extract the essential meaning or most important aspects of something. It seems to me when we process the events of our lives into our distilled substances of value, what we end up with is our stories. We never become wary of devising, reimagining and telling the stories about our experiences. They are the currency of our essence.

When you ask someone to tell you about a signature moment in their life they might tell you of the time when some significant event took place that changed who they were – a happy or disastrous marriage, the birth of a child, the death of a loved one, a difficult, new job, an exciting, exotic holiday, a transformative teacher. We can cast our minds across our life line and sign post special moments – the stories we tell that have shaped us and that somehow represent how we show up in the world.

Navigation through life and its stages is about our energy adjusting to the world in which we find ourselves. Real transformation only takes place once we have altered our consciousness. And consciousness, I believe,  can only really be changed through trial or revelation. This is why teachers and mentors are so magnificent – they can cause a revelation to take place and transmute our consciousness. You thereby by-pass change through trial, piggybacking off the experience and wisdom of someone else. I have been fortunate enough to have had a couple of these types of teachers and mentors in my life.

When I was at school I had a teacher called Miss Bashford. It was her brilliance and her kind essence that showed me how to really interpret stories –  the ones we read, the ones we dream  and the ones we invent about our lives. Your common definition of a story concerns the telling of a series of events in a particular sequence. What Miss Bashford taught me was that stories denote something – the straightforward experience of an activity but they also connote something of secondary and oftetimes more important significance.

Connotation is all about the emotional and imaginative association surrounding a story, an event – even a word. Once I understood this different way of seeing stories it opened up a new way of seeing life and understanding myself in life. We can move through our lives as a series of events in a particular sequence or, we can explore that secondary level of connection. The imagined meaning we make of the events of our life have additional properties and this is what we distill down into signature moments for us.

If you flick through the chapters of your life and pause at the dog-eared pages or see where the book naturally falls open you will know these as your signature moments. Chances are, as a result of these landmark events, your consciousness was transformed. Because of the way events unfolded and the emotional and imaginative significance you chose to underscore those events you were forever changed – you could never think about life or yourself and others in the same way.

The meaning we give to the phenomenal existence of our lives causes us to distill down a pure essence of what and who we think we are. When we change we are finding and being given new methods and ingredients to carry out our distillation process.

Staring a new job, building a house, altering habits, initiating a loving relationship, standing up to a bully, putting to rest an animal you have loved, discovering a new theory, reading a book, hearing an opera – by whatever means change may occur there is a connotative significance present that serves as the bread crumbs guiding you to what you need to learn. Some essential way of how you are being in the world must alter in order for you to move forward with living out our potentialities. You are recalibrating your essence. Avoiding this change or taking it for granted is done at our peril.

Just like the old mountain brewers of Moonshine, how you make your Moonshine and what ingredients go into the process will determine the purity of the potion produced. You can blow up the whole outfit with dodgy equipment, you can produce concentrates so poisonous they can damage you and others and you can distill essences of such intoxicating delight you cause pleasure and vitality to be transferred to all around you.

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  • Shona
    March 4, 2016 at 1:18 pm

    I raise my glass to you sir. Wise thoughts shared once again.

    • Cal McDonnell
      March 4, 2016 at 4:02 pm

      Why thank you – I will share a glass with you too. You know the power of our narratives.

  • Cal McDonnell
    March 12, 2016 at 12:20 pm

    Happy to hear ideas for topics others want to read about

  • MilfordBarkl
    April 18, 2016 at 8:23 am

    This post is very interesting, it can go viral easily, with some initial traffic,
    how to bring visitors to it? Just search in g00gle for – rilkim’s tips


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