There is one type of change in life purpose that might be mistaken as a shift from middleworld to underworld purpose, from egocentric to soulcentric, but is actually a transition from one middleworld purpose to another. I think of this type of change, which can be quite profound, as a “molting,” a metaphor borrowed from the lifecycle of moths and butterflies. The caterpillar is the larval or adolescent phase in the order of Lepidoptera. Caterpillars shed their skin several times, each time growing a larger one. Each of these sheddings is a molting. We can imagine that losing one’s skin and growing a new one is aradical experience. But it does not hold a candle to the life change that occurs during the chrysalis stage when the caterpillar’s body totally dissolves within the cocoon, enabling it’s cells to be reshaped into the adult form of a moth or butterfly. We can sense that this transition from earth-crawling caterpillar to winged butterfly is that much more profound than from one caterpillar incarnation to another.
Moltings: Radical Shifts in Middleworld Purpose
This is the tenth part of a fourteen part Musing (one per week) (reproduced from the Animas Valley Institute www.animas.org)
Friday, January 12, 2018
Likewise, humans often go through a series of moltings – shifts from one social, vocational, political, religious, or spiritual role to another. This might, for example, be a transition from high school to college, or from single to married or the reverse, or from a job in advertising to a career as a psychotherapist, or from living in Louisiana to a life in L.A., or from being a closet gay to one who is out, or from being Christian to being Hindu. Some moltings are quite earth-shaking, and involve extreme shifts in worldview, such as with religious or spiritual “awakenings.”
For example, I recently read about a woman who, in her late twenties, had what she called a “complete emotional breakdown.” She was in a dysfunctional relationship, living in a bad neighborhood, with an office job she hated. She became depressed, anxious, and desperate, and began using drugs and alcohol to dull the pain. Then she got fired. After a week or so of despair, she heard about a weeklong Buddhist meditation retreat in the desert. She packed up, left behind the life she had been living, and went to the retreat. During that week, she grieved wildly, learned to meditate, and was introduced to the Buddha dharma. By the end of the retreat, she made a vow to follow the Buddha’s teachings. Clearly, this was a radical shift in worldview, lifestyle, and purpose that made all the difference in her life. (She eventually became a Buddhist teacher herself.) But it isn’t a shift to underworld or upperworld purpose. It’s a middleworld molting. Saying this is not in any way to diminish its significance, but rather to contrast it with an underworld or chrysalis passage, which shifts us not from one lifestyle or cultural identity to another, but from an identity rooted in the middleworld of culture to an underworld identity that is ecological and mythopoetic, an entirely different category of personal transformation.
Human moltings are major shifts or awakenings that occur before the start of the journey of soul initiation. The latter is the human chrysalis experience.
To read part one through nine click here.
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