The Time Between Stories

It’s a new year, fresh and shiny and full of promise and possibility. Emerging out of the darkness and confusion of 2016 we’re in a new space where anything could happen. In some ways 2016 was the year in which everything DID happen – Brexit, Trump, the rise of the European Right, the fall of Aleppo – but in the wake of those decisive moments has come a new space. Whether you rejoice or despair at the direction of politics, none of us yet know what kind of a world they will translate into.

I was listening to the psychologist and meditation teacher Tara Brach’s podcast not long after the result of the US Presidential election was announced when she quoted the writer Charles Eisenstein saying “We have entered a time between stories”. I like that. It implies that the future is not yet set and that we still have some power to direct the way we’d like it to go. I feel that this is important. As a species we are overly influenced by the Negativity Bias of the brain – the survival imperative that compels us to keep our attention on the most challenging thing in our environment lest we get eaten. But in 2016 that meant an over fascination with the things we didn’t like to the detriment of the things we did. It’s all too easy to broadcast constant outrage without stopping to consider the enormous magnification our collective energy then gives to that thing. If we do live in a time between stories, perhaps we’d be better off channelling our energies towards writing the story we want instead?

In my private practice working with clients in transition I describe moments like these as entering the cocoon. When a caterpillar is ready to transform, something goes off inside it to make it change its behaviour and enter a new stage of its existence. Up until this point a caterpillar is basically an eating machine. It consumes everything around it to fuel the energy it needs to reach this next stage. But at the moment of readiness it stops eating and goes through an extraordinary metamorphosis. It sheds its skin, legs and head and becomes a pupa – a protective sack for transformation. Inside that sack the caterpillar completely dissolves until it is nothing but genetic goo containing special “Imaginal” cells, each with the potential to become a part of the emerging butterfly – legs, thorax, head and of course…wings. An extraordinary chemical reaction occurs and within a short space of time the butterfly begins to form within the pupa. It grows and grows until it can no longer be contained within the confines of the cocoon that encases it, and it pushes its way free, ready to expand its wings and take flight, a completely new creature.

When I work with my clients we talk about how uncomfortable that transformation must be for the caterpillar. It loses its head, its legs and skin and completely dissolves into a state that has no precedent in its life. Does it know what it will become? Can it have any conception of what is happening to it and what the outcome will be?
In the same way can we know what we will become when we start our own journey of transformation?

There is no change without discomfort. It is generally the fear of pain that keeps us from growing and holds us in a status quo that might be unhealthy, but is comfortable in its familiarity. Better the devil you know, right? That’s what the Negativity Bias is for…to keep us alert to the devils we know and prevent us from venturing out too far towards the devils we don’t.

But nothing ever improves without change so we have to learn to tolerate the discomfort if we want something better.

And now here we are in a world going through incredible change. It’s uncomfortable. It’s scary. Collectively it feels as though we’re losing our legs, head and skin. We’re about to enter the cocoon and dissolve completely. Who knows if we’ll make it out the other side. Who knows what we will become?

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