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…and the day came when the risk it took to remain tight inside the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.

—Anaïs Nin

One of the images often associated with metamorphosis is that of the butterfly. I’ve used this metaphor often in my life and my work, and was reminded of it again recently in a talk given by author David Korten in Oakland. In his new book, The Great Turning, Korten details the history of our species and the opportunity for transformation we now face. Having reached the point where, for the most part, we behave as a ravenous and quickly growing caterpillar, there is a moment when a different signal takes hold and the caterpillar—not knowing what lies ahead—creates a chrysalis where what it once was simply becomes a mass of undifferentiated cells. It must not be an easy transition. What emerges is a creature of lightness and beauty that—rather than being characterized by consumption—functions as a pollinator and plays a key ecological role in many systems.

In recent remarks as part of the Soulutionaries speaker series, I asked the question of what might be our true ecological niche as a species. We’ve made quite an impression on the Earth in our relatively short time on the planet and the potential—if not the imperative—for metamorphosis is great.  Whereas the caterpillar’s future is unknown to it, yet pre-determined by nature, it seems as if one of the ways in which our species is distinct is that although we don’t know what lies ahead, we have the opportunity, arguably, to choose which direction we take forward.There are many barriers, both individually and culturally, to making this choice and beginning this process, but it is beginning.

We can foster such a metamorphosis on an individual level by being clear about our values and how they inform our lifestyle and where we choose to live and work. We also have the power to act—individually and collectively as the social, economic, political and spiritual beings that we are—to gradually create a more sustainable, humane culture. While this transformation might not occur in a cocoon, it speaks to the need for a place and for the time to figure out how our lives and our world can be creatively re-arranged.

Cultural anthropologist Angeles Arrien talks about the fact that change must occur at nature’s pace to be truly integrated and effective. Faced with the challenges that our lives and the world present, we sometimes feel the need to create change now. How might creating some space and slowing down help foster more profound transformation?

May 2006