Why can't we let go of our comfort?
Updated: Jun 28
We have all seen in our school science classes how a caterpillar turns into a butterfly, right? This is called metamorphosis, which is a Greek word for transformation or change. In the caterpillar's case, this is a complete physical transformation into something utterly different. Actually, this past week, my wife saw the biggest caterpillar in our yard and was hoping to keep it on one of our plants to hopefully see this transformation begin! Of course, it moved on. But it fascinates us, doesn't it?
What if the life journey was really all about us leaving our caterpillar-ness to embrace our inner butterfly? I've been thinking about this at length during this last year + of the Covid pandemic. We all had our lives "pre-pandemic" and it was significantly changed by fear, anxiety, disbelief, polarization. We were all looking for our comfort in that sea of discomfort. I get it. Me too! I was angry at the situation...looking for someone, or some group, to blame. Businesses and churches closed down. Masks were forced on us. Fear permeated everything. The need to be "certain" was all around.
As a student in a Christian seminary, I even had classmates that resisted the idea that wearing masks was "loving one's neighbor as ourselves." I was even challenged by one who said, "So you're telling me that if I don't wear a mask I'm not loving my neighbor?" I could sense his anguish and internal turmoil around it. Of course, I wouldn't respond, but told him to ask himself why he's upset enough even to ask the question.
My point is this: We really don't know who we are, or others, until we are thrust into discomfort. Humans will usually not enter discomfort willingly because of fear of the unknown, or that it might topple the very structure of our lives and all the energy that we put into making that "life" what it is. Our American capitalistic culture has built the entire system on the illusion that being fit with physical beauty will bring you popularity and esteem. Same for being a high-earning person or one of respect like a CEO or a physician. I am not going to preach that material things and titles won't bring you happiness and fulfillment. Each person will learn that in his or her own time. There is everything right about using your God-given talents in this world to leave your mark on those that you encounter or are in relationship with.
I have seen the discomfort of the pandemic change people. People that I even knew on the "spiritual journey" that felt that they were rising above the human condition and had become "enlightened" only to see them become polarized, judgmental, and doubling-down on their need to be right, respected, heard, with little desire to see the other side, or more importantly, themselves. These were people who are always posting beautiful inspirational messages on social media, but when confronted with discomfort, forget them in totality. I've been guilty of this, too. I have watched my thoughts move to judgment of those that have lashed out at the lockdown as being "unloving" because I've seen up close my wife's daily pain of being a Covid intensive care doctor and the loss of life due to this unfathomable virus. Those that resisted had their own fears, such as loss financial stability or worse. As my favorite spiritual teacher, Richard Rohr, once said: "Remember that your point of view is a view from a point." Thank you for that reminder, Richard!
I write this to anchor this outside of myself. I have been just as guilty of fighting discomfort, both internally and externally. The caterpillar has no idea what is in store for itself. It happens through its life. Same with us. Our lives are happening in the only way they can. But is it possible to bring some consciousness to it? Can we begin ever-so-gently to know we are perfectly imperfect and wish for a change into the butterfly that is our greatest potential? The caterpillar is grounded to the earth...limited. The butterfly is free...almost limitless (to what degree that really is). But the symbolism is still there.
The freedom in our lives is the ability to free ourselves of the need to be certain. We all act out of unconscious mechanisms that drive us. The butterfly in us allows us to be free of pigeon-holing ourselves into any category. We unwittingly stay in our caterpillar lives because there's safety on the ground. That safety could be our unwillingness to take any risks or leave comfort of any kind, even toxic relationships, careers, organizational affiliations. You were given another day to live life. You did nothing to deserve it, it just happened to you. I think we can all agree that we are not "breathing" ourselves. It is pure gift. So what of it?
We may not ever be thrust into the discomfort again in our lives like we experienced with the pandemic. Wouldn't it be a shame if we learned nothing about the value of growing in discomfort and allowing that time to bring awareness to areas where we can let go of polarization and learn to see the gift in each other person, too? The Source of our lives wanted each of us here. No mistakes. And what if the moments of discomfort in our lives could be chances to say, "I don't understand this, and I don't have to like it, but this moment is here for me to learn something more about myself."
I personally wish for more acceptance of what is, versus of how I want it to be. And little by little, the constraint of my inner caterpillar will become free of weight and burden like the butterfly.