Bear with me for a bit of science review here.
In biology, moulting is the process in which an animal casts off a part of its body (often the outer layer), either at specific times of year, or at specific points in its life cycle. Snakes, for instance, are widely known for the way that they shed their skin once they have outgrown it. Metamorphosis, on the other hand, is a biological process by which an animal undergoes a conspicuous and relatively abrupt change in structure through cell growth and differentiation. Tadpoles turn into frogs and toads, for example. Caterpillars transform into butterflies. Metamorphosis.
When I first began my own process of self-examination and discovery, I quickly noticed many radical shifts in my life. I started practicing yoga. I started being kinder, both to myself and to others. I watched in wonder as bad relationships, bad habits, and bad behaviours all started falling away. I was amazed at this new person that I was becoming, and I expected that everyone else would be too. I’ve become a true yogini, I would think. I’ve transformed myself.
Except, change isn’t always easy to accept or understand. It is unrealistic for a person to be an insecure, selfish gossip one day and a completely selfless angel the next. So, my friends would continue to laugh about stupid drunken memories. My twin sister, who has known me my whole life, would bring up things I had done or said in the past, old fights that we had when we were young. That’s not who I am anymore, I would insist. I’m different now. And I would get upset at these reminders of my “old self”, because being confronted with these memories made me question the existence of my new identity and face the fact that I might not have changed so much after all. I felt like a fraud because my perceived image of who I now was seemed to be so incongruent with who I had once been. My past continued to haunt me.
All along, I had convinced myself that I had transformed into a brand new person. That I had undergone a Kafka-esque metamorphosis. That the “old me” was dead and gone and the “new me” was here to stay. Only, the truth was that I hadn’t changed the essence of who I was; who I still am. Rather, I had simply shed my skin. I had outgrown my shell and cast it off in search of a better fit, while retaining the core of what it means to be me. It is not that I am no longer capable of being mean and jealous and angry, it is that I now make a conscious choice not to be (or at least, try very hard).
I’ve come to recognize that we have to love the darkest side of who we are in order to embrace the full glory of the light. We have to accept the shadow aspect because of the wisdom it provides. By ignoring who I once was, I had been invalidating all that I could gain from that very human experience. Every single moment in our lives has happened in order to change us, in some way or another. We go through periods when we are at our worst so that we can know what it is like to be at our best. It is only when we can accept all of the pieces of ourselves that we can truly feel whole.
There are always ways to better ourselves and to build upon our previous experiences. We learn and we grow and we outgrow the shells that once used to contain us. Through it all, we can continue to shed our skins while remaining who we are at heart. Change is a continual process. Complete transformation (or metaphorical metamorphosis), on the other hand, is best left to science fiction and the rest of the animal kingdom. I think these snakes are onto something.