We are here not just to grow but to transform.
Transformation starts with a change so profound, it makes the old life–the one we had been living up until that moment, impossible.
It shatters it, or some aspect of it, and we are suddenly no longer the same.
The change comes can come from inside or outside of us, it can be ‘good’ news or ‘bad’ news.
We get fired. Our husband leaves us. Our house burns down. Someone we love dies.
We get married. We get a huge windfall. We have a baby. We get a new job. We’re transferred to a new country.
We grow older. We get hurt. We get sick.
We learn something new that shifts everything. We outgrow situations and people. We feel called to make a change: we quit our job, leave our relationship, sell our house, close our business, start a business.
Whatever the circumstances, these times can be terrifying. I love what Martha Beck says:
“Any transition serious enough to alter your definition of self will require not just small adjustments in your way of living and thinking but a full-on metamorphosis. I don’t know if this is emotionally stressful for caterpillars, but for humans it can be hell on wheels. The best way to minimize trauma is to understand the process.”
Beck calls this process the ‘Change Cycle’, with predictable phases like those in the metamorphosis of a caterpillar to butterfly. (She writes about it beautifully many places including here.)
I love this metaphor. I use it all the time, in my own life and in my work with clients. It’s enormously reassuring to have some sort of map when we’re suddenly lost, when our lives feel unrecognizable, when the usual practices, answers and actions don’t work or don’t make a lick of sense any more.
Chances are, you are in some phase of this cycle right now. Knowing where you are helps clarify what to do, or not do. Explanation drives intervention. If your muscle is sore because it is weak and needs strengthening, a daily walk is probably a good idea. If your muscles is sore because it’s sprained and related ligaments are torn, following RICE (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) is your best bet.
If the shit has hit the fan in one or more areas of your life, it may feel like the end of the world–but take heart! You’re actually at the start of a transformation! You’re the caterpillar in the cocoon, turning to goo. Yes, it’s a meltdown, but it’s the necessary death that precedes rebirth.
If you’re in the Imagining phase, it’s time to pay attention to signs, symbols, dreams, sudden inspiration–anything that gives you energy, makes you smile. You’re the mass of cells, the caterpillar ‘soup’ that is reforming to become something entirely new.
If you’re ready to test something out, you’re embarking on the Hero’s Journey, a dance of the first three phases that is bound to include trials and road blocks, retreats to regroup and reassess for renewed clarity and energy as you venture out again. You’re the butterfly emerging from the chrysalis. If you’ve ever watched that process, you’ve seen that it’s hard, hard work. Little known fact: trying to ‘help the butterfly out” pretty much kills it.
Finally, if you’ve stepped into a new aspect of your life, a new aspect of yourself, you are now not just a bigger caterpillar; you’re a whole new creature. You’ve got wings and now you fly and fly until the next, inevitable, transformation beckons from within or without.
Isn’t that the coolest?
I wonder if you recognize yourself in any of these phases?
Is it time to circle the wagons, find safety and comfort so you can fall apart? Is it time to set up a notebook by your bed or on the kitchen counter to jot down any thoughts or ideas that intrigue and delight you? Is it time to test things out, gather the resources that help you navigate the turbulence you will undoubtedly hit as you set out in new seas? Is it time to celebrate your emergence and simply enjoy the view?