Hello again, fellow bloggers, followers, visitors, and friends. It has been several months since I’ve written any posts on this blog, mostly because I’ve been keeping my focus on studying nutritional health and researching all sorts of fringe topics that appeal to a select few. My passion for learning and gaining new ways of perceiving the world are ones I hope never to lose.
Beyond an appreciation for my ever-changing perception of life and the universe, the topic I wanted to focus on in this post is the idea of what growth on the spiritual path really looks like. One of the most common symbols of spiritual transformation, which also happens to be one of my favorites, is the butterfly. The stages of a butterfly’s metamorphosis from a caterpillar to a cocoon to a butterfly appear as a linear process of growth. Unfortunately, growth doesn’t really happen linearly for most of us, and it’s unrealistic to expect our journey on the spiritual path to unfold that way.
As long as life is moving along smoothly and it feels as though we’re taking steps forward in the direction we were initially headed, we feel confident that we’re making progress and achieving growth. But then when we suddenly get knocked back a few steps, hit a huge stumbling block, or slip into old, unhealthy habits or unhelpful ways of thinking, we have a tendency to beat ourselves up because we see this as some kind of character flaw for not being able to continue trekking forward on the straight path that we believe is going to lead us to the peak of success, enlightenment, or whatever the ultimate goal is. Here’s an idea that you may or may not have considered: maybe not following the straight path and getting stuck in some unexpected territory for a while is the exact thing that will help lead you to true happiness and success.
Life offers the gift of continuous growth, and sometimes it is during those periods when we feel most challenged, most stagnant, most lost, most vulnerable, most hurt, most scared, and most uncertain that we are actually making huge strides in growth. The irony is that during the worst of it, most of us are tempted to call ourselves a failure, but after the storm has ended, we are finally able to recognize the impressive amounts of growth we experienced by working our way through the painful process. Sometimes what feels like total regression ends up leading to one of the most significant periods of dramatic growth we will ever experience.
Have you noticed any significant issue in your life that keeps returning, even though you thought you learned the lesson long ago? Or maybe there’s a particular topic or idea that interests you for a while, then you abandon it, only to come back to it again later to research and understand it much more deeply the next time? That’s sort of how I think growth realistically occurs on the spiritual path. Perhaps you gain some kind of new understanding or learn an important lesson and apply it to your life for a while. Then unintentionally, you find yourself going back to how you were before you learned that lesson until you learn a new, deeper layer of truth to the lesson you initially learned. You keep shifting between progression and regression, each time adding a new layer of understanding so that whatever challenge you keep facing becomes less difficult to endure each time it returns.
Basically, I believe growth on the spiritual path tends to follow a pattern, but it’s a cyclical one rather than a linear one like the cut-and-dry biological stages that a butterfly undergoes. That’s why I suggest that we are more like an ever-evolving butterfly who never ceases to transform. We may develop our wings and fly beautifully and effortlessly for a while. Then we sometimes drop our wings and go crawling back into a cocoon so that we can disconnect from the external world and reconnect with our inner wisdom or repair our internal workings, if necessary. Then we emerge once again with a new set of wings, this time appearing even wiser and more beautiful than the first time. You may lose your wings many more times, but the beauty of it is that they can become larger and more colorful each time if you accept the gift of continuous growth.
No matter what stage of growth you are in right now, just remember that life is not a race. Involution, the act of going within to grow spiritually, should remain as much of an important part of your growth as the external changes you make in your life. And though it is tempting to avoid uncertainty and run away from pain, the process of going within often must occur before the external changes we desire can ever be achieved. These words spoken by Pema Chodron sort of touch on this idea of learning to accept the non-linear growth and unpredictable changes that we all experience :
Our discomfort arises from all of our efforts to put ground under our feet, to realize our dream of constant okayness. When we resist change, it’s called suffering. But when we can completely let go and not struggle against it, when we can embrace the groundlessness of our situation and relax into its dynamic quality, that’s called enlightenment, or awakening to our true nature, to our fundamental goodness. Another word for this is freedom—freedom from struggling against the fundamental ambiguity of being human.
To all the caterpillars and butterflies reading this, you are exactly where you need to be right now. No need to rush the process or resist any change coming your way. Try to accept every opportunity for growth because one day you might look back on this particular phase of your life and be immensely grateful for all the challenges and experiences and how they helped you evolve into a much wiser being.