n/CHRONICLESnVIEWSnTHE “MELTING” EXPERIENCE:nGROW OR DIE by James StockdalenIhave a friend, a Boston thoracic surgeon, who has a greatnsensitivity for issues concerning the meaning of hfe andnthe nature of man. It’s easy to understand how a man whonspends the best part of his busy days at the pressure-packednjuncture of hfe and death could become absorbed innphilosophical thought. But this doctor doesn’t let it go atnthat. He refines his thoughts through reading and shares thenbest of his findings of high quality professional articles,nthose bearing on the human predicament in general andnhuman ethics in particular, with me and a few others.nAnyone in the Dr. Eugene Laforet network could expect hisncolleagues to have some pretty strong notions about ethicalnVice Admiral James Stockdale is a Senior Fellow at thenHoover Institution and author, with Sybil Stockdale, ofnIn Love and War (Harper & Row). A version of this essaynwas given as a speech at ]ohn Carroll University in 1981.nnnsystems and their formulation.nPressurized experiences have a way of giving us annoverload of dilemmas that can’t wait for a waffled solution.nWe seem to be continually in the position, described by Dr.nAlfred North Whitehead, of not being able to bring half annumbrella to work just because the weatherman says there’s an50 percent chance of rain. When Dr. Laforet gets a person’snchest opened up, he has to cut here or cut there in a finiteninterval of time. He can’t waffle. Life seems to becomencompressed, running ahead, as if being watched on a movienscreen, with the projector set on high speed advance.nBut in these circumstances, as your attention is channeled,nas you concentrate, you can sometimes sense thatnyou’re undergoing a “melting” experience. Some of yourninhibitions and preset feelings, fears, and biases melt as youncome to realize that under the gun, you must grow ornfail—in some cases, grow or die. A sort of transformationntakes place under pressure—under what the alchemists ofnthe Middle Ages called the “hermetic.”nThe hermetic idea is old and has come down fromnancient Egypt and Greece and was colored by Christiannsacramental teaching. It was a two-fold concept. It meantnsomething sealed off—hermetically sealed, as we say. Andnit also meant magic, particularly magical transformation.nYou put something in a crucible or a retort, and younsubjected it to certain pressures like heat or doses of sulphurnor mercury. If you were lucky or wise or both, some kind ofncreative transformation would take place. In physical terms,nthis referred to the changing of base metals into preciousnones—lead into gold.nBut the top grade alchemical philosophers were notncontent with mere physical crucibles and crystal retorts theyncould hold in their hands. They were aiming at even morenimportant things. Paracelsus thought it might be possible toncreate a human being (homunculus) in the laboratoryn—something people today are again getting uneasy about.nThe higher alchemy aimed not at mere physical change,nbut at moral and spiritual transformation. The crucible andnretort became symbols of creative growth. Fire and the twinnelements sulfur and mercury came to represent the outsidenpressures exerted upon the human soul in its confinednplace. In extreme cases, the fire might be of hellish origin.nBut if the soul in question were strong enough, not merenpassive matter, that spirit might undergo an alchemicalnchange—a metamorphosis of the spirit in which thenordinary stuff of humanity could turn into somethingnprecious, emerging as if from a tightly sealed cocoon.n