What is transformation? The dictionary says it is a thorough and dramatic change; changing the nature, the structure, the form, appearance or character of an element. You can have a biological transformation, a physical transformation, a transformation in our character, or again in a way a society operates. I think it is fair to say that our world is currently going through a major transformation. While transformation itself doesn’t carry a positive or negative charge, transformation is inherently a painful process and the greater the transformation, the greater the pain.

Gaudy Sphinx, Argentina

We often use the metaphor of the butterfly to illustrate our capacity for greatness – the power of personal transformation; free yourself and become the butterfly you were meant to be; rise from crawling on the ground and fly, soar, spread your wings. The thing we forget to mention in this story is how do we become our own version of a butterfly. First, we start with our faces in the dirt, we are crawling creatures with a very limited understanding of reality. Then one day, when ready, we find a place where we can isolate ourselves. We voluntary seek a place of solitude, a place where we won’t be disturbed. We built ourselves a cocoon, something comfortable, think of it as a nice warm blanket. Over that blanket we built a protective layer that will give us protection and shelter as we embark on this powerful transformative journey. Within that cocoon, we will literally melt, becoming goo. Almost everything that made us “US” will disappear. We will have to let go of what we were, what we knew, so that we can create that new future.

Even once we have re-invented ourselves, once we have this new body and are ready for a new life, we still have a lot of work to do. This cocoon we are in just won’t magically disappear. We need to break away from it. We need to force our way out. The effort and energy it takes to come out is an important part of the process. Such that when scientists tried to help butterfly come out by cutting their cocoon open, they discovered that the butterflies would become much weaker. It turns out that the pain of coming out actually makes us stronger. So now we are out of the cocoon. Now what. Well our wings are shriveled and useless. We have to pump life into them. And we have to do this while we are out on the open, no longer protected, vulnerable, while we try to figure out what to do with this new body. Finally, the moment arrives when we start flapping our wings and off we go.

From a National Geographic magazine

Now a butterfly like the painted lady, which has a lifespan of about 12 months, will stay in a cocoon for a month, more or less, for this transformation to manifest. If we applied the same lifespan/transformation ratio to our humans lives, it means that we would have to be in a cocoon for about 7 years. 7 years of intense transformation, to go from our crawling lives to flying. The core insight from this story is that to become your own version of a butterfly, you must first commit to the unknown, create a space where the transformation can happen, and understand that you will have to let go of the old you, that you will have to become something you were not, that some of your “features” will disappear while others will expand

The metaphor of the snake shedding its skin is about our capacity for renewal and reinvention. Yes! We, humankind has an incredible resourceful ability to reinvent, we evolve and we innovate. But the moral of the snake story is not about why but how it sheds its old skin. Once ready, the old skin doesn’t come off by lounging on the grass or taking a swim. The snake must seek the thorny bushes and the sharp edges where it can stripped away the old mantle. Just like it is the hardship of life that has the power to reveal our bright colors.

Rattlesnake on Isla Tortuga, Sea of Cortez

As individuals, or as a society, what really defines us, and what really shows our strength is how we face our failures, tackle our lows, manage our tragedies and go through the unexpected. It is always much easier to believe we are good when things go well. 

After a life threatening really tough paddle in Argentina many years ago

There is no denial, transformation is hard and painful. And when facing pain, people react differently – it is easy to become angry and bitter, vengeful, pointing fingers and looking for someone to blame. But it also brings opportunities to become stronger, wiser and better. The outcome, whether that transformation was wanted or not, is what we do with it. And what are we going to do with what we are experiencing? Will it bring us together? Will it force us to slow down and reassess? Will it empower us? Will it make us more humble? Or will it separate us? Make us more arrogant? Care even less about the planet? And accelerate our descent to hell? Well that is up to us. 

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