The Caterpillar and the Butterfly
While reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar to my son, I was struck by how well this simple story portrays the journey many of us must take. We start out hungry, looking everywhere for something to fill us up. We try a bit of this, a nibble of that, a heaping serving of something else, but we’re still hungry. Some of us go along like this for many years, tricking ourselves into believing the next sweet treat, the next promise of a quick fix, will be the one that finally satiates the hunger, that deep longing within us.
Buddhists call this the suffering of the Hungry Ghosts. These hungry ghosts are beings with huge mouths and bellies, yet their throats are as skinny as needles. Though they can never get enough from the outside to nourish the hunger within, they keep trying, which keeps them trapped in the prison of their own wanting.
The hungry caterpillar, however, in its furry, sluggish wisdom, eventually realizes that all this grasping and overindulgence leads not to satisfaction but to a really bad tummy ache. On the seventh day, the day of rest and renewal, the caterpillar eats just one green leaf and feels much better.
Then she knows, as nature tells her, that it’s time to go inward. She wraps herself up in a cocoon. The children’s book doesn’t mention what the caterpillar goes through to become a butterfly, though. Inside the cocoon, the caterpillar completely liquefies. At one point, all that remains is her DNA, which instructs that liquidated self to turn from a furry little worm into a magnificent butterfly. Once this transformation is complete, the butterfly emerges from its cocoon in all its brilliance for the outside world to enjoy. My son loves when I make the last two cardboard pages of the book into wings so the butterfly can fly away.
As humans, we can learn so much from this creature. We come into the world as hungry little caterpillars, hungry for love and ravenous for experience. Around our teen years, most of us begin to sense that something isn’t quite right. Our bodies are changing, our thoughts and ideas are changing; we’re starving for purpose and fulfillment. Most of us are not given the opportunity or permission to crawl into a chrysalis in order to liquefy all our past wanting into the most basic essence of who we are. We aren’t given the time and space to fall apart so that we may come together again in a new way and emerge embodying the magnificence that is our destiny.
In some cultures, such as the native cultures of the Americas, young people have traditionally been given this opportunity in the form of a vision quest, sent out into the wild with no food or water in order to strip away everything that is not essential, to reclaim their eternally satiated selves and to emerge as adults, not just physically but spiritually, mentally and emotionally as well, so that they may claim their rightful place in the world.
When I first read about vision quests in high school, I told my mother I needed to go on one. “You are not going into the woods by yourself,” she replied. “Are you crazy or do you just want an excuse to do drugs?” I understand why she responded like this. It wasn’t something people did. It certainly wasn’t something she had ever done. But funny enough, my father, an avid hunter, spent several weeks a year out in the woods sitting quietly by himself, tracking deer, caribou and elk. Although I’m a vegetarian and would have a very hard time killing an animal, I understood his need to go deep into nature, to leave behind all the comforts and distractions of life and reconnect to his primal self.
Was I crazy, as my mother had asked? At the time and for many years after, I thought I might be. Nonetheless, after college graduation I chose to embark on a five year vision quest of my own creation, which took me from India to California, to Australia, back to my hometown of St. Louis, Colorado and eventually to New York, where I’ve stayed. It was less about the locations I traveled to and more about the places within myself, places that took me from my perpetual ghostly hunger to a state of being in which I recognize and inhabit my magnificence much of the time.
Through yoga and meditation I learned how to inhabit my body and stop letting my thoughts control me. Through Body/Mind Reconditioning, I developed the ability to see things from a new perspective, to change old habits and create new ones that serve me better. Through shamanism, I tapped into the wellspring of energy present in the unseen world and learned how to use it to heal myself and others.
This journey is not for the faint of heart. It’s not for those who want to stay safe in what they already know. It’s for those who understand the essence of these words from the poem “Risk,” by Elizabeth Appell’s (formerly Lassie Benton): “The day came when the risk to remain tight in the bud became more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” It’s for those prepared to be liquefied by the universe in order to touch the deepest ground of their being and emerge into magnificent flight.
Total Transformation is a vision quest for the hungry ghost in all of us. It’s a chrysalis for the caterpillar seeking to let go of the suffering of physical illness, mental stress and strife, emotional hardship and spiritual confusion. This book will help you to break out of your cocoon in order to live in communion with your true essence—the beauty the universe has intended for you—and lead a life of abundance, health, joy, equanimity and trust.