“How does one become a butterfly?” she asked pensively.

“You must want to fly so much you are willing to give up being a caterpillar.”

“You mean die?”

“Yes and no,” he answered. “What looks like you will die, but what’s really you will still live”

—–From Hope For The Flower


Growth hurts.  Sometimes little kids experience actual physical pain as their bones and muscles grow.  Doctors call these growing pains.  Massaging the area helps, as do lots of hugs and kisses.  But there are also psychological growing pains, and we are never too old to experience those.

As humans, we all have certain basic needs that must be fulfilled in order for us to thrive.  One of these is the need for Certainty.  We like for things to be comfortable and familiar.  Certainty helps us to feel safe and in control.  Certainty is the bedrock on which our identities are built; it helps us to define who we are.

But too much certainty can work against us.  Clinging to certainty is the reason why we remain in a situation long after it has stopped serving our highest good.  It is the reason why we stay in an abusive relationship;  it is the reason why we keep working a job that we despise; it is the reason why we watch TV or play games on Facebook instead of working on our dreams.  It is the reason why we don’t grow.

Yet, it is the nature of living things to grow.    In our imaginations, we can see ourselves as we might be, if things were different.  Or, if we are a bit more hopeful about our future, we can see ourselves as we will be, someday.  We can easily visualize ourselves healthy, happy, wealthy, fulfilled. We have a vague idea of what an exceptional life might be like for us.  Each of us can sense that we have some talent hidden inside us just begging to be expressed:  an idea, a song, a gizmo, a book, a business.  We may even have an idea of what actions we could take to begin moving in the direction of our dream.  Yet because we are afraid to let go of certainty, we never quite take that first step.

One of the greatest life skills that we can develop is the ability to let go.   Until we are willing to let go of who we have been, we will never be free to become who we might be.   To follow the butterfly metaphor:  until we are willing to let go of our earthbound caterpillar ways, we will never be free to soar on butterfly wings.

During our lives we go through many chapters.  For some of us, the chapters are each so radically different from the others that they seem to be completely different lives.  Sometimes our new life is one that we welcome; at other times our new life is thrust upon us, unbidden.  More than once, I have lost everything I owned.  I have lost friends and family that I loved dearly.  I have lost my home and my job; I have even lost my youth.  In each of these instances, I have found myself suddenly standing in the middle of a brand new life, whether or not I was willing.

When we experience losses such as these, it is important that we learn to honor what was past, and to let it go.  Too often, we spend our energy wishing things were the same as they once were, rather than learning to see our new situation with grateful eyes.  In order to develop an attitude of sincere gratitude for what is, it is very important that we allow ourselves to stop clinging to what was. If we do not, we risk becoming bitter and unhappy people.

The art of letting go also serves us well when we find ourselves experiencing radical changes of the good kind:  a new business, a marriage, a book contract, a chance to perform music or show art.  All of a sudden we find our dreams coming true, and we realize that in order to sustain this change we must begin to live differently.  We realize that to be successful in our new world we must let go of old friends who reinforce bad habits; perhaps we must move to a different location, or give up old comforts to make room for new opportunities.

Often, when people realize the extent of what they must give up of their old lives in order to fully embrace their dreams, they hold back.  The fear of giving up the old life keeps them from moving forward into their dream.  They choose, instead, the comfort of certainty.  They tell people, “I used to want to be a …, but life got in the way.”

It is the nature of living things to grow, and often that growth hurts … temporarily.  But not growing hurts us even worse, and that type of hurt causes a suffering that lingers and festers.

Be grateful for what is past.  Remember it lovingly, knowing that everything is with us just for a season and that we should never take any of it for granted.  Look around at what you have now, today, and see it with grateful eyes, knowing that at any time it could all disappear.  Be OK with that.  Learn the art of letting go.  Practice the attitude the Buddhists call non-attachment.  Love what is in your life without feeling entitled to it; and when its season has past, let it go.  You may still experience growing pains, but they will be the healthy kind, easily  fixed with just a few extra hugs and kisses.


Want more?

Learning To Be Grateful For Impermanent Things.

A Butterfly By Any Other Name