The Do-It-Youself Butterfly

The butterfly. What a creature. It’s transformation incarnate. It’s hope for our souls, whether we consciously know it or not, wrapped up in a beautiful, gossamer package.

But that poor cocoon gets a bad rap. Here you are, this wonderful object, this spectacularly designed piece of artwork meant to gestate this fantastic creature and facilitate rebirth yet you’re given no respect. In fact, if one dropped on me right this second I would probably freak right on out without a second thought. That’s what you get for being a cocoon.

The obvious correlation to a cocoon in terms of human birth is a woman’s body, but what fascinates me most is the parallel to the woman herself. It’s her own rebirth and transformation into a different creature. I’d bet that the caterpillar’s journey as it waits for it’s entrance to the world is no picnic. I’m no butterfly expert, but I would bet there are growing pains to developing wings, and I’m sure that the struggle of breaking free of the cocoon’s safe membrane is a big fat drag. But the reward! Oh, the reward.

Run a search for thoughts about human suffering and you’ll see that there are two camps: those that think that suffering makes us stronger and those that think that suffering is optional. I fall in the middle on that one: I think that discomfort in in life as we grow and change is mandatory, but that you can choose your response to it. You choose to think of it as a problem, or as a means to a better end. In the highly paraphrased words of a lot of great thinkers, in life, things have to suck in order to become something wonderful.

There are women who literally physically glow during their pregnancies (not me, but some other women), whose hair takes on a life of its own and whose fingernails become naturally occurring cellular fortifications and the stuff of envy of hand models. But I don’t think very many of us can escape the mental and emotional growing pains of pregnancy, labor and new motherhood. The suffering that occurs during the breaking of the membrane and change from a single entity to caretaker of another life has to be what Buddha, Jesus or Name-Your-Spiritual-Teacher-of-Choice have talked about for centuries.

I think the cocoon of pregnancy that results in the struggle of labor and the emergence of a child is strictly the physical manifestation of what is happening to a woman internally: the struggle of the self to divide and make room for becoming more than one. And as a woman now facing the opposite change in her life, that of turning away from the childbearing years and into those of the real exploration of self, I can tell you that it’s just as mentally, physically and emotionally uncomfortable. In a quiet moment this weekend, I had a quick vision of myself in a cocoon, punching and kicking and struggling to free myself, and it hit me: I am entering my next phase. Without even realizing it, I have been yet again in the cocoon. At this very moment I am in the struggle and the suffering. And it sucks. But if a wise thinker were here, he’d remind me that things have to suck in order for the next, more beautiful part to emerge.

So if you are in the struggle of emerging into your next wonderful thing, of becoming a new mother or of learning how to parent and adjust your life to that of caretaker, let me be your wise thinker for a second and remind you that things have to suck, at least for a little while, in order for your next wonderful phase to happen. The cocoon is mandatory. The struggle is necessary. But the butterfly part is just around the corner.