Reveling in the pre-dawn silence after my run, I light my meditation candle and attempt to quiet my mind. I say “attempt” because what I really do is make shadow puppets on the wall in the flickering light. With a smirk, I close my eyes and settle into position. But the stillness I seek is interrupted by an insistent buzzing in my mind, a need to take stock of where I’ve been and where I’m going as I stand on the brink of a new year. I do not fight it.
This time last year I woke up in the Andes, literally and metaphorically. I left some things there: fear and doubt, most notably. My addiction to people-pleasing, most astonishingly. In the months since, it has been a struggle at times to let them stay there. No sense in candy-coating that fact.
Indeed, most of this year was spent taking on new challenges and trying different ways of thinking on for size. For various reasons, nothing really fit, and my old friends Fear and Doubt sent their regards from the Andes. I almost capitulated and flung myself into their arms again. Almost.
At the beginning of September, I received a stunning gift by way of a female Monarch butterfly. Mesmerized, I watched her hover over the milkweed in our front yard for two days. It was ten days later when I learned the true extent of the gift: the milkweed was covered with wriggling lines of yellow, white and black – Monarch caterpillars!
One of my naturalist friends suggested I take some of the caterpillars to raise indoors. I balked at the idea, pretty sure it would end badly for my little captives, but upon finding that most of them had disappeared the very next day, I relented. In a matter of hours, I set up a makeshift nursery in the basement and fell easily into the role of a doting foster butterfly mother.
In mid-September, I awoke one morning to find two of the caterpillars had formed into their chrysalises. Magnifying glass in hand, I sat for what felt like hours admiring the smooth jade green capsules bejeweled with gold. Splendorous. Exquisite. Perfect. Soon the other caterpillars followed suit, and I had a menagerie of Nature’s gems to admire.
Like any new mother, I read everything I could about my charges’ stages of development. To my horror, I learned that while in the chrysalis, caterpillars actually dissolve into a soup of specialized cells, each of which later forms a specific part of the adult butterfly. Fascinating? Yes. But I wondered if it was a painful process.
A few days before my birthday, those first two chrysalises darkened ominously, a hint of orange wings folded impossibly inside. Then, with a fanfare only butterflies can hear, those wings pushed through the side of the chrysalis, followed by a mass of spindly, probing black legs. By instinct, the newborn butterfly began to climb upward, its dewy, creased wings unfurling as it went. Halting near the top of the enclosure, it opened its wings – brilliant masterpieces that had once been part of a caterpillar – and waited. I could have sworn I saw it take a deep, centering breathe. Or perhaps it was a sigh of relief.
So yeah, I cried a little.
The other caterpillars made the same miraculous transformation over the next few days. With shaking hands, I carefully tagged each one then set it free. For the Monarchs, it was the beginning of an epic journey, a 2000-mile trek to the Oyamel fir forests in central Mexico. For me, it was the impetus to let my own transformation – the one that began in the Andes -move forward; an invitation into my own chrysalis. No more running, no more busy-ness to anesthetize the deepest desire of my heart.
Like the Monarchs I set free, I have an unexplainable, unstoppable yearning to reach my destination. And yet, for the last 15 years, I have given the wheel over to Fear and Doubt, who have gladly driven me into the ditch over and over and over.
I know I’m not the only one to experience this, but here’s what it looks like for me: I have written two novels, a full-length play, and countless poems. Those that I’ve even bothered to print out now collect dust on a shelf in the corner of our spare bedroom. They’re good. I know they are. After many exhaustive re-writes, I let a few in my inner circle read them. They were floored that I never tried to get my work published. They tried to encourage me, but eventually, after having met with enough of my resistance, they gave up. Standing at the crossroads now, I can either do the same, or I can triple my commitment. I choose the latter.
Yes, this time last year I woke up in the Andes. This year I accept the invitation into my own chrysalis. In terms of New Year’s resolutions, I resolve to dissolve.
In the safety of my chrysalis, I give myself space and permission to evaluate my commitments, habits, and relationships. I am pragmatic and ruthless. Those that do not point to my true north are being dissolved from my life. The people-pleaser in me, the one I thought I shook off in the Andes, is alive, but she’s quaking in her boots. That’s good. Not comfortable, but good. It will get worse as I roll out some of the changes I have in mind.
I suppose no one really knows if the caterpillar’s transformation inside the chrysalis is painful. I suspect it is, though, and brace myself accordingly.
Admittedly, I’ve been down this road before, and landed in the ditch every time, thanks to Doubt and Fear. But now I know the secret: The real magic of transformation is not in my bold, sweeping declaration of its imminence; it’s in the hundreds of little choices that cross my path every day, soft and swift as butterfly wings.
Until, at last, I can unfurl my own wings.