“I am caterpillar. The leaves I eat taste bitter. But dimly I sense a great change coming. What I offer you humans is my willingness to dissolve and transform. I do that without knowing what the end-result will be.” – Joanna Macy, John Seed, Pat Flemming, Arne Moss.
Each month for the next few months I will be sharing some thoughts from a wonderful book I’ve been reading called ‘When the heart waits’ by Sue Monk Kidd. I’m accompanying this with some photos of caterpillars, cocoons and butterflies I took in my Cape Town garden last year. I hope you’ll join me for the journey.
Deep within us there is a longing to grow and become a new creature
but we possess an equally strong compulsion to remain the same.
We waver unpredictably between clinging and letting go.
Apparently, as surprising as it sounds,
some caterpillars resist the process of spinning a chrysalis,
clinging to their larval life longer than their peers.
They put off surrender to the cocoon until the following spring,
postponing their transformation a year or more.
This clinging state of being is called ‘diapause’.
We can all live in diapause in our journey of transformation
when we cling on to the self we know.
Even a broken and false self seems safer than an unknown transformed one.
“We fear it is all we have. Even its sufferings are familiar and we clutch them because their very familiarity is comforting… yet so long as we aim at the maintenance of this present self, as we now conceive it, we cannot enter the larger selfhood which is pressing for life.” – Daniel Day Williams
The word ‘clinging’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘clingan’, which means ‘shrink’. As we cling to the way it’s been, it creates a shrinking within the soul. A shrinking of possibility and growth.
Thomas Merton writes about two levels of the process of ‘letting go’, or surrendering fully to God. The first is an active work, letting go of the things we recognise that we depend on more than God: our ability to succeed; our ability to keep other people happy; our attempts to live a significant life in our own efforts. Releasing all we have clung to for meaning, success, security and validation. Releasing not only the images we have of ourselves but the ones others have of us too. We pray, we turn loose. And maybe this is where some of us stop.
The second level, he suggests, is needed to tackle deeper, more unconscious patterns. At that stage we need to trust the initiative into the hands of God, allowing God to work directly on our more ingrained attachments we have to our old ways of being. Allowing God to release us through experiences, encounters and events that come to us, and being attentive to his work in us. We are called then to let go even of our frantic attempts to let go, giving up our self efforts and allowing God to draw us forward.
“It takes courage to let go and yield yourself to the changes that take place in the chrysalis. It takes courage to become who you are. But the opposite of courage isn’t only fear but security. Security can be a denial of life. Total security eliminates all risk. And where there’s no risk, there’s no becoming; and where there’s no becoming, there’s no real life. The real spiritual sojourners- the ones who touch the edges of life as well as the centre – are the people who risk, who let go.” Sue Monk Kidd follows this by reminding us that Jesus told his would be disciples to sell all they had and follow him. If you lose your life for my sake, you will find it, he said. We have to risk everything in order to gain everything.
I will wind up this post by recounting a childrens story Sue Monk Kidd mentions about Yellow the caterpillar.
Yellow came upon a gray-haired caterpillar who told her about becoming a butterfly. “But how do you become one?” she asked.
“You must want to fly so much that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar,” he said.
“You mean to die?” asked Yellow.
“Yes and no,” he answered. “What looks like you will die but what’s really you will still live.”
Monk Kidd shares with us a prayer from her own heart in a season of change.
“To be fully human, fully myself
To accept all that I am, all that you envision,
This is my prayer.
Walk with me out to the rim of my life,
Take me to the exquisite edge of courage
And release me to become.”
So I wonder, whether like the caterpillar you are sensing a change coming, longing for growth and to become a new creature, to become more truly yourself. Instead of shrinking back or clinging on, dare we step out from the security of known ways of being, into the risk of who we could become? Do we have the courage to let go, to surrender to the cocoon and the transformation without fully knowing yet what the end result will be? Because maybe it’s only as we release all that we’ve depended on for security and validation, and trust ourselves to God, attentive to his work in us, that what we look like may die and what’s really us will live.
This post is based on Chapter 5 ‘Letting go’, in the book ‘When the heart waits’ by Sue Monk Kidd and some parts are directly quoted from there. I highly recommend the book for seasons of change and waiting in our lives. It has been an invaluable companion for me through hard times over the past 18 months.