Last month my friends at Chelsea Green Publishing sent me a fascinating new book by Frank Ryan called The Mystery of Metamorphosis: A Scientific Detective Story. I whipped through it in a couple evenings, rapt. Tonight I finally found time to blog about it.
In the book’s prologue, the author defines metamorphosis as “…the dramatic transformation of one being into another.” The classic example of this phenomenon is a caterpillar’s conversion into a butterfly. The process is threefold. First, the caterpillar builds its cocoon. Then, inside, it liquifies, losing any recognizable form. Finally, from this organic soup, a wholly new creature emerges: the butterfly.
It’s miraculous. The caterpillar dies and is born again—more beautiful, and able to fly.
Our spiritual traditions describe a similar process of withdrawl, breakdown, and renewal. The most widely known, of course, is the Christian myth of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Christ walks the earth mortal, dies for three days, and rises out of his tomb, divine. He transforms, transfigures. His story is one of metamorphosis.
In Buddhism, Siddhartha Guatama wanders the countryside seeking wisdom, falls into meditative trance sitting under the Bo tree, and awakens enlightened. Once a seeker of truth, he becomes its embodiment—the Buddha. His story is also akin to a metamorphosis.
The creation myth in Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, describes a threefold metamorphic process. It begins with tsimtsum, which literally translates as ‘withdrawl.’ Here, God withdraws His infinite self to allow a space for our world to exist. Next comes shevirah—’shattering.’ Inside the space cleared for the world, the machinery of creation is overwhelmed by God’s energy and breaks into pieces, losing its previous form. Finally comes tikkun—repair. This occurs when the broken pieces are recognized, redeemed, and reformed. The divinity of the world is restored.
Again, this is metamorphosis—transformation from one thing into something higher.
Almost ten years ago now I experienced my own metamorphosis, which led directly to the existence of this blog. I left my life as a professional musician in Los Angeles, packed my possessions into storage, and withdrew into three years of solitude introspecting and studying mysticisms and science. I reemerged happier, healthier, and more expansive. I often feel as though I transformed from one being into another.
Have you experienced a metamorphosis in your life?