The day Hurricane Hermine made landfall on the Florida gulf coast was the day an Orange Dog Caterpillar made a home, a chrysalis, on my bicycle pedal. I was completely taken by this caterpillar that spent most of it's life munching our meyer lemon tree during it's early instar stages. Before this experience, I had never witnessed first hand the transformation from caterpillar to butterfly.
For two weeks the chrysalis sat still on the pedal, looking like a tiny twig broken off of a tree. This caterpillar is a master at cryptic transformation, hiding in plain site. In this same time, I was undergoing my own kind of transition that was induced by a spontaneous decision to experiment with advertising my free monthly mindful hike on Facebook. The response from that experiment was far greater than I expected.
For two weeks my list of participants grew proportionately to my nervousness about leading such a large group. Small, intimate circles are my base camp of comfort. To be sure, I have facilitated large groups but never in this particular format. It is not something I take for granted. And now I was being asked to break out of that small, comfortable space and emerge to a new way of showing up.
I quietly struggled inside while on the outside I looked just like that chrysalis - unmoved, camouflaged, and hanging from a thin thread to my anchor of experience and intuition. When the list finally grew beyond my scope of comfort I reached out for help. And it came swiftly from the wisdom and laser focus of my friend, Joanne Martin of East Vision Partners. Joanne is a brilliant woman, with wolf-like leadership skills and a pensive for seeing straight through bull shit. Asking for her help meant I better be ready to receive the full spectrum of feedback. And that is what she gave me.
Joanne's feedback put me in to what I call "liquid phase" of transformation. It's similar to the phase of the caterpillar digesting itself, creating a chunky soup of itself inside the chrysalis before reorganizing to make a butterfly. Cut a chrysalis open during this phase and both caterpillar and butterfly are unrecognizable.
Yes, she helped me get critical logistics down and think creatively about adapting on the fly as needed. Equally important, Joanne reflected back a quietly held fear I was not fully admitting and was creating bias in my approach. A personal fear that I've been working with for a long while. And so I continued to work with it through ritual and prayer, through connecting with a nearby forest, and through mindful attention to my body.
After receiving Joanne's reflection, I sat down and breathed and relaxed and did a body scan - a way of befriending the body through mindful attention to sensations while breathing. I became aware of the tension in my body when thoughts of the fear arose, especially in my stomach. By continuing to mindfully breath and return to the present moment, I became witness to my fears and the story attached to it. A story that is no longer a living reality.
Upon completing the body scan, there was a sensorial shift. A feeling of safety and contentment in my body. A feeling that something had changed, even if it was small, something old was dead, and something new was present.
The scan was done two days before leading the hike. I learned then that when the caterpillar/butterfly undergoes transformation there are cells present called "imaginal discs" that remain intact and are the "image" of the future butterfly. Inside this chrysalis already contains the image of the future. Through all of its self-digestion and reconfiguration, this "image" remains, an image of a future animal that is being developed. WOW!
By that point, I felt a very real kinship to the butterfly. The butterfly also gave me hope that despite my inklings to want to stay in one phase of development, that inside me is already the "image" of the future self. That what I need to be is already inside, waiting to be revealed in good timing.
On Saturday, September 17th, the Giant Swallowtail butterfly emerged from its chrysalis. It slowly stretched and pumped its wings and then flew away, light as air, without a second look back at where it had just been. That same morning, I woke up and prepared to confidently and compassionately lead a group in a new way, with my own wings of self-reflection, renewed sense of safety, and confidence that what I am is enough to show up for my people.
Thank you Joanne, for helping induce the "liquid phase" of change. It's painful and necessary and I could not have done it without your help. Thank you, mindful hikers, for showing me the needs of the community. Thank you, caterpillar/butterfly, for showing me that transformation means not being able to return to the old self, even if I wanted.