I happened upon a tiny little Aesop fable not too long ago. It regards a tiny ant who stumbles upon a chrysalis in the final stages of change. It cries out, disdainfully, to the chrysalis “What a sad fate is yours! While I can run hither and thither, at my pleasure, and, if I wish, ascend the tallest tree, you lie imprisoned here in your shell, with power only to move a joint or two of your scaly tail.” A few days later the ant returns and finds only pieces of shell. The new butterfly stands behind the ant and bellows “Boast now of your powers to run and climbs as long as you can get me to listen,” and then flies off never to see the ant again.
This fable, while short, really struck me as profound in some ways. It really had me thinking about cycles, and changes and how we move about our life in different stages. Stages, cycles, transformations – the stuff of nature shows (Survivor doesn’t count), and of course, of nature Herself. There is a life cycle laid out for all that is living and breathing, from the tiniest virus to the Earth itself to the galaxies swirling about. There’s an inherent blueprint embedded in the plasma and consciousness of our beings, and of the systems that contain us. Gnats in a cosmic soup, all leaning towards our next phase and transition.
As humans, we are naturally taken to the cycles in our own lives, in our own time line. We already know about life and death. We know about returning to the sacred loam of our existence, of the possibility of rebirth or reincarnation. We sense that within this realm, we are at one stage or another within ourselves, whether it be physiologically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually. We are on a course that is plotted, navigated and propelled. We rise and fall and plateau and we do it all again. Some cycles are life long, others are in short, staccato bursts that we barely notice. But there is an inner urging that usually compels us in one way or another to move towards the next stage.
There are countless examples of this sort of thing occurring in nature – stages of growth, dormancy, energy, rejuvenation, breakdown, death, birth. Pregnancy has it’s trimesters, with a final nesting instinct (I have never seen my wife clean the house with such vigour and purpose since). Water evaporates, forms clouds, precipitates, pools and then returns back to the sky. The moon goes through the familiar phases that has inspired poetry and furthered science. One of the most startling and poetic of these natural phases belongs to that of the butterfly. We all know that the caterpillar eats like mad, sheds its skin to expose the chrysalis and then emerges two weeks later as a butterfly. The way it works is very much like taking a plastic bottle, melting it down and then creating a new bottle from it. Reduce, reuse, reborn. Just like that. Ta Da! It’s like like Jenga – tear down and rebuild – but with a touch more hep cat grooviness to it.
Now all of this got me thinking about my own journey through recovery and the spiritual realm. I feel that we go through phases in our all our journeys. A few months ago I posted a wonderful video of Don Coyhis discussing seasons of recovery. His outline comes from the Native Elders, who based it on the cycle of on oak tree, with the familiar spring, summer, autumn and winter seasons. (Interestingly, Chinese Thought has an additional season – late summer). He talks about the spirit entering us in spring, buds forming and blooming in summer, leaves falling in autumn and the period of dormancy in the winter. We can appreciate and understand how that goes with our recovery lives.
My take on this is that while we have these larger, in-the-grand-scheme type cycles, there are loads of smaller, but just as important, cycles and transformations that occur under the radar, nestled within the soul, played out in the act of just being and doing what we need to do to get through our days and lives. It’s like having a life cycle within a life cycle. They say God is in the details, and I am convinced that He expresses Himself in the minute as he does in the majestic. The same stunning fractal features found in craters and coastlines are also found in snowflakes and soil pores.
I know that I went through countless small transformations in my early recovery. The amount of subtle and not-so-subtle shifts in my mind, body, emotions and spirit were staggering. Anyone in recovery can vouch for that – all the tangible and intangible things that blossom, or lie dormant, or fade, are a parade of tiny discoveries and births and re-births. From the way we learn to accept our alcoholism to how we see the good in others (including ourselves) to how we walk past the liquor aisle without any pangs…all of these things don’t happen overnight. They are a process. There is a hard energy that infiltrates, followed by the tiny germinations of new thought and behaviour, followed by the full on flowering of consciousness and action, flanked by a time of shedding of old ideas and then the time to reach within and recharge.
These processes can take place in moments, or hours or days…and then can branch out into months and years as well. The ongoing and ever growing tiny transformations start to build into a new headwind that takes our sails and direct us into uncharted waters. We experience growth on a larger scale and we start to reap the benefits of the work and small graces. Like the fable, we start to become that butterfly and we move past our old self, our old energy – the ant. And these small, yet vital, experiences continue on a regular basis. They are moving within us , without us even being aware of being in the chrysalis. We just find ourselves spreading glorious wings without even knowing it.
I can relate to the autumn / winter phases right now in my life. The last month or so has been a quiet time for me. A time of additional introspection and just being. It’s neither “good” nor “bad”. It just is. Lately, I haven’t been to very many meetings. In fact, my record is spotty at best. I go weeks between meetings. I had a mutual split with my last active sponsee, which means that I am not mentoring or working with another alcoholic, one-on-one. That is the first time in over a year and a half that it’s been like that. I am not talking to my own sponsor very much either and have not been in contact with a lot of my fellow alcoholics (outside of the online stuff here).
And in the past, I would have been frightened, or at least a bit disturbed, by this sense of inactivity. I would have been doubling up my efforts on everything, making sure that I was doing what I need to do to stay connected to everything and everyone. I would have questioned my commitment, my integrity, my spiritual consent, my entire willingness to the act of sobriety. I would have rubbed raw the comparison ball and given myself calluses from the hang wringing over it. I would have reached out in panic, not in sincerity. But I have a certain contentment in where I am right now. A level of serenity that only comes from being here before and expanding my idea of recovery and where I fit in the matrix of it all.
The autumn of my recovery cycle looks a little like this: I have come to see that some of the things I clutched onto when I first got sober, and helped me enormously, are now things that no longer serve me at this moment. These are the leaves that are falling from my limbs, the veils crumbling off of my visage. I see that my recovery is no longer contingent on collecting sponsees like I would Pokemon cards. I know that the sense of panic I would get from not being immersed in recovery things is just a simple fear of the unknown and the fear of success and failure. I see that the transition from recovery as the way of life to a way of life is not as frightening as imagined. I know deep down that as long as I am working along spiritual principles and realizing that my life is not in my control…then I am okay.
As these and many more truer and deeper old ways of thinking fall, I find myself in a position where I just am. And again, that is fine with me. The more I resist that what is put before me, the more disturbed I find myself. Trying to conform my recovery around something that isn’t meant to be is futile. The cycles move through the stages they need to go through to get back to the start of the new cycle. Denying that movement keeps me stuck. And stuck isn’t a good place for an alcoholic like me.
So I sit back and just let these things unfold. The spirit moved me to stay still. Fear had some say in this, I know, but there was still a calmness within. I didn’t feel the pressure I usually would put on myself to battle ram through these quiet winter times. I didn’t feel the need to use a hammer when a feather duster was needed. And so like that oak tree in late autumn and winter, I allowed the things to fall where they may and to lay dormant. I am still dormant. The next spring is coming soon. Not sure when, but I do feel it on the rise. There is subtle shift in the internal landscape which nudges me to open up more now. I feel like a bear coming out of hibernation now and starting to feel the earth underfoot thawing a bit.
And I feel this thawing and shift through the fact that now I am very much moved to hit meetings more regularly again. (As an aside – the one thing my spotty record has given me is that when I see newcomers like I saw this afternoon – ashen drawn faces, sobbing, broken, I found myself with a renewed empathy and determination to reach out. So for that, I am grateful). I am now praying for men who need help to cross my path again. I am delving back into recovery literature. I am finding myself running with new vigour and feeling a little more connected to the Creator’s children. I am not cursing as much (I found myself with guttermouth lately – another sign to move on!)
I do admit though that there was sense of guilt…for not feeling guilty about this! Crazy, I know, but I felt like I should have been more concerned about this all, but that shows me that perhaps there has been a change – a hidden metamorphosis that hasn’t shown itself until now. A new, mature underbrush cultivated from within, unseen until the new seasons blossoms. So where does that leave me? This doesn’t make me all-wise or anything like that. In fact, the more time I have and the more I think I know, the less I actually know. It’s addition by subtraction. I probably knew, or felt I knew, more early on in my recovery as I do now. It’s just different, is all. Like a teen, I thought I had all the answers, when in fact I have very few and a hell of a lot more questions.
We all have our times in the seasons, in the cycles. The fallowness of the winter fields only give way to the plush, plowed soils of spring. The crops emerge and then willow away. And again we go. The true way of being in touch with this part of our lives is when we bend to the will of the Creator to lie dormant while others are bearing fruit. I have to put away my jealousy and pride and envy and allow those other people to bear riches while I sit in my spiritual tide of waiting and silence. There is a purpose to all this, one that I am not in control of, but can only ride like the wings of an eagle riding the undercurrents of the wind.
Bask in the glow of your season. It’s your and yours alone. A new season will come, a new cycle will unwittingly wrap itself around you and through you, a new phase of the spirit will illuminate or dim, but in the end, we are where we need to be. Enjoy it.