My friend Elizabeth Hunt reminded me on twitter of a conversation I had with her in Glasgow a couple of years ago when she attended a complexity workshop I was offering with Bronagh Gallagher. It was a conversation around what is sometimes called the mid-life crisis, and somehow the image that came to mind when Elizabeth told me how she was doing was one of a chrysalis.
This will be a non-scientific post, so if you are an actual entomologist I apologize for appropriating your field here. But chrysalises both inspire and baffle me. The thought that a caterpillar can crawl into a sac made of its own body and dissolve its form and come out as a butterfly is a cliched image of transformation, but holy crap. Stop for a moment and really think about that. Does the caterpillar know this is going to happen? If it does that shows some tremendous trust. If it doesn’t, then that shows some incredible courage. It just hangs out there, isolating itself from the rest of the world and changing in ways it can never understand.
Does a caterpillar see a butterfly and go “that will be me one day?”
So yes, we are all heading into our chrysalises. Over the past few days, I have been on calls and courses with colleagues all over including in Canada, the USA, the UK, Moldova, Denmark, Colombia, The Netherlands, Australia, Italy, and Brazil. Every single one of us is isolating and practicing social distance. We are all doing the same thing. We have never been more unified in action, and never more physically separated from each other. We have all climbed into our cocoons and are waiting for the imaginal discs to come into play and elongate and grow into our new ways of being. We might be here for a long time. We are going to learn some things.
I am struck by how we are learning to let go of policies and rules that are based on punishment and retribution and choosing to govern social relationships a little more on trust. Relaxing the need for doctors’ notes. Forgiving interest on student loans. Preventing evictions if people are sick or recently laid off and can’t make the rent. We are starting to see things happening that are countercultural to brutal capitalism and a society that is governed by the fear of ordinary people taking advantage of the system. Small things, small changes. Still very gooey. Imaginal discs.
Whatever we are in right now is not the final stage. We are entering an interregnum that will be as big a challenge as any that humanity has faced. It is as big as climate change but more present, so we are actually acting like it is a real emergency, instead of rhetorically calling it an emergency and carrying on as before.
Have some empathy for the caterpillar who creates its chrysalis and becomes a pupa. It may believe that this is now how things are, and meanwhile, at an unconscious level, the imaginal discs are swirling about in its corporeal soup, with a different idea about what it is to become.
Inside the chrysalis, your ideas about yourself dissolve and life itself takes over. Watch for the small signals, watch for what happens at the edges. Amplify the acts of kindness and possibility that you see in your community and your personal life. Document and grow the new practices you discover be they helpfulness, attention, curiosity, or competence. Stifle the urge to seek cortisol hits from triggering events and social media that make you angry, or the outrage merchants that still crave a hold on your consciousness. Instead, cocoon yourself and study your imagination. Those of us that are not of any use in the immediate safety effort must use this time to prepare to lift us all into what comes next. The first responders and caregivers will be tired and we will need to take over for them and govern and lead in a way that is informed by their example and by the things we are all now discovering are possible.
Into the goo, friends.