The Beauty of Becoming

This spring, my friend Terri grew Monarch butterflies. Like most of us, she’s concerned that it’s our human footprint mucking up the planet and not, contrary to what some believe, God or Zeus or Mothra exacting their revenge on us for sport. In the past few decades, the Monarch population has suffered an alarming and steep decline from 1 billion in the mid-1990s to only 35 million in 2014. It doesn’t take a math genius like Stephen Hawking to tell you that this is not good with a side of very bad. Or to put it another way: there’s a profound disturbance in the Force, Luke.

The world depends on harmony, not balance. Harmony is all the disparate elements co-mingling and working together in their own funky ways to create some kind of whole. Harmony is peanut butter and chocolate smashed together to make something delicious. There was a time when no one thought those two ingredients could be a thing, how wrong they were. Everything has purpose, everything has belonging and a role to fulfill in an architecture that is more sophisticated than we can ever dream or know. That incredibly grating co-worker who shamelessly flirts with the guy that restocks the vending machine is probably the reason it gets filled with Oreo snack packs instead of healthy, boring Kashi dirt bars. Think about it.

Terri decided to shelve her worry and take action. She ordered Monarch eggs online and slipped into her new role as surrogate mama. She posted photos and videos of the green stalks of milkweed dotted with tiny, white specks of eggs slowly turning into the soupy, chrysalis sack cradling the brown and orange body of the butterfly. It seemed impossible that this creature could fit in such a compact space, but then again, we incubate 7 and 8 pounds of human in a room of similar dimensions. Nature’s badassery is infinite.

I had never watched a caterpillar become a butterfly practically in real time. The transformation was astounding, which is similar to saying February is chilly, but truth is truth. It occurred to me that we not only take this kind of remarkable evolution for granted, but we’ve grown used to seeing it played out with much of the grit and sweat and unflattering moments sanitized. Makeover reality shows sell us the lie that all we need is a bit of paint with a name like Iowa Thunderstorm and some strategically placed throw pillows and voila!: instant transformation, which is code for happily ever after.

The reality is much messier and twisted and painful. Growth is not benign. It kind of sucks and often feels very unfair, this business of perpetual sacrifice, of relentless shedding of skins and cells and habits and all the elements that made us feel safe, protected, and known. My good friend Maria describes it like this: “We struggle and wrestle inside the cocoon because it’s hard and painful, but all the while we’re building the muscles we need to survive and thrive. You bust out of that cocoon before you’re really ready and you’re not going to make it.” When it comes to ugly truths, Nature lowers the boom without so much as smudging her lipstick.

I want to avoid struggle as much as possible because there is nothing glamorous, easy, or remotely appealing about it, but I think it’s worth calling ourselves to be witnesses and participants in it. We perform a disservice airbrushing the pain and trauma of becoming because it’s scary and uncomfortable. The recent events in Charleston, SC are poignant reminders that the reckoning of growth is profoundly disturbing, but so is the acceptance of permanent stasis. We should honor the process of becoming as a sacred ritual. It’s a period of communion with something Divine that is equal parts beautiful and devastating.

You learn all kinds of fantastic ten-dollar words in graduate school. You stuff them in your pockets and tuck them into the back of drawers so you can pull them out and use them as much as humanly possible. This is part of the intellectual swagger any grad develops until, like charm or the shifting moon, it eventually wears thin. “Liminal” was one such word I learned and loved to sprinkle in papers. It means on a threshold, it signifies an ambiguous area in the midst of transition where you’re neither one thing nor another; you’re a stranger to yourself in a strange land. You’re free. No wonder that scares the shit out of us and we want to cut to commercial. There is nothing more terrifying than possibility.

Terri released each butterfly into her garden full of flowers friendly and inviting to these critters. I look at her photos of these tiny, yet mighty insects perched happily on the blooms and exhale thinking the hard part is over, the storm clouds are on the run, and there’s only the singular journey now, right?

I smile and allow myself to savor the conceit.


285 thoughts on “The Beauty of Becoming

  1. This essay nearly made me cry… I am in that fighting for growth stage right now, and to read what you wrote about the struggle building the muscles needed to survive…wow. It made me stop and think. I don’t have to just endure this process, I should be embracing it and thanking it

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Misty, thank you so much. That is very kind and sweet of you to say. Know that you are right where you need to be, even as it feels so difficult and impossible to wade through the molasses. But every step is an invitation to love yourself, to be kind to yourself, to speak up for what you need, to heal and rest, and build those mighty, mighty wings. You can do it! xo!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Beautiful post that sparks creative thinking. I love to read inspiring blogs. I recently started my own blog. I hope to inspire others to achieve things that will make their life more meaningful. Keep up the great work!!!!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Reblogged this on Memorabilia and commented:
    This is a story that i read in one of the books recently and it is a story of the butterfly emerging from the hard pupa. I imagined it how hard it would be and how a beautiful little thing will come into this world but i stumbled across this post and it just made the story that i read a complete one. I would like to share this story and you should read what Sheila writes too.. Very nice 🙂

    Story of a butterfly –

    Its life begins as an “ugly” caterpillar. When the time is right, it forms a pupa and retreats behind its hard walls.

    Within its shell, it transforms into a butterfly, unseen, unheard. When ready, it uses its tiny, sharp claws at the base of its forewings to crack a small opening in the hard, protective outer shell. It squeezes through this tiny opening and struggles to make its way out. This is a difficult, painful and prolonged process. Misguided compassion may make us want to enlarge the hole in the pupa, imagining that it would ease the butterfly’s task. But that struggle is necessary; as the butterfly squeezes its body out of the tiny hole, it secretes fluids within its swollen body. This fluid goes to itswings, strengthening them; once they’ve emerged, as the fluid dries, the delicate creatures are able to take flight. Making the hole bigger to “help” the butterfly and ease its struggle will only debilitate it. Without the struggle, its wings would never gain strength. It would never fly

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Beautiful and haunting. There’s a resonance between your article and my own thoughts. I look for that when I read: new ways of understanding the shadows of my own thoughts.

    I especially liked your description of the gruesome shedding of cells and skins and habits that ultimately allow us to transform.

    My transformations are usually dark and on paper. I enjoyed living it through the monarch butterfly and your words.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks so much! That’s really wonderfully stated. I appreciate the way you’ve found connection and though transformation is hard and a lot of times unwelcome, unwanted, it’s ALWAYS necessary. Singer songwriter Patty Griffin said it best: “I don’t know nothing except change will come/year after year all we do is undone.” Thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This piece reminded me of two things. (A) The Butterfly Effect: how one small change can lead to bigger changes and (B) the 1944 Cary Grant film “Once Upon A Time” about a boy with a dancing caterpillar.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much! Yeah, I love what Terri is doing and I planted milkweed seeds this fall to hopefully do my share. We have to help these lovely friends! Appreciate you reading!


  6. More reflections on Becoming please, oh and please use luminal again, I so missed these thoughts, from when I studied , reflected, thought about the state of being gendered, oh and ethics! Lovely hints and writing! Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m reading this again, because it is truly one of the best-written ‘nature’ pieces I’ve come across. I hope you don’t mind if I re-share on DirtNKids! ‘Cause I’m gonna. Cheers, Sheila!

    PS – We just watched that whole process (monarch egg-to-caterpillar-to-chrysalis-to-butterfly) so this really is fresh in our memory.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Shannon! You are so kind and so lovely! Thank you so much for your support..I’m so happy this piece resonated with you and that you’re compelled to keep sharing it! Yes, please by all means share away and let’s cheer each other in the messy, beautiful, powerful path of becoming! Peace! 🙂


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