In order to become a butterfly, a caterpillar must fully dissolve within the chrysalis – a cocoon of protection. This dissolution or meltdown is the first and most difficult stage of change; however, while incredibly strenuous and distressing, it is the fundamental component of the transformation process. The metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly is akin to the role of loss within my own life.
In May 2008, my best friend, Matt, passed away after an arduous battle with cancer. For six months, I resisted grief. I would not allow myself to accept the loss. I became emotionally numb and was acknowledged by many for my resilience during this difficult time. This reaction actually was a survival mechanism that allowed me to persevere through the final stages of publishing a book on the very topic I was avoiding: how to experience life to the fullest even when we are faced with catalytic events such as death. After finishing the book, aptly titled Perseverance, I no longer could avoid the grief that was buried deep within my soul. The Band-Aid was pulled off abruptly and the emotions were more raw than I could have imagined. I felt completely lost and uncertain about almost everything within my life. Nothing felt safe or "normal." Like a caterpillar, my identity dissolved completely. I mourned my old identity, the friendship that was lost, and began a period of intense soul-searching. During this time, I learned the significance of creating security for myself regardless of the circumstances – a personal cocoon. I sensed how important it was to let myself unfold without consequences or expectations. It was when I finally let go of the need to know now that I finally heard the whispers of my soul that for so long were muted. I felt a sense of freedom that never existed, a nonresistance to the present moment.
To get to this point of enlightenment, I experienced months of darkness and deep depression that felt violent, like a never-ending storm cloud. I stopped sleeping and often felt hopeless. I survived this time through the support of my fiancé, Ben, who walked into this darkness with me and never left my side. I also worked with great therapists and life coaches to learn new coping skills and maintain hope that the darkness would pass (which was difficult to believe, but something I realized was essential, regardless of how I felt). I grasped onto the mantra, "I don't know what is going on and that's okay."
With time and a great deal of work, the storm cloud subsided and I began to feel joy and anticipation. I was able to dream again. For a caterpillar, it is during this part of metamorphosis that the imago cells restructure within the liquid of the chrysalis to form the imago of the butterfly. After experiencing the complete dissolution of one's foundation, nourishing life becomes essential. We plant new dreams and our imagination is set free. The focus is inward, toward a time for reconnecting with our essential self. While this time no longer is characterized by darkness, pain still is experienced as it is throughout life; however, the pain is manageable and doesn't define one's identity. We feel safe, as we remain protected within the cocoon of our mind.
When we begin to turn our dreams into reality, we are very much like a caterpillar beginning to come out of the cocoon, weak and vulnerable. We struggle and make mistakes, which can feel incredibly difficult at first. But with experience, we learn to expect the unexpected and show up as our essential selves within the real world. It feels new and scary, as we are rebuilding our identity; however, we begin to live our vision. And it is then that we experience full flight, emerging as a butterfly, aware of our capabilities and no longer afraid to live and love wholeheartedly.
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This post is an excerpt of a piece that I wrote for a workbook entitled, Loss Love Life. The workbook is available for free online. You can download it and read its powerful stories whenever you feel the time is right. I have read it twice already and gain new insight each time. The workbook includes exercises and resources in addition to the powerful stories. The contributors include: Thursday’s Child, Julie Daley, Patti Digh, Margaret Fuller, Danielle LaPorte, Michael Nobbs, Carolyn Rubenstein, Andrea Schroeder, Kate Swoboda, Julie Jordan Scott, Dyana Valentine, Eydie Watts and Nicola Warwick.
Loss Love Life: Learn More + Download for Free Here