Lately, I’ve been thinking about history and the concept of cultural evolution. This is generally thought of as a linear progression (Stone Age to Post-modern), but when studied over time, it is more accurate to understand in terms of leaps that can occur in both directions; periodically moving upward toward Light and creative solutions as well as plummeting downward into Dark and destructive patterns. We appear, currently, to be in a downward spiral. I see in interactions with friends and family in my own milieu and social media—as well as books, art, and music, and film—how this affects us personally and collectively, how it negatively impacts our thoughts, feelings, spiritual aspirations, and comfort levels. It is not easy to keep from getting mired in current events of a negative nature on the Internet and social media, even as horrendous to contemplate as some of them are. This hyper-vigilant focus on what is wrong or bad in society has the power to create a pervasive malaise that colors our view of life in general. But we can’t not pay attention. The stakes are too high. The rise of a sociopathic narcissist just steps away from political power in the US, rape and lack of justice for women, the senseless shooting of 50 innocent people in Orlando, and the gunning down and stabbing in the UK of an egalitarian champion of the civil rights, come readily to mind. These things are part of the tip of the iceberg in a world that appears to have gone mad as terrorist acts, religious ideological wars, and torture run amok like scourges across the globe.
I often wonder, “How are these things perpetuated? Why have we not yet gotten beyond destroying and tearing down? Why hasn’t the pain of these hurtful ways of life gotten greater than the gains?” My only guess is that it is impossible to bring the lessons of history into clear focus because of our refusal to move beyond a myopic view of the world around us. Even science hasn’t saved us from our prejudices and fears and our insane, greedy hunger to consume the resources of the earth that is now rapidly losing its ability to support our voracious appetites and growing numbers.
Fortunately, there are torch-bearers in the darkness, who appear periodically to help us move through the morass of ‘civilized’ existence toward other ways of being. Such people are inspired to use the gifts they’ve been given to clean up the debris of our actions and contribute to ever-evolving paradigms of human existence. An example of such a person, who uses her special gifts of insight, discernment, and communication to foster light in the world, is author, Anodea Judith. Her book “Waking the Global Heart: Humanity’s Rite of Passage from the Love of Power to the Power of Love,” is a well-researched, albeit hopeful vision of where we could with luck be headed, even though we are collectively up against a wall of our own making, facing possible extinction as a species. The good news is that in spite of…or perhaps because of…how frightening things have become, it is a perfect time to become aware of what begs to be eliminated from our collective psyche. Once that is done, we will be free to initiate something completely new and game-changing into the fray.
It is all well and good to assert that a new pro-Life paradigm (having nothing to do with that religious/political movement as we now understand it) needs to be birthed into the modern age. But what does this mean? How will 5000 years of pro-Death, as evidenced by the effects of domination, carnage, and over-consumption, be reversed in time to save our planet? We currently are at the portal of transformation. We have the choice to either move into a more unified and conscious existence or face mass extinction. While the choice is ours, it has been shown in the past that we as a species tend not to choose positive change over negative stasis without being carried along by events that force us into change.
Which brings us to the point of the title of this blog post. A few months ago I read Judith’s description of the transformation of a caterpillar as compared to the forced transformation we are currently experiencing in the West. Not exactly a unique concept in itself, but I found her juxtaposition of these events invigorating and (as stated above) hopeful:
When a caterpillar nears its transformation time, it begins to eat ravenously, consuming everything is sight. (It is interesting to note that individuals are often called ‘consumers’ and one of the largest manufacturers of heavy construction machinery is call ‘Caterpillar, Inc.”) The caterpillar body then becomes heavy, outgrowing its skin many times, until it is too bloated to move. Attaching to branch (upside down, we might add, where everything is turned on its head) it forms a chrysalis—an enclosing shell that limits the caterpillar’s freedom for the duration of transformation. Within the chrysalis a miracle occurs. Tiny cells, called ‘imaginal cells,’ begin to appear. These cells are wholly different from caterpillar cells, carrying different information, vibrating to a different frequency—the frequency of the emerging butterfly. At first, the caterpillar’s immune system perceives these new cells as enemies, and attacks them, much as new ideas are called radical and viciously denounced by the powers now holding center stage. But the imaginal cells are not deterred. They continue to appear, increasing in numbers until the new cells are numerous enough to organize into clumps. When enough cells have formed to make structures along the new organizational lines, the caterpillar’s immune system is overwhelmed. The cells of the original body then become a nutritious soup for the growth the butterfly … Like the chrysalis stage, our old systems … the very pillars of tradition that are in the process of dissolving … are attacking the new ‘imaginal cells,’. New discoveries in science are attacked by traditionalists, alternative medicine is attacked as quackery by most doctors, and spiritual diversity is attacked by religious fundamentalists of all stripes … It is at least encouraging to remember that the butterfly undergoes the same process and lives through it. Perhaps we will too. ~ Anodea Judith “Waking the Global Heart”
Since I pay attention to meaningful coincidence when it happens, it is worth noting that a few months ago, an hour or so after reading and then recording Judith’s caterpillar to butterfly thoughts in my journal, I began to watch the movie “Medicine Man,” starring Sean Connery and Lorraine Bracco, with a friend whom I was staying with.
Quoting the blurb on the IMdb web page, the movie is about, “An eccentric scientist working for a large drug company is working on a research project in the Amazon jungle. He sends for a research assistant and a gas chromatograph because he’s close to a cure for cancer. When the assistant turns out to be a ‘mere woman,’ he rejects her help. Meanwhile the bulldozers get closer to the area in which they are conducting research…” In the movie, time is of the essence, but it might be too late to stop a new road being cut through the research area, thus destroying trees that are crucial to the study and finding the cancer cure.
In the interest of not completely spoiling this excellent film for those who haven’t seen it, I will leave off with description of events other than to bring my point here home. Just as a huge bulldozer is cutting a swath in the jungle and starts knocking down trees, my friend decides to pause the movie for a few minutes while she uses the restroom. Exactly at the point she stopped the film, front and center in the paused screen, is a “Caterpillar, Inc.” sign on the front of the bulldozer! Of course, no one noticed this meaningful coincidence, because they knew nothing of my having just read about the Old Guard and its tree gobbling equipment being compared to a voracious caterpillar! Also, I was thrilled to see that all hope was not lost in the movie. It showed, like the dissolution of the caterpillar, that there are times when something has to be completely deconstructed before the ‘new’ can come forth.
Another even more stunning meaningful coincidence just happened a few minutes ago. After transcribing Judith’s words from my journal to this blog post, I took a break and toggled over to Facebook where the first post I came to contained my friend Barbara’s poem:
“The Butterfly Effect.”
“And you wondered how you arrived here,
what got into you, what carried you,
how did it happen your companions
are the homeless of the heart, and drunks?
What butterfly in the milkwood of Mexico
flapped its weak wings and flew at last?
What monarch winked as it passed you,
sipping your brew, and flirting with the sky?
You, you thought you were you, unto yourself,
don’t deny it. But that glass broke
and all you can do is sweep the shards off the floor.
The winds of the great wings in the mountains
of Chile, some old man’s prayer, the way
a woman touched a child’s cheek, the smack
of a hand on the back of your neck,
it doesn’t matter, you’ll never know
how you got here. A butterfly flapped
its wings in Brazil and suddenly or slowly
there’s a tornado in Texas,
your whole house dismantled. You are living
in a tree and the tree is rooted in you,
you are not what you seem to be,
and you are not unto yourself,
and the milkwood heart hold the cocoons
of butterflies flapping their wings,
making their way into this world.”
So, what do these thoughts and synchronicities mean to me other than being a string of interesting phenomena? In my mind, they point to the fact that we have a chance at a new world if we are willing to become aware of worn-out forces, both within and without, that seek to destroy us and our planet. Our work is to consciously allow their dissolution while feeding off of new and imaginative (imaginal cell) solutions to our most pressing problems. If we can do this, we will be creating thousands of Butterfly Effects, or ‘perfect storm,’ conditions in which our dying world views can be transformed into a fertile soup …maybe then we will get to once again experience the blessings of new life, freedom and beauty as we navigate the up-again/down-again cycles of time spent on this beautiful/ailing planet.
Note: “Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil set off a Tornado in Texas?” A paper presented by Edward Lorenz in 1972 to the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D.C.
(If interested, you can find a reference to a another synchronicity encountered between Barbara…known as Flaherty Ba on Facebook…and me at my last blog piece titled “In Praise of Holy Ground.”)
Pretty heavy stuff. Hopeful too. Thank you.
Dr. Michelle Peticolas Grief and Loss Expert Helping Professional Women Struggling with Grief and Loss Secrets of Life and Death 217 Ramona Ave. El Cerrito, CA 94530 (510) 529-4806 firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.secretsoflifeanddeath.com
Thanks for stopping by, Michelle! There are many of us feeling both despair and hopeful and holding that tension between the two. I am grateful to be on the side of hope with a person of your vision. In the words of my friend, Elaine Mansfield (below your comment), May it be so…
May it be so, Jenna. We’re scary close to the edge of doing life as we know it in. Sometimes people raise hell and an official makes a wise decision–NY Governor Cuomo said No to fracking in NY, for example. It’s rare. It seems almost certain there will be huge climate change pressures and shifts in population and food supply. It feels important to protect my small ecosystem, but the monarchs can’t get here to lay eggs in my fields of milkweed if they can’t take off from Mexico.
Synchronicites always bring a sense of hope. May it be so.
Thanks to you for being one of those activist “hell-raisers,” Elaine! I don’t want to think what this world be without you and others like you. Speaking of the “Butterfly Effect,” a quote by Harriet Tubman comes to mind: “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” Keep dreaming, my friend. The world depends on the likes of you…