Mystery of Metamorphosis
Mystery of Metamorphosis

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?

Add your thoughts
  • May 10, 2011 at 5:20 PM

    I really needed to read this today. It is so true that often in our evolution we must withdraw, breakdown and emerge renewed. I feel like I have done that many times in this lifetime, reinventing myself, changing paths personally and professionally. I believe this is a necessity when you are on a spiritual path. It somehow doesn’t seem to get any easier as the years go by, but having the awareness of the process as it is happening is somewhat comforting. I am going through a metamorphosis again right now…I’m in the breaking down stage, which is the challenging part. It forces you to look within even more deeply than before so that you may emerge with greater insight, wisdom and compassion. During this time I remind myself that everything is happening perfectly and just as it needs to be.

    • May 11, 2011 at 2:30 PM

      Leanne, I agree: the spiritual path seems to involve multiple breakdowns and rebuilds. I find it tumultuous, but rewarding. I also agree that keeping conscious of the process seems to help. Sending best wishes during your turning-to-goo-in-your-caccoon phase! You always seem to emerge more expansive, and happier. Hope to see you soon.

  • April 15, 2011 at 5:01 AM

    I am currently 21 and since my early teens I have struggled with anorexia, depression and anxiety disorders. I feel I have spent the last 8 years of my life in a black hole, its been painful and it very nearly cost me my life, but now I’m slowly emerging out of that dark place and I feel the illness has completely transformed the way I see the world, I feel like the escaped prisoner in Plato’s Cave! I am now doing a degree in psychology as I feel having survived what I have been through, it is only right that I help those who are experiencing their own battles with psychological problems.
    I am currently also studying philosophy, Theosophy and Kabbalah in my own personal quest for truth and peace. I feel I am in a much better place than those dark times in my teens, but cannot deny that each day can still be a battle, I wonder if depression and anorexia is something you can ever be entirely free from, I’m not sure but I will keep working on myself, because I cannot hope to give theraphy to others if I am still struggling with my own psychological problems. It seems my transformation is still in process, but I’m on the right path for sure.

    • April 15, 2011 at 9:30 AM

      Jessa, thank you for your bold comment. Your metamorphosis is inspiring, particularly how it’s led you to wanting to help others through their own breakdowns and renewals. Reminds me of the Buddhist Boddhisattva vow, in which aspirants suspend full enlightenment so they can stay incarnated and assist those still suffering in the dark. The ultimate goal: we all cross the finish line together.

  • April 14, 2011 at 8:22 PM

    I am experiencing it now. I am in the cocoon and I hope to get out as a butterfly until is not too late, for the cocoon is a very difficult experience, very uncorfortable. I am changing everything in my art, working directly from nature, wich is a very different process to me. I was a geometric abstract artist, and now I try to cacht the shadows of the plants, the chaotic language of vegetation and also I try to maximize the forms as I was a bee or some insect. It is a very difficult thing to do, but ir gives me a totaly new pleasure,that makes me believe in a new way to see things.

    • April 15, 2011 at 9:19 AM

      Pina, thank you for your comment. Your artistic transformation sounds inspiring. Have you studied fractals? There are patterns in nature that manage to be both geometric and chaotic at the same time. Query Google Images with the phrase “nature fractals” and you’ll see what I mean.