Remember the story about the stonecutter centuries ago? He was chiseling a huge piece of stone, pieces of rock flying from his pounding hammer. All the while he was whistling and humming as he worked. A passerby stopped and asked him why he could make music while doing such mundane and arduous work. He said, "I'm not just chiseling stone. I'm making a cathedral."
What are obstacles you’re facing right now? What might be standing in your way of fulfilling what matters most to you, tempting you with intimidation, striking fear and insecurity in your heart? What is challenging and eroding your sense of identity, impeding your calling, purpose, and mission in your life? Or what challenges are you facing in your pursuit of your Calling that may feel big and difficult? Let me suggest some ways to reframe these obstacles that will give you direction on how to face them with more courage, wisdom, and effectiveness.
INTRODUCTION Bar-headed geese are some of the most remarkable birds in nature. It’s estimated that at least 50,000 of them winter in India. And when summer nears, they undertake the two month 5000 mile migration back to their home in Central Asia. What makes this trip remarkable is that the route they choose to take every year is the world’s steepest migratory flight—they fly over the highest mountain in the world, Mount Everest in the Himalayas.
Amazingly, this route is where the air is thinnest and oxygen level lowest. What’s more, the thinner air means that less lift is generated when the birds flap their wings, thereby increasing the energy costs of flying by around 30 per cent. And yet they still fly the same route over the highest place on earth.
Scientists now find that these geese do not make use of tailwinds or updrafts that could give them a boost up the mountain. They choose instead to rely on several other remarkable resources:
(1) Muscle power—these geese have a denser network of capillaries that reach oxygen-carrying blood to the cells. So their blood is capable of binding and transporting more oxygen to where it’s needed most, their wing muscles.
(2) Large lungs—they also have larger lungs for their size and breathe more heavily than other waterfowl. Unlike humans, bar-headed geese can breathe in and out very rapidly without getting dizzy or passing out. By hyperventilating, they increase the net quantity of oxygen that they get into their blood and therefore into their muscles.
(3) Team work—geese are famous for utilizing in flight the V-formation which helps reduce individual energy consumption by up to 30%. The whole flock gets over 70% better mileage than if each bird flew solo. When the lead bird gets weary, it drops back and a new one takes the lead. As the birds vigorously flap their wings, it creates lift for the bird behind. These geese actually choose to fly over Mt. Everest at one time rather than breaking up the trip, typically a grueling eight hour marathon. And in addition, if one of the geese gets too tired or gets injured or sick, two of the other geese shepherd the weaker one back down to the ground and stay with it until it either gets stronger or dies. Then they rejoin the group or find another group to fly with to complete their migration.
(4) External conditions—many scientists had thought the geese were taking advantage of daytime winds that blow up and over mountaintops. But recent research showed the birds forgo the winds and choose to fly at night, when conditions tend to be relatively calmer. They're potentially avoiding higher winds in the afternoon, which might make flights more uncomfortable or more risky. The birds could potentially head east or west and fly around, rather than over, the mountain range, but this would add several days to their trip and would actually use up more energy. So they go straight over the highest point on earth in an attempt to manage their energy as efficiently as possible. It’s counter-intuitive.
So what can we learn from these geese about how to develop a strong, sustainable, enduring spirituality—the kind that can face great risks and obstacles and complete the journey well? What does it take to enjoy spiritual sustainability?
THREE LESSONS FROM GEESE ABOUT DEVELOPING SPIRITUAL SUSTAINABILITY
Lesson One, Maximize your spiritual oxygen—breathe deeply. Like the geese, we all have the inner capacities to develop spiritual sustainability—we have good muscles and good lungs. But for those to be maximized, we have to breathe deeply to get the most amount of oxygen possible to our spiritual muscles.
These geese have the lung capacity to be able to hyperventilate when they need it for Mt. Everest. When they’re at home, they certainly don’t spend all of their time hyperventilating. But when they need it the most, facing their arduous migration, they’ve developed the capacity for it.
So how can you and I increase our lung capacity to breathe deeply and get life-giving oxygen to our spiritual muscles? This is what spiritual practices are all about—engaging regularly in activities that involve spiritual breathing, breathing deeply of the divine Spirit, accessing the power that is greater than ourselves—Prayer, meditation, scripture/inspirational reading, journaling [for example, the direct method of communication with your Trusted Source—based upon Carl Jung’s model of active imagination], spiritual conversations, sacred rituals, sacred objects, building altars of remembrances, nature immersion. This is about engaging in ways to “wake up” to God’s presence in you and all around you, ways to “pay attention” to That which is greater than your self, ways to “breathe in” the divine spirit.
PERSONAL APPLICATION: What do you currently do spiritually to breathe deeply? What sacred rituals do you intentionally engage in? What kind of plan do you have for regular spiritual breathing?
Lesson Two, Exercise your spiritual muscles—act on faith. I love this definition of faith: “Faith is daring the soul to go beyond what the eyes can see.” William Newton Clark
Spiritual teachers remind us that faith is the language of the soul. And the soul is what both holds our life purpose and catapults us towards it. Our egos care most about happiness, security, safety, success, status. The soul cares about aliveness, courage, purpose, effectiveness, faith. And faith is the language of the soul.
So, when you act on faith, when you intentionally choose to take a step forward in your spiritual quest, when you say “yes” to faith, your spiritual muscles strengthen, and new resources become available.
That’s why, in the story of the Hebrews needing to cross the flooded Jordan River in order to get over to the Promised Land, God gave instructions for the priests carrying the ark of the covenant to lead the way into the river. And it wasn’t until they stepped into the river that the waters parted all the way across. Those first steps were steps of faith—choices to follow God’s instructions even when their eyes couldn’t see the way.
Indiana Jones, in the movie “Temple of Doom,” had to step out in faith, putting his foot out into the nothingness, the chasm of the abyss, in order for the bridge to appear so they could cross it to the other side where the coveted Holy Grail was hidden.
The way many people live is by playing it safe, or shrinking from difficulty, or refusing to act unless all the ducks are lined up in a row or the future can be clearly seen. It’s true, we need to be smart when we’re faced with choices. But sometimes, the counter-intuitive smart choice is to act even when you can’t see the end. Our paralysis of fear atrophies our spiritual muscles. What you don’t use gets lost. Muscles get flabby and lose their resilience and strength.
We can breathe deeply all we want, we can learn to hyperventilate and get rich oxygen to our muscles effectively all we want. But if we never use those oxygenated muscles, none of that makes a difference.
When you act in faith, taking a step forward, new resources become available. And that courageous act strengthens the spiritual muscles, empowering you to take the next step. Faith is acting on the belief that you have what you need, like the geese, the necessary equipment and inner capacity, to fly over the Mt. Everests of life. So use it!
I can honestly tell you that when I look back on the crises I’ve gone through and see where I am today, I am in awe of the inner resources I was able to call out of myself that I didn’t even know I had. That awareness has helped me to learn not to be afraid of or to avoid the Mt. Everests because it’s only in flying over them that we can see what our spiritual muscles are truly capable of.
PERSONAL APPLICATION: So what steps of faith are you being called to take these days? How is your soul being dared to go beyond what your eyes can see? What is one step forward you can take right now to exercise your spiritual muscles?
Lesson Three, Leverage the support of others—ask for help. The genius of the geese’s V-formation flying style is the way it leverages the power of team effort. Getting over Mt. Everest is almost impossible solo. Drafting with others maximizes energy and productivity.
Richard Bolles is the author of history’s best-selling book about job hunting and career change, What Color Is Your Parachute. He was interviewed once about the subject of being self-employed. He said that self employed people can hire out just about any skill, even, to some degree, discipline; you can get someone to call you every week to help keep you on track. But, he said, the only trait you cannot hire out and without which you’ll “die on the vine” is the willingness to ask for help.
Trying to go it alone in life is, as one author described it, like “stringing beads without tying a knot at the end.” Without having the help of other people to secure the end, we simply keep slipping away.
Spiritual sustainability, the power to endure in the long run, requires asking for the support of others—inviting trusted people into our lives for accountability, vision, wisdom, encouragement, strength. We have to be willing to ask for what we need and want.
I remember when I first moved here to San Francisco all by myself—after having gone through a huge personal crisis that shattered my self confidence and sent me into what I was tempted to see as a fatal tailspin—I called up three guys who had been my friends for years—they all lived in different parts of the country—and I asked each of them if they would “fly the V-formation” with me for a long while—“Would you be willing to call me every week and talk with me, encourage me, support me, and let me draft you.” That was one of the most spiritually strategic steps of faith I could have taken during that Mt. Everest time for me. I had to summon enough courage and initiative to ask for help.
Percy Ross authors a column called “Thanks A Million” that is syndicated in more than seven hundred newspapers around the country. This Minneapolis millionaire is trying to dispose of the fortune it took him nearly 60 years to accumulate by working to redistribute his wealth among people who write to him with their stories of need and sometimes greed. He gets 2000 letters a day. Those that touch him he responds to with a check.
In an interview, he talked about the importance of asking. He said, “Asking is in my opinion the world’s most powerful—and neglected—secret to success. I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t convinced many, many people to help me along the way. The world is full of genies waiting to grant our wishes. There are plenty of people who will gladly give you a hand.”
Knowing what you want is one thing—a very important thing, to be sure. But that doesn’t really matter in the end unless you learn to ask for it. As Richard Bolles said, the willingness to ask for help is a nonnegotiable component of successful living. Spiritual sustainability and strength require us involving others in our lives in crucial, significant ways. There’s no such thing as a spiritual lone ranger. The mighty Lone Ranger had Tonto. Even Jesus the Son of God had Peter, James & John (and nine others to follow him around).
PERSONAL APPLICATION: Whom do you have in your life to draft with, to fly in V-formation with? Who do you need to ask? What do you want for your life and are you asking clearly and confidently for it, asking for help?
So what does it take to develop spiritual sustainability, a spirituality that endures the long run with strength and vitality? What lessons can we learn from the barheaded geese? First, Maximize your spiritual oxygen—breathe deeply. Second, Exercise your spiritual muscles—act on faith. And third, Leverage the support of others—ask for help.
One of the Old Testament stories that provides a sort of comic relief to the serious messages of the prophets and yet offers a deeply encouraging view of the divine reality swirling around in the midst of our stories—one of the ultimate resources for spiritual endurance--is the legend of Jonah.
God calls him to go to the fierce people of Ninevah—the most feared enemies of his Jewish people—and preach a message of impending divine judgment. Now preaching judgment to anyone is uncomfortable. But to the Ninevahites? Considering that these fierce warriors skinned their enemies alive, I can understand Jonah’s immediate hesitancy to accept this calling. He doesn’t just say No to God, he jumps on a ship that is sailing in the opposite direction from Ninevah to try to outrun both God and his mission.
No one ever promised there would be no risk in following our spiritual destiny. In fact, truth is, there is always fear involved in flying over Mt. Everest. Our temptation is to capitulate and cave in to the paralysis of status quo.
On the way to far away, Jonah falls asleep in the bowels of the boat. A fierce storm comes up. The captain finds Jonah and wakes him up. “Better come on deck with the rest of us—we’re trying to decide our fate.” The sailors cast lots to see who among them is bringing on this wrath of the gods. That’s when Jonah speaks up with his story of fear and failure, saying, “I’m the one at fault here. Throw me over board and that’ll solve your storm problem.”
He’s thinking that he’s not even safe from God and his calling on a ship going in the opposite direction from Ninevah. If he’s thrown overboard, at least he’ll drown and never have to worry again about facing God or the Ninevahites.
But when he’s sinking to the depths of sea, God sends a huge fish to swallow him to keep him alive and save him for his mission. “Thanks, God!” In the belly of the fish, though, Jonah recognizes what God is calling him to do, accepts God’s promise to empower him with courage and strength, and repents of his cowardice and fear. “If this cup cannot pass from me, Your will not mine be done,” he utters.
After three days and three nights, the fish spits him out onto the beach nearest Ninevah, wouldn’t you know it. And he marches into the city and ends up causing a massive revival among those enemy people who end up treating him like a hero who has saved their lives from judgment.
Spiritual sustainability, spiritual strength and endurance, take place not just from us breathing deeply, acting in faith or even in fear, and asking for help from others—but also from a Divine Presence that swirls and blows and moves in the midst of our stories, a Divine Presence that believes in our destiny even more than we do, who believes in us even when we’ve given up. That Sacred Spirit breathes into our lives hope and courage, engaging other players on our behalf, turning failure into fertilizer, redeeming our cowardice for courage, staying with us until we fulfill our holy destiny. It’s the Wind beneath our wings, the Oxygen streaming into our muscles, that empowers us over Mt. Everest safely to our promised land.
Now that’s a Resource to keep holding on to!
"Death is not the biggest fear we have; our biggest fear is taking the risk to be alive - the risk to be alive and express what we really are." Don Miguel Ruiz I spent some time this morning at the Federal Building for Immigration downtown San Francisco supporting one of my gay friends, a dear colleague in ministry and one of our leaders of Second Wind. He appeared in front of an immigration judge this morning to tell his story in order to apply for legal asylum here in the States. His request is based upon the real dangers of being gay in the religious subculture he lived and worked all of his adult life within in his home country. When he emerged from the court room with his lawyer and we debriefed the experience, I asked him what it felt like to retell his story in great detail. "It was cathartic in many ways but also very painful - remembering all the awful things I encountered when I came out as gay: the ostracization from my church community, the loss of my pastoral occupation and reputation, my marriage, the pain for everyone including my kids who had to put up with ridicule from their friends and others, living with the fear of rejection every day, often experiencing it in painful ways. But I feel good about how clearly and openly I told my story to the judge." His son was there to speak to the judge on behalf of his father, too. "I want for us both to be able to live here in this country and build our lives here," he told me.
Now my friend (along with his long time committed partner) waits for two weeks to hear the immigration judge's verdict. And we wait with them as their friends and spiritual community who love them and are committed to the journey of life together.
And I'm reminded of the great courage and bravery he's manifesting to take the risk to be genuinely alive, the risk to express who he really is in spite of the consequences he's both faced and continues having to put up with even in this country. I admire him for his honesty and his integrity to live with transparency and congruity.
It's not easy choosing to be alive and really live life in alignment and integration. It takes risks. We have to encounter our fears. We have to be willing to fail from time to time but then to pick ourselves up and keep moving forward. It's not easy.
Have you ever asked yourself what your biggest fears are to living the life you feel deep inside you're called to live? What does the cage look like that might tend to keep you from being really alive?
Maybe that's why in my work with people I encounter so many who are simply trying to survive, to make it to death safely, not pushing the edges of their lives, simply maintaining the status quo. It's easier that way - it appears less risky. But notice I say "appears" because in actuality, it's more risky. When you live your life out of alignment, not being who you really, trying to live someone else's life instead of your own, when you're not living your calling and purpose, settling instead for status quo, your inner spirit and physical body pick up on this lack of congruity and create what we call dis-ease - a restlessness inside, a lack of ease. Experts remind us that this condition is a condition of stress. And when you live with this state of stress for a long time it becomes chronic. And chronic stress has been shown to be terribly debilitating to the body, leading to a susceptibility to disease and illness on multiple levels, including depression. Our human systems are designed to experience maximum status when there's complete alignment between our emotions, our feelings, our thoughts, and our behaviors - when we're living within the integrity of our true selves, when we're using how we're wired with boldness and confidence and purpose.
As I listened to my friend's lawyer giving a thumbnail sketch of the process this morning and where it goes from here, I felt deep admiration for her as a professional who is so committed to helping people enjoy the opportunity to live life deeply and freely in this country. I was reminded of the profound statement of mission and purpose Jesus stated when he began his ministry. He quoted from Isaiah 61, applying the mission of God to himself: "God's Spirit has anointed me and chosen me to bring freedom and liberation to the captives, to proclaim this as the year of God's redemption and favor for all."
In my opinion, this powerful and professional lawyer who is helping our friend and all her other clients has stepped into the legacy of the great prophets of old and Jesus himself who came to give all people the joy of freedom and liberation to be alive, really alive.
Filming the event this morning was another of my friends here in the City. He and his wife (both leaders in our Second Wind spiritual community) are producing a documentary about gays who are trying to reconcile their sexual identity with their religious and spiritual orientation. These two courageous people are sacrificing everything they have to travel the country (carrying their 20 month old daughter along) filming stories to highlight this tremendous need. They, too, have stepped into the legacy of Jesus' mission of announcing the freedom and liberation to be alive, really alive, for all people. I admire their persistent passion and boldness.
It takes courage to take the risk to be alive no matter what your orientation - "the risk to be alive and express what we really are." This isn't about sexuality. It's about being human on every level. We all face it. And it's risky business. We have to take intentional steps forward every day, choosing to live deeply and purposefully instead of letting the days go by without any thought or awareness or momentum. It's about choosing to live our God-given life, not someone else's.
But in the end, for those who are willing to take that risk for themselves and on behalf of others, the reward of living in alignment, of living with purpose and mission, of choosing courage and boldness instead of fear and intimidation will far outweigh the risks. There's certainly stress in taking risks. But this kind of stress - eustress - always trumps distress! It's actually good for you.
I love the way George Bernard Shaw describes this kind of life. This is the way I want to live. This kind of life is the highest level of spirituality and it produces the most profound kind of transformation possible (Jesus' life showed this to be true). Here it is:
"This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a might one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.
"I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.
"I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me; it is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations."
So here's to taking the risk of being alive and expressing what we really are, for our sakes and for others and for Life itself!
[If you liked this post, feel free to share it with others - click on the share button to the right. If you would like to receive each new blog post as an automatic email, please subscribe at the right.]
[If you like these posts, feel free to share them with others - click on the share button to the right. If you would like to receive each new blog post as an automatic email, please subscribe at the right.] Do you ever struggle with the challenge of trying to balance all the different commitments in your life like work, family, personal development, spirituality? You perhaps want to pay equal attention to every area but then feel frustrated and sometimes guilty that you simply don't have the time or energy to do it all good enough?
In an article in the latest Inc. magazine, Nancy Rosenzweig, a serial entrepreneur and CEO and the mother of two small children shared a profound insight. That fact that she also devotes significant time to volunteer work has sometimes caused tension at home. In responding to criticism about the potential of neglecting the most important things in her life by simply being too busy, she paraphrased the poet David Whyte and said, "The antidote to buyness is not rest but rather 'wholeheartedness.'" She says that her community commitments, for example, don't deplete her - they energize her. "Nurturing ourselves by doing things we're passionate about in turn allows us to 'wholeheartedly' nurture others - including our families and our companies."
It does raise the significant spiritual question, How are you replenishing your body, mind, heart, and spirit? Is there anything you're involved in that you're engaging in "wholeheartedly?" Are you paying attention to what really energizes you, to what taps into your deep passion? Or are you simply going through all the right motions in all the areas of your life, giving whatever you have to give to all of them, but your heart and soul are not being utilized or plumbed or stimulated? You're working really hard (lots of activity) but you still don't feel like you're getting anywhere? You're dissatisfied deep inside? Are you simply busy, working diligently and with great effort, trying to be successful in everything, but experiencing a slow burn leading to a slow death inside? You're losing track of who you really are?
David Whyte, in an excerpt from "Crossing the Unknown Sea," describes this reality with the words, "Your exhaustion is a form of inner fermentation. You are beginning, ever so slowly to rot on the vine."
What a tragic picture. The grape is designed to grow on the vine, to mature to the point of being able to be harvested and ultimately turned into something that brings great joy and satisfaction to others. But if it is left too long on the vine, it experiences a slow rotting from the inside out. And ends up being discarded.
The word courage in English comes from the old French word cuer, heart. You must do something heartfelt, reminds David Whyte, and you must do it soon. Which begs the question, what are you doing in your life that is truly heartfelt? What are you doing that speaks both to and from your deepest soul, expressing your inner longings and desires and God-given passion? To do that takes courage - a movement in the heart to bold action and risk. That's why so few people truly possess courage. It's sometimes easier to simply maintain the status quo and not rock the boat and try to please everyone. But that kind of heartless living ultimately leads to a busyness that little by little destroys the soul and ends up useless to blessing others. It's not easy living with courage.
This clumsy living that moves lumbering as if in ropes through what is not done, reminds us of the awkward way the swan walks.
And to die, which is the letting go of the ground we stand on and cling to every day, is like the swan, when he nervously lets himself down into the water, which receives him gaily and which flows joyfully under and after him, wave after wave, while the swan, unmoving and marvelously calm, is pleased to be carried, each moment more fully grown, more like a king, further and further on. (Rainer Maria Wilke, "The Swan")
In commenting on this poem, applying it to a friend who comes to see him, Whyte says, "You are like Rilke's Swan in his awkward waddling across the ground; the swan doesn't cure his awkwardness by beating himself on the back, by moving faster, or by trying to organize himself better. He does it by moving toward the elemental water where he belongs. It is the simple contact with the water that gives him grace and presence. You only have to touch the elemental waters in your own life, and it will transform everything. But you have to let yourself down into those waters from the ground on which you stand, and that can be hard. Particularly if you think you might drown."
No wonder the word courage means "heart." Much of what we do in life (and God knows we are all extremely busy doing much) has nothing or little to do with our true powers, our truest sense of self, our God-given purpose to which we feel empowered to devote our whole heart. We often relegate those issues to impracticality ("that's just not the way life is; we can't afford that luxury!"). We judge people who try to live their heartfelt passions as neglecting real life, shirking responsibilities, trying to live in a fantasy world, or having a midlife crisis. So we end up going through life like a swan that refuses to enter the water and simply waddles around on dry ground - awkward, expending unnecessary effort, and worst of all, not living out its true purpose.
But when the swan chooses to step into the water the whole picture changes. We use the swan as one of the ultimate symbols of gracefulness, coining the phrase, "as graceful as a swan." It's a picture of inspiring beauty when a swan behaves like a swan.
What are you and I robbing the world of when we don't have the courage to live the way we were designed by God to live - a life of wholehearted purpose? What are we robbing ourselves of? We all need something to which we can give our full powers. And only we individually know what that is. Our heart, our deepest soul will tell us if we stop long enough to listen to the swan song.
[If you enjoy this blog, please SHARE it with your friends and others who might be interested. You can click in the column to the right and choose how you want to share this.] As we talked about in last week's post, the butterfly's metamorphosis process is quite a profound metaphor for spiritual transformation and life development. At the end of the post, I listed several lessons we can learn from those stages. Let me comment on one of them that is particularly challenging for many of us. I hear from people I work with all the time about this issue. And having gone through a major transition in my own life, I can relate to this stage quite well.
One of the staggering things that takes place in stage three of the caterpillar's metamorphosis to becoming a butterfly is that once a caterpillar goes into its cocoon, it literally liquifies—completely changing itself all the way to the molecular level before it can recreate itself into a butterfly. It basically loses everything, not just shedding its outer layer but a profound internal transformation - a complete disintegration of the old in order to take on the new original design for its ultimate purpose, a butterfly.
Dr. Martha Beck, a monthly columnist for O Magazine and the author of several international bestsellers, recently at a large women's conference, talked about this life transformation process and put it this way, "In a very real sense, when we begin a cycle of transformation, we have to experience the disintegration of our old self before real change can take place. The meltdown can take many forms, but often it has to be cataclysmic—break up of a marriage, loss of a job, or a deep physical crisis like a diagnosis of cancer or a very sick child. For many of us personal shock sends us into the cocoon."
We end up forming a cocoon in order to feel safe during these crisis or difficult times. The cocoon experience often is like circling the wagons - trying to construct a safe place against the threatening forces around us and sometimes even in us. We need to come to some clarity about what all this chaos means to our lives. We need to figure out what our next steps are.
But there's a simultaneous danger from a huge temptation within. Dr. Astrid Sheil, who blogged about Martha Beck's presentation at the women's conference, commented, “Here in square one, we have a tendency to want to become bigger caterpillars. In other words, we try to hold onto the status quo as long as possible. Maybe if we just work 80 hours a week instead of 75, we won’t get fired. Maybe if we subsume our needs, we can keep a failing marriage from coming apart at the seams. But of course, we are just fooling ourselves. When it is time to begin the transformation process, there is no capitulation or compromise that can divert the process. However, transformation can be delayed if we are unwilling to accept ourselves the way we are. The key to beginning the process is to 'totally' accept ourselves and the reality of our situation. We must surrender to the truth—the old way doesn’t work anymore, we can’t go back, and the future is unclear and unknown."
I can relate to that temptation to simply want to become a bigger caterpillar. The radical metamorphosis into the butterfly, which involves the complete disintegration of our selves, is too painful, too risky, to uncertain of the ultimate outcome. Status quo is so much safer, or so we try to deceive ourselves into believing. But the reality is, if the caterpillar remained inside the cocoon without its meltdown (its internal transformation), it would never end up fulfilling its ultimate destiny - flying and soaring as an adult butterfly.
My personal struggle of trying to figure out who I was as a professional outside the religious organization I had spent 25 years serving within was painful and challenging. I had dreams regularly of being back leading spiritual communities where I had been before. I would wake up and be tempted to think, "That must be a message to me that I need to go back somehow. I need to simply be a bigger caterpillar. Stay inside the cocoon where I was so safe all my life." I would wake up from those dreams with feelings of fear, forboding, insecurity, uncertainty, a sense of doom. In that paradigm, growth and transformation were simply within the cocoon rather than from cocoon to the outside world. The emerging was too scary a thought. But ironically and counter-intuitively, that paradigm was not in harmony with my ultimate purpose.
Dr. Sheil described it this way: "We have all experienced these dreaded feelings. Limbo is scary. Not knowing is exhausting. Loss of identity can lead to depression. Why would anyone choose to go through the process of transformation? According to Beck, we have no choice. This is a cyclical process and we all go through it at different times and for different reasons. But like the caterpillar, when we get through the four stages of (1) crash and burn, (2) expansive imagining, (3) this is harder than I thought, and (4) the promise land—we are forever changed and expanded."
On a spiritual note, I'm reminded of how Jesus referred to the radical nature of this transformation experience. Talking to a religious leader who came in the darkness of night to interview him, Jesus said to this man who of all people would have been considered to be living the "butterfly" life (surely he had already "emerged" to occupy the top of the religious-social totem pole, the pinnacle of the significance pyramid): "Unless you are born again, you cannot enter the kingdom of God." (John 3:3)
Now that's a shocking message to a person who thought he'd already arrived. But in essence, Jesus was informing him that he was simply still a caterpillar who was trying to be a bigger, more fancy caterpillar - he thought being a caterpillar was enough - and that of all the caterpillars, he certainly was the biggest and best.
But being a caterpillar isn't enough. Because the caterpillar is suppose to become a butterfly. But if it wants to become a butterfly, it has to allow itself a radical, complete transformation inside its cocoon. It has to let go completely of itself, allow whatever needs to disintegrate to disintegrate, in order to finally re-form and emerge as the intended butterfly.
You must be reborn, Jesus said. You have to allow yourself to let go and become a new person - be re-formed inside the spiritual womb in order to be reborn into the person you've been designed all along to become. There's certainly nothing wrong with being a caterpillar. After all, that's one of the important stages of the metamorphosis process. But we can't stay caterpillars because it's not in alignment with our ultimate destiny. And the caterpillar that stays inside the cocoon ultimately dies, turning into a shriveled up, petrified skeleton.
We have to allow ourselves to go through the painful ordeal and struggle of letting go of whatever it is that might keep us from transitioning adequately to the next stage. Often times these are limiting beliefs that if held onto disempower us from forward movement. Some times they are relationships that are dragging us down or disempowering us spiritually or personally or emotionally and unless those relationships themselves are transformed or ultimately let go of, they continue holding us like heavy weights from running the race. Most of the time, they are self-identities that are false or limiting or not accurate - we have become accustomed to connecting our sense of self with our productivity, or our accomplishments, or our connection to an organization, or our reputation with others, or our status in society - so that when those external circumstances change, we lose our sense of self and get side-lined and side-tracked and disillusioned.
Jesus said to that religious leader, if you want to enjoy life in the kingdom of God, you have to go through a radical transformation process that involves developing a whole new identity - a rediscovery of your true identity as a child of God who has inherent value, not based on your associations or accomplishments or reputations, but based upon who you truly are as that divine child. Only then will you emerge from the cocoon, not as a bigger caterpillar, but as a beautiful, unique butterfly ready to lift off and soar into the skies of your ultimate God-given, God-designed purpose and destiny. So maybe one of the most significant steps of being a caterpillar inside the cocoon is to learn how to embrace ourselves with love and compassion and acceptance for who we really are!
Our choice in life is to liquify or petrify. Pretty starkly stated. But clear. It's okay to feel lost in the cocoon stage, to feel disoriented, to lose a sense of direction and purpose, to feel afraid and uncertain. I certainly have in my times of radical transition and change. But the good news is, that's all in preparation for the next stage. As long as we don't let ourselves stay in status quo inside the cocoon - as long as we end up using that time to rethink, replan, reassess, refocus, restore, and embrace ourselves in the process - we'll be ready to emerge, not as bigger or different caterpillars, but as magnificent flying butterflies. I'm all for that!