This winter, I spent some time with my sister whom I had not seen in several months.
I was still recovering from weeks of being incredibly sick and my energy and spirits were uncommonly low.
Just on the other side of the holiday season and still in the middle of managing an unusual amount of stress in my life, I was, admittedly, not at my best or brightest.
At one point, in the painfully honest and brutal way that only sisters can get away with, she pulled me aside and whispered with concern, “What happened? You really let yourself go.”
I knew it was mostly my appearance (tired eyes, baggy clothes, and a newly emerging muffin-top) that had her worried, but I also knew she could sense there was something deeper going on for me. What wasn’t as obvious as what was happening with my body were all of the internal things that I was letting go of and all of the reasons why.
After years of constantly pushing myself to be the best mother, teacher, business owner, girlfriend, ex wife that I could possibly be, over the last few months I followed an urge to retreat deep into the dark stillness of winter. I let go of my need to be productive and creative and inspired and I gave into my overwhelming desire to hide from the world.
Most days, I trusted the importance of honoring this empty and dark time—I felt fully aligned with the cycles of nature and the magic of the seasons. Yet, there were also moments when I felt overwhelmed and afraid at what was dissolving within me. I was engaged in a process of questioning everything and then trembling with all of the uncertainty.
Things began to shift for me when I remembered something I learned almost two decades ago at a butterfly sanctuary in Costa Rica. I had been marveling at the beauty of the exquisite creatures as they emerged from their cocoons, eager to stretch their damp and crinkled wings. I was mesmerized by the visible grace in that first spreading of their wings, that first opening into light.
Right then, a wonderfully wrinkled and bright old man leaned in close to me and asked with a grin, “Do you know about butterfly soup?” Resisting the urge to giggle, I smiled back at him and shook my head no. He then shared with me the extraordinary process that caterpillars go through to become butterflies.
I had always imagined that when they formed a chrysalis, their bodies pretty much stayed the same and they simply grew wings. But what I learned that day is when they disappear into their cocoons, pretty much everything that was once the caterpillar completely dissolves. Letting themselves go, they turn into a mushy soup and eventually re-form, totally new.
The rest of the winter, I drew strength from this story.
I let go of my need to maintain control and allowed swirls of doubt and not knowing to come and go as they pleased. I stopped trying to hold on to my youth and, instead, began to honor and celebrate the ways my body had begun to age. I released my attachment to being any particular way and practiced embracing myself exactly as I was.
Layer by layer, I let go of who I thought I was supposed to be, stopped trying to hold everything together, and relished the inevitable dissolution. I trusted that, eventually, my tender and crumpled life would emerge from the darkness and stretch into the light.
Looking back now, I am glad I let myself go. That period of unraveling brought me into deeper connection with that which is unchangeable, even in the face of change.
I now know there’s no need to fear the times when everything feels all mushy and dissolved. I have realized that a little confusion in my heart or a little extra weight on my body is not the end of the world. It’s okay to get soft now and then.
Sometimes, we may even need to give ourselves permission to stay hidden in our cocoons. To get a little frumpy, mixed up, and uninspired. To just be, even and especially when nothing feels clear or solid or familiar.
All I know is that the next time it feels like things are beginning to unravel, we might as well have faith and trust the process. Something wildly unfamiliar and unimaginably beautiful just might be waiting to emerge on the other side.
Author: Kirsten Warner
Image: @gypsieraleigh on Instagram
Editor: Khara-Jade Warren
Copy Editor: Nicole Cameron
Social Editor: Callie Rushton