I keep seeing butterflies everywhere. First, it was in an online class in which the teacher described the dormant DNA in a caterpillar that knows how to churn the death of one being into the flight of the next. Then, the sighting of a cocoon eloquently written about in Sue Monk Kidd’s book When the Heart Waits. Next a story from a dear friend about the butterfly she keeps taped to her wall. Finally, a found treasure–a birthday card from a friend given on my 25th birthday that I discovered hiding in a box. Lifting the card from the envelope, a monarch butterfly flew up to greet me and along with it the memory of that birthday on Ocracoke Island when suddenly we were surrounded by hundreds of monarchs swirling above us on a bright September day at the beach. Ah, the butterfly, great image of flight, renewal, resurrection after waiting and death, how I need you right now.
I am a do-er, not great at waiting, I tell myself. Looking back on the course of my life, I recall so many decisions made in quick leaps, countless moments happening in haste, whole days spent prodding others to move at my pace. Just this week, I made multiple attempts to cajole my husband into a home project he’d already told me he couldn’t get to until later in the year and found myself repeatedly reminding myself to slow down to my daughter’s pace on our morning walk together rather than prodding her to keep up with me. Why do I so often want the world to keep up with me? I’ll keep up a rather vigorous pace of life until I’m literally forced to stop, and even then, I don’t stop well. The day after a hospital visit for an unstoppable stomach virus this winter, I propped myself up in bed, opened my computer, and got to work on checking emails and trying to make decisions for the business. I’ve had a regular meditation practice for many years, yet when the pace of life slows or stops, I tend to resist more than flow, push forward rather than rest.
Met with a global pandemic, however, in a time when I hear so many saying, “I can’t wait to get back to normal,” I find my own heart speaking to me softly. “I am waiting,” it whispers. Indeed, I feel there is waiting to do–for a reimagined “normal,” a time of cocooning so that some deeper, dormant wisdom can come alive and take flight.
The story of the caterpillar morphing into a butterfly is likely one of the most told childhood stories of scientific magic. My discovery of the details of this scientific mystery, however, made it all the more magical to me. The caterpillar spends the whole of its life consuming, consuming, consuming, until one day, signaled by its own internal knowledge, it spins itself a kind of tomb–the cocoon–in which it then digests itself, turning its whole body into an amorphous soup that eventually is remade into a butterfly. This is insanely cool in and of itself; however, the coolest part to me are the cells that allow this to happen–from something called imaginal cells that the caterpillar is born with. These cells are the dormant DNA for the new life form. While the caterpillar is busily consuming its way through its relatively small, short existence, lying in wait are the imaginal cells that, once the rest of the caterpillar is tucked into its cocoon and has digested itself, come to life to rebirth the butterfly–a soaring, pollinating, great image of beauty and resurrection. I’m not a scientist but I am a word lover and I can’t help but get excited at the word imaginal in all of this. The first definition of this word is: “of or relating to imagination, images, or imagery.” Ah, lovely–the very real butterfly birthed from the imagination, from imagery. What if that is where all resurrection, new life, soaring tomorrow’s are birthed from?
Something about this pandemic time feels very much like a global cocooning to me. When the global pandemic began, I spoke of the feeling of an invitation being offered toward global solidarity. The notion has been reinforced for me recently as I read When the Heart Waits in which Sue Monk Kidd writes, “God is offering an invitation. A call to waiting. A call to the mysteries of the cocoon. I discovered that in the spiritual life, the long way round is the saving way. It isn’t the quick and easy [way] we’re accustomed to. It’s deep and difficult–a way that leads into the vortex of the soul where we touch God’s transformative powers. But we have to be patient. We have to let go and tap our creative stillness…we have to trust that our scarred hearts really do have wings.” That trust is hard. I can’t see the dormant DNA wisdom within me–but if I get really quiet and go against the rushing way I often enter life, I can feel the DNA wisdom aligning itself to my heart. There’s wings there. Even though it feels heavy in the waiting, some lightness is waiting to be born.
I love reading of Sue Monk Kidd’s own struggle with waiting–the cocooning that doesn’t come easily to her either. She writes of her observation of a monk sitting under a tree, with a “tranquil sturdiness….the picture of waiting.” Why can’t she get used to the idea of waiting and of doing nothing, she muses. The monk, with a grin, says to her, “There’s the problem right there, young lady. You’ve bought into the cultural myth that when you’re waiting you’re doing nothing.” With a serious and firm look in his eyes, he says, “I hope you’ll hear what I’m about to tell you. I hope you’ll hear it all the way down to your toes. When you’re waiting, you’re not doing nothing. You’re allowing your soul to grow up. If you can’t be still and wait, you can’t become what God created you to be.”
I wonder, is he speaking of a kind of dormant DNA? If I don’t learn to cocoon during the times when the flow of life spins in a different, slower way, will I not learn to ever transform, evolve into what I am meant to be? Will my community not either? These questions pull at me. Kidd goes on to write, “We set up our obsessive patterns, pursuing the quick and easy, hurrying as fast as we can into the next moment so that we don’t have to dwell in this one…Ultimately we’re fleeing our own dark chaos. We’re fleeing ourselves.”
My heart is waiting, and frankly some days I feel scared, frightened that if I don’t get going I’ll miss something, afraid to dwell here and discover loneliness and death. So I gather up all the tools I have, most of all the gift of my breath to center and ground me, to slow me to the pace of the internal cocoon. There is fear here, but I can stay with the fear–it’s just a wave–and every great spiritual teacher of all times has taught the same great understanding. Whether it’s Jesus, or Buddha, or the Princess Bride, or the Butterfly–first, pain, then the rising. I think it could get pretty dark in the waiting, but the rising–ah yes, that, too, shall be. If I don’t rush this time, what beautiful wings might evolve from some dead space within? Can you feel it–a rebirth in the waiting, wings churning inside the cocoon? My heart whispers, “Just wait. There’s wings in here.”
Photos by Jen Rolston