Last month my friends at Chelsea Green Publishing sent me a great new book by Frank Ryan called The Mystery of Metamorphosis: A Scientific Detective Story. I whipped through it in a couple evenings and 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 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 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 resurrection. Here, Jesus anticipates his crucifixion, dies for three days, then rises from his tomb, divine. He transforms, transfigures. His story is one of metamorphosis.
In Buddhism, Siddhartha Guatama withdraws from royal society to wander India seeking wisdom, falls into deep 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 a metamorphosis.
The creation myth in Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, describes another threefold 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 and redeemed and the divinity of the world is renewed.
Again, this is metamorphosis, transformation from one thing into something higher.
The process of art tends often involves a withdrawal into self as an artist focuses their energies at the start of a piece, followed by revisions that sometimes demand an almost full breakdown and reconstruction of form, ultimately leading to the next-level triumph of a finished work.
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 things into storage, and withdrew into three years of solitude, reading and studying. I reemerged happier, healthier, and with a new, deeper sense of direction. I often feel like I transformed from one being into another.
Have you experienced a metamorphosis in your life?