[This article has also been published on the Huffington Post.]
As fear and turmoil engulf our nation, there is a metaphor that has been on my mind which I would like to share with you. It is the story of what happens to a caterpillar when it undergoes its metamorphosis into a butterfly.
I am indebted to David Korten, who, in his excellent book The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community, spoke about the work of evolution biologist Elisabet Sahtouris who has studied this mysterious and miraculous transformation.
Before its transformation, the earthbound caterpillar is focused on consuming. It engorges itself, devouring as much as it can, until it is so bloated it can do nothing but hang upside down and give itself over to its destiny. It forms around itself a chrysalis where it undergoes a metamorphosis that, if you had never known of it, would seem completely implausible.
There, in the chrysalis, the body of the caterpillar completely dissolves into an organic soup, and from that soup dormant genes of its DNA become activated. Imaginal cells begin to emerge and find each other, and together they form imaginal buds, which are the beginnings of the new organs and structure of the butterfly.
But the caterpillar’s still-intact immune system, incapable of recognizing this emerging creature as a new expression of itself, attacks these emerging imaginal cells as alien.
What do the imaginal cells do in response to this attack? They simply keep doing what they were doing. They keep emerging—more and more of them, overwhelming the immune system’s ability to respond. They keep finding each other. They keep becoming the living organs of a new being.
Finally—out of this turbulent experience of dissolution and self-attack—emerges a butterfly, which in no way resembles the creature that entered the chrysalis. This butterfly takes flight, going forth to pollinate and spread life rather than devouring it.
Humanity in the Chrysalis
Like the caterpillar undergoing its transformation, humanity is in the chrysalis of its metamorphosis. The structures and belief systems of a former age—the age of ego in which we held ourselves to be separate from the whole, consuming all that we could—are dissolving.
On one level it is terrifying, but on another it is exhilarating because we are becoming something new, something we never could have imagined.
In this chrysalis time, the egoic-consciousness has not yet fully faded away. Oneness, interdependence, global community, universal equality seem intensely threatening to it, and its defense mechanism goes on the attack. This is the upheaval we are currently witnessing—the fearful backlash to the emergence of a new communal consciousness—and it may seem that the most important story happening right now is the rise in hate crimes, white supremacy, misogyny, Islamophobia, and bigotry of all kinds.
But all these things are nothing new. They are the expression of the ego’s illusory belief system which has been playing out on this planet for eons. The real story is what is happening in response to those attacks.
At Baylor University in Waco, Texas, hundreds of students and faculty—mostly white—helped escort a Black student to class after she had been the target of racial harassment.
In South Philadelphia, children arrived on the scene where Nazi graffiti had been spray painted on an abandoned store front and, with their sidewalk chalk, drew expressions of love and support for their neighbors.
Students at Duluth East High School in Minnesota joined their Muslim classmates in wearing hijabs.
At Standing Rock, thousands of people from all ethnic and religious groups have stood alongside Native Americans to protect the sanctity and health of Water, and in a few days, thousands of veterans will join them.
Americans of all races and religions have vowed to sign themselves up if a registry for Muslims is ever implemented.
These nonviolent, grassroots expressions of solidarity and oneness across racial and religious divides are happening every day all over the country. This is the remarkable story, the new story, unfolding in our midst.
As we encounter hate crimes, it is important to remember that those acting out the attacks are not enemies. Like the caterpillar’s immune system, they are simply unable at the present time to recognize that what is coming forth is them, the expression of their destiny and their own true nature.
The Rising Web of Oneness
All of this makes me think of a dream I had a few years back. In the dream I am with a few other people witnessing something extraordinary. A host of butterflies of all colors and varieties are floating up into the air, lifting up among them a vast and delicate web, like a spider’s web.
The web is composed of interlocking hexagons, like a honeycomb, and inside each, made of the same filament, is the outline of a burning candle. The web is numinous, breathtakingly beautiful, and all of us watching it understand that it is an incredible gift to be here, in this precise time and place, when it is arising.
In the dream, I realize that the appearance of this web signals that the planetary consciousness has reached a new level. I find now that I am able to levitate, and I know that this ability has nothing to do with me personally but is part of this cosmic unfolding.
I also understand that this emerging consciousness, as the honeycomb-shaped web conveyed, is connective and communal. All parts are equal, none is separate from the whole, and within each shines the inner Light.
As humans we have the capacity to choose whether we want to support our metamorphosis or hinder it. If we hold to the ways of the ego—spreading fear, engaging in attack, seeing ourselves as special and others as enemy—we will only prolong this time of turmoil.
But if we continue to dissolve the structures of ego within ourselves, if we continue to hold the attacking ones in Love—understanding that their response is a natural part of this process—if we continue standing together to form the communities—the imaginal buds—of the human species we are becoming, we will experience something truly astonishing.
We will emerge as a life form liberated from the isolation, loneliness and fear of the ego. We will experience the joy of being more than separate selves. We will shine forth the divine light that is within us. We will know ourselves to be co-creators of Life.
In essence, we will take flight.