The Anguish of the Butterfly

I am in the midst of major life changes. Some days it feels like a high-dive jump with rolls, flips, and tucks. Exhilarating. Other days it feels like sinking to the bottom of the ocean, the weight of the water growing heavier, darker, colder.

All of it is transformative.

This week I want to share something from Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost that has stayed with me ever since I read it several years ago:

The people thrown into other cultures go through something of the anguish of the butterfly, whose body must disintegrate and reform more than once in its life cycle. In her novel Regeneration, Pat Barker writes of a doctor who “knew only too well how often the early stages of change or cure may mimic deterioration. Cut a chrysalis open, and you find a rotting caterpillar. What you will never find is that mythical creature, half caterpillar, half butterfly, a fit emblem of the human soul, for those whose cast of mind leads them to seek such emblems. No, the process of transformation consists almost entirely of decay.” But the butterfly is so fit an emblem of the human soul that its name in Greek is psyche, the word for soul. We have not much language to appreciate this phase of decay, this withdrawal, this era of ending that must precede beginning. Nor of the violence of metamorphosis, which is often spoken of as though it were as graceful as a flower blooming.

(Emphasis mine)