I’m on my deck this morning watching the squirrels gather. Its becoming Autumn now though you’d never tell it by the afternoon heat. But the light is changing and taking on a softer glow.
Butterflies are wrapping up their errands too, feeding on the last of summer’s flowers before their bodies, having done their work, succumb the the second of their great transformations – death.
The thing about butterflies is that they kinda spring out from nothing. We’re taught in school that caterpillars become butterflies by weaving a cocoon and then…things get a little vague. We’re left with the idea that they just kinda chill in their homespun cocoons until they grow wings and become butterflies.
…and that’s not precisely what happens.
The caterpillar weaves his cocoon and waits. One by one, his body begins producing cells called, “imaginal cells.” Now, the caterpillar’s poor body doesn’t recognize that these are good cells and so it begins attacking them, fruitlessly. The imaginal cells multiply until the caterpillars body is overrun with them which ultimately turns the poor caterpillar into goop.
There no other word for it…it’s just… goop.
The imaginal cells take this nutrient dense goop and from it begin building the butterfly, from body to wings from scratch. Who knows what becomes of the caterpillar’s consciousness during this process or if goop can even be conscious but I reckon that the last thing a caterpillar thinks before it’s body is liquified is that it is surely dying.
Does it feel betrayed by it’s own instinct or that it’s become the hapless victim of a divine joke?
I don’t know if the same consciousness that once inhabited the caterpillar re-emerges in the butterfly but I do know that each are conscious and are potentially self-aware. Which is enough for me to mourn every time one flies out in front of my car as I’m driving.
The caterpillar must die so that the butterfly may become which is the part that they usually leave out in 6th grade biology.
And it is only through it’s pain that it can transform into something with wings!
Becoming isn’t easy, just ask the caterpillar.
To become a violinist, one must sacrifice their days of leisure to steady practice.
Similarly, to become an athlete, one must sacrifice their leisure, and the comfort of their bodies to a rigorous schedule of conditioning and practice.
It’s the same for painters, doctors, lawyers, and potters… Every avocation, and vocation requires similar sacrifice so that one may become in that field.
But to become a master in any field, the sacrifice becomes infinitely more profound and more personal.
Religious/spiritual disciplines too: for Christians, they must die to the world of sin and be reborn clean in the spirit of Christ.
Buddhists devote lifetimes to their meditations in the hopes of subverting their ego to become one with the Buddha mind.
Winter dies for Spring. Spring dies for Summer and Summer dies for the becoming of Fall.
Death and rebirth, it would seem, is the modis operandi of our Universe.
When I undertook the challenge of becoming a more healthy, physically fit version of myself- my 2.0 – I had absolutely no inkling of the incredibly profound (and painful) transformations that I had in store. This is why I’ve advocated from the beginning of this blog that any dramatic fitness/weight loss transformation be undertaken with the help of a mental health professional close at hand.
Why? Because the sacrifices one must make to achieve such a transformation are far more numerous than many initially consider and each sacrifice one must make, to greater or lesser degrees, is intimately attached to one’s own idea of self. What one eats, what one drinks, how one looks, how one feels in their own bodies… their relationships to friends, and lovers and the world at large. What becomes of the self when one no longer recognizes who looks back at them in the mirror?
I’ve been in the midst of my becoming for the past year and half now. To say that this past year and a half of my life has been the most challenging, most painful, most terrifying, most rewarding, most mind expanding, most humbling, most awe inspiring one and a half years of my life would be no exaggeration.
I became as my body, mind, and soul have changed. I became on the other side of my darkest night of the soul scarred, and changed, yet alive. I became the sharp pang of a love unrequited and I became EVERY emotion that goes along with that: adoration, longing, grief, anger, shame, fear, bitterness, remorse, and now, forgiveness…
I became a helpless onlooker as my mother, my hero, became a warrior who battled and survived a brain tumor and I watch her even now, in round 9, windup to TKO a lung tumor.
I became a helpless onlooker as I watched my brother battle fleets of his own demons too.
I became a tabula rasa as my sense of self broke down and I became anew as I repainted that self, the same in some respects and yet, so different in many others: more vivid colors, different textures, deeper shadows, and brighter highlights.
The physical transformation has been the easiest part of this metamorphosis. Muscles are easy to train and build. The mind & soul transformation has been absolutely jarring but 100% worth it. And neither of those three are anywhere close to being completed for me.
But I know that had I not began my becoming I wouldn’t have been able to handle the slings and arrows of the year that came.
We change because we must but becoming isn’t easy.
Unlike the butterfly, our personal transformations are never truly one and done. Some parts of us will emerge with bright wings while others remain cocooned or yet, caterpillars still. Parts of us die and are reborn every day. Some transformations take days, weeks, months, or years. And some take lifetimes.
But if you were able to fast forward, when the last of your cocoons have opened, transformations completed, you’d find yourself richly dressed in wings of every color, and shape-a hundred thousand wings of every rainbow color.
But wings aren’t the point, now are they?
Does the caterpillar cocoon because it knows that its wings are waiting? No. It simply knows that it must cocoon. Wings are its reward for a painfully difficult, yet faithfully obedient call to transformation.
Becoming isn’t easy and that’s why so many people don’t. They remain as they are, living lives planned for them or worse still, lives they’ve become all too comfortable with – lives devoid of aspiration or challenge or change.
So, caterpillar, begin the process of becoming and you’ll find that you become a little more with each and every day and don’t be discouraged when you find yourself still cocooned even after you thought you would emerge. The cocoon is where the magic happens.
I’ll close with this:
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.“
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?“
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” – Margery Williams Bianco, The Velveteen Rabbit
Om, Baby! Om,