On Sundays we pick up The New York Times from my sister and enjoy a leisurely amble through its pages. Included in each edition is The New York Times Magazine, which features timely articles. I was instantly attracted to an article in the May 24 edition titled “The Truth About Cocoons” by Sam Anderson. Those of you who know me know that my favorite illustration of transformation is the caterpillar to butterfly story. Life is rich with times to draw inside, process change, and reemerge with new wings.
What struck me about the article was its emphasis on what happens inside the cocoon, which in the case of a butterfly is actually a chrysalis. Like the author, I realized that I had spent most of my time thinking about the before and after, and very little time thinking about what happens during the confinement. In the darkness, during the waiting, the caterpillar slowly disintegrates until it is caterpillar soup, with only a couple of organs left to help start the rebuilding process. In Sam Anderson’s words, “Only after this near-total self-annihilation can the new growth begin.” The butterfly comes only after the total meltdown of the modest caterpillar.
Any crisis can offer the opportunity to go within to rethink everything before reemerging. It could be a financial setback, death of a loved one, diagnosis of a life-threatening illness (cancer did this for me), or the ending of a long relationship. And then there is what we all are experiencing right now, which is living through a worldwide pandemic. It was amazing to see how the world did stop, and together we went inside, and together we stayed home. Our familiar structures changed. The inside of the chrysalis is a mirror for us as we look at it both from a personal view and as a society. The shape of our society is dissolving through COVID-19, the death of George Floyd and the inequalities it highlights, and political parties that are too busy disagreeing to get anything constructive accomplished.
The beauty in the mess is that a breakdown always proceeds a rebuilding. Sam Anderson writes, “The metamorphoses are happening mostly in private, all over the place, in billions of individual pods – acts of internal self-destruction and rebuilding, subtle shifts, and whole revolutions.” There are seeds of transformation in the scary, uncomfortable, dark, mushy soup. Individually we are not the same people we were three months ago, and collectively we are asking for change. There will always be voices of discord and malcontents who are never satisfied, but they do not represent the majority who are willing to embrace the uncomfortable place of doing life differently, and commit to improving their lives and the lives of others.
Inner transformation comes from letting go of everything that no longer serves us: uncaring doctors, abusive relationships, negative attitudes, limiting beliefs, harmful habits. There’s an alchemy that takes place involving the death of the old and the birth of the new. The alchemy involves loving ourselves enough to accept our imperfections, treating ourselves with respect, and practicing self-compassion. Little by little, every small effort builds on the next until something magnificent is created. It’s the slow assembly of the body, head, and wings of the butterfly.
We don’t awaken when we are comfortable; we awaken when we’re uncomfortable. Yes, transformation is hard and scary, and at times we’ll want to stop, but it is the most rewarding work we will ever do. Transformation happens when we realize no one is responsible for our lives but ourselves. It happens when we take responsibility for how we act and react. It happens when we make decisions based on what we truly desire, and not on what someone else wants for us. It happens when we look for positive ways to use life’s opportunities, and when we support equality and peaceful solutions. It happens when we love unconditionally.
Worldwide we are slowly opening our cocoons as more businesses reopen, and individually we are looking out a hole in our chrysalises; bringing our changes within to the changes without. Already we are seeing with new eyes as we hold the potential of soaring with new wings. Marianne Williamson writes, “Personal transformation can and does have global effects. As we go, so goes the world, for the world is us. The revolution that will save the world is ultimately a personal one.” We’re learning what we need to learn inside the chrysalis, and the results will show.
Dear Friends After Diagnosis women, you are some of the most transformed people I know. You are the colorful butterflies that inspire others because you know all about being inside the chrysalis. Thank you for sharing your journey and being your beautiful selves!
Until Next Time – Sylvia