FROM CATERPILLAR TO BUTTERFLY

Ralph Metzner

What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, 

the rest of the world calls butterfly.

- Richard Bach

Our experience confirms what the elders and wise ones of all times have said - that we live in a constant state of change. Modern science tells us the world consists of patterns of unceasing transformation of energy and matter. We observe these changes in ourselves and in those we know and care for: changes of physical growth, the learning of muscular skills, emotional development, acquisition of knowledge, conformance to the changing expectations of our culture, becoming ill, becoming healed. We grow up. . . we grow old. . . but we always grow. Our lives appear to unfold in multiple inter-weavings of cycles of change at many levels, punctuated by discontinuous transitions. We see certain of these basic transitions - marriage and divorce, illness and accidents, births and deaths - as "life-changing" events.

In addition to such changes, which are natural and ordinary, in the sense that they are an accepted part of life, there exists in human experience another kind of transformation, a radical restructuring of the entire psyche that has been variously referred to as mystical experience, ecstasy, cosmic consciousness, oceanic feeling, oneness, transcendence, union with God, nirvana, satori, liberation, peak experience, and other names. Such experiences may occur in some people without their recognizing much of what is really happening and just how extraordinary this process is.

We have evidence that the prevalence of this kind of experience may be greatly underestimated. Andrew Greeley and William McCready reported in the New York Times on a survey they made with a sample of fifteen hundred "normal," middle-class Americans.(1) Forty percent of the respondents answered affirmatively to the question "Have you ever had the feeling of being very close to a powerful spiritual force that seemed to lift you out of yourself?" This finding prompted the researchers to title their article, "Are We a Nation of Mystics?" People who have these kinds of experiences may not know what they are or how to talk about them, but they agree that the experience is powerful, sometimes devastating, and invariably life transforming.

There are many thoughtful people who believe that our time is one of accelerated social and individual transformation. Fundamental world views, paradigms of reality, conceptions of human nature are being questioned and challenged.(2) There are even suggestions from some observers that humanity as a whole species is undergoing a collective transformation. We have no precedent in our experience for this kind of evolutionary change. We are being challenged to examine our understanding of evolution itself.(3)

And that is not all. Albert Einstein remarked, "The atomic bomb has changed everything except our way of thinking." In a world teetering on the brink of nuclear holocaust, economic collapse, and ecological catastrophe, we are being challenged to examine ourselves. We feel we have to ask ourselves, "What are we?" after all, to have arrived at such an insanely dangerous impasse. It seems to me that two important conclusions are emerging with increasing certainty: (1) that the evolutionary transformation of society and of humanity must take place first in the individual, and (2) that the transformation of the individual requires a turning inward, toward self - not in narcissistic self-absorption but in aware self-confrontation.

What can we say, in psychological terms, about this kind of profound transformation in which so many find themselves involved with varying degrees of urgency and intensity? I would agree with those who speak of this transformation in terms of "consciousness." Consciousness - defined as the context, or field, in which thoughts, feelings, perceptions, sensations, images, impulses, intentions, and the like, exist and occur - is transformed when any of the following occur: changes in thinking, worldview, beliefs; feelings, motives, impulses, values; as well as altered perceptions, such as heightened seeing (clairvoyance) and sensing (clairsentience).

A further characteristic of this transformation of consciousness is the alteration of perception of time and space. When time seems to pass at a different rate and when the space around us seems different and unfamiliar, we sometimes experience a giddy or fearful recognition that we are in a process of change, with an unpredictable outcome: we know we are going to be different, but we don't know how.

When our very concept of reality and our self-concept change, we speak of personal, or self, transformation. This kind of experience changes the way we feel about the world - our emotional attitude of basic trust or mistrust, faith or doubt, acceptance or rejection - and changes our feelings about ourselves, our self-acceptance, self-esteem, self-love.

Whatever our definition of personality or of self may be, it is clear that as self-concepts, self-feelings, and self-images change, the personality changes, too. We feel and sense ourselves to be different persons. Without entering at this point into the debates over whether the ego should be annihilated (as in many spiritual traditions) or strengthened (as in Western psychotherapy), we can agree, I believe, that the ego or its function, role, and place is changed.

This book explores the meanings of human self-transformation. Other expressions signifying this realm of human experience agree in their assignment of a pivotal role to the self-concept. Self-actualization, a term used in humanistic and existential psychology, implies a bringing into actuality of something that had been a latent potentiality. The term self-realization suggests a making real, or a seeing as real, something that had been until then only a dream or a vague intuition. Jung's term individuation means (a) becoming an individual distinct from the mass consciousness, and (b) becoming "indivisible," or whole.

Although the self-concept, or self-image, plays a pivotal role in most accounts of psycho-spiritual transformation, it is not a necessary one. Buddhist psychology, which does not recognize the existence of any self or ego, explains the transformation simply as an altered mode of functioning of the five "complex aggregates" (skandhas) of consciousness. These aggregates, or systems - memory, perception, feeling/valuing, form awareness, conscious comprehension - together constitute what we think of as personality. In the process of transformation, their functions and aims are radically changed.(4)

There are two other aspects of individual identity, of persona or selfhood, that may be affected in the kind of core transformation we have been discussing; they are behavior and appearance. Whether a person's actual behavior changes as a result of a deep transformative experience is an open question; obviously, it depends on the individual's prior behavior. We know of extreme cases, such as that of Saul, who became Paul and changed from an enemy to a defender of the faith. Criminals have been known to become saints. Others may, after a transcendent vision, simply find themselves confirmed in their life path and their spiritual practice, with no outwardly observable change in behavior. After enlightenment, the Zen masters said, you may go back to cutting wood and drawing water.

Bodily appearance also may or may not be altered when consciousness and self are transformed. The traditions of yoga, alchemy, and shamanism contain numerous examples of psychophysical transformation. In illness and healing recovery, physical form and appearance may change drastically. Anyone who has undergone the "remission" of a malignant tumor, spontaneously or as a result of psychic healing, has brought about a kind of alchemical transformation of the physical elements of the body. Michael Murphy and his associates have accumulated a large body of documentation and evidence of unusual psychophysical changes occurring in sports and other situations involving extreme physical challenge.(5) The Future of the Body

Attempts at describing the process of transformation of consciousness and personality in abstract, psychological language are comparatively recent. In prior periods - in the religious and mystical literature of East and West, in the traditions of shamanism, alchemy, and yoga, and in the allegorical language of mythology - symbols and metaphors are used to convey essential information and guidelines for those who find themselves plunged into the midst of a transformative crisis, and those who are pursuing a disciplined path of development. People have often found that it is helpful to turn to the old texts and stories for guidance and insight into the process they are undergoing. Historical accounts and images from. other cultures often evoke a kind of echo or resonance in us. Maybe this is a recognition of our common humanity; or some feel that we may be experiencing traces of "another life."

Through the work of Freud, Jung, and the other depth psychologists and students of comparative mythology and religion, it has become apparent that myths still function as they did in the eras before psychological theories were invented: myths seem to articulate certain deep, archetypal patterns of growth. While Freud proposed that all men live out the Oedipus myth, modern psychologists agree that there are many different myths that men and women have found themselves living, without realizing it. From the discovery of such deep, mythic undertones in one's life, and the unsuspected level of meaning that is revealed, comes support for healing and the self-reflection that leads to understanding.

Symbols and Metaphors of Transformation

In virtually all the traditional systems of human transformation, symbols, metaphors, analogies, parables, myths, and allegories play a central role. This is true of the modern psychological, especially transpersonal, approaches, as well as the traditional religious, mystical, and esoteric ways. In shamanism, for example, the altered state of consciousness, or trance, which the shaman healer undergoes, is symbolized as a journey or a flight through the air. And modern explorers of consciousness, whether using psychedelic drugs or not, have created the language of "the trip" or of "being high." Similarly, alchemy uses the description of chemical processes going on in a retort, as analogies or metaphors for experimental processes going on in the psychophysical (body-mind) system of the practitioner. Psychotherapists, especially those of a Jungian persuasion, frequently hear dreams with alchemical themes, such as purification or sublimation, from their patients who are in the midst of a transformation. We need only recall the yogic images of energy centers as flowers that unfold, or the idea of the kundalini serpent that rises, to realize how extensive is the use of analogy and symbolism in these traditions. Some modern psychiatrists suggest the existence of a "kundalini syndrome," occurring in some yoga practitioners, in which serpentine energy currents surge uncontrollably through the body, and bring about a major transformation of consciousness.

We might usefully compare the central transformative metaphors used by three of the pioneers of modern depth psychology, Sigmund Freud, Wilhelm Reich, and C. G. Jung. For Freud, the unconscious was a deep and dangerous unknown, like the ocean; and psychoanalysis -- making the unconscious conscious -- was like reclaiming land from the sea, as practiced in Holland. In Reich's theory, repressed unconscious factors have become assembled into a kind of invisible armor, impacted into the tissues of the body, especially the musculature; bio-energetic therapy aims at the melting, or dissolving, of this armor. In Jung's view, the unconscious, both personal and collective, is like the night sky, an infinite unknown, studded with myriads of tiny sparks of light that can become the sources of illumination, insight, and creativity for the person in the process of individuation.(6)

Consciousness itself has been thought of in terms of two analogies. One is as a kind of space, as in Buddhist notions of "emptiness," or in such expressions as "state of consciousness," or context, or field. The other analogy is that of a river, as in the expressions "stream of consciousness" and "stream of thought." We have, then, a geographical metaphor and a historical one, which correspond to the two main dimensions of our experience of reality -- space and time.

In literature and mythology, which may be regarded as the repositories of psychological teachings before there was a separate discipline of psychology (i.e., prior to the late nineteenth century), we find two widely used analogies for the human life cycle: the cycle of the day and that of the year. In the diurnal analogy, we think of birth and youth as the sunrise and morning, adulthood as midday, maturity as the afternoon, and aging as the evening of our days. In the seasonal metaphor, we speak of the springtime of our youth, the summer of full adult power and expression, the autumnal maturity of our capacities through midlife, and the "winter of our discontent," of aging and dying.

As these examples make clear, the use of metaphor and symbolism spreads far beyond the realm of literature and the arts. It appears to be such a pervasive characteristic of human language that it may even be regarded as a built-in feature of all human thinking. George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, in a book entitled Metaphors We Live By, have made just this point.(7) Adducing evidence from linguistics and philosophy, they show how our ordinary conceptual system -- which governs how we think, how we talk, and how we act, both consciously and unconsciously -- is fundamentally metaphorical in nature. For example, an unconsciously held, or implicit, metaphor in our culture is the idea that money is liquid, as expressed by "cash flow" and "liquid assets."

Lakoff and Johnson argue that surely the implicit metaphors of ordinary language have an experiential basis. There is, among others, an interesting group of metaphors they call orientational, which are based on our experience of the up/down dimension of space. We relate this dimension to feelings of happiness ("my spirits rose," "I feel down"), consciousness ("waking up," "falling asleep"), health and life ("he's at the peak of health," "he dropped dead"), control and power ("the height of power," "being under control"), status ("high society"), time ("upcoming events") and moral and other kinds of evaluation ("high-quality work," "high-mindedness," "low character," "the depths of depravity"). Some of these metaphors we Shall encounter again as we discuss the processes of consciousness transformation. Most models of psycho-spiritual development, for instance, use metaphors of an upward progression -- "raising one's level of consciousness," "bringing an unconscious complex up into awareness," "climbing to the top of the holy, or mystical, mountain," "ascending the ladder of evolution, or the ladder of perfection" -- and many more.

A useful distinction can be drawn between symbol and metaphor. In this book symbol is more likely to be an object or thing; whereas metaphor stands for a process that extends through time. Thus, the tree is a symbol of the human being, standing vertically between heaven and earth, linking the upper world of Spirit and the lower worlds of Nature. On the other hand, the growth of a tree from seed to flowering maturity is a metaphor for the growth of the individual, the unfolding of a human's life from seed-conception to full creative expression. The path, or road, is a symbol of development of consciousness; traveling on the road is a metaphor for the process of expanding the horizons of awareness.

The word symbol comes from the Greek roots sym ("together") and ballein ("to throw"). Thus, a symbol is a throwing together, a linkage, connecting two disparate elements in our psyche. The word metaphor comes from the Greek roots meta ("beyond") and pherein ("to carry"). Thus, it is a carrying beyond, a transferring of meaning from one domain into another. Analogy comes from the Greek analogos ("proportionate"), which in turn is based on ana ("according to") and legein ("to collect" and "to speak"). Thus, by analogy we can gather (understand) and speak of, a similarity in proportion. A clock is a good example of an analog device: it shows the same proportions and relationships as the passage of the sun in relationship to the horizon.

In the writings of the mystics we find detailed and comprehensive descriptions of experiences of transformation, couched in the metaphors and symbols of the particular religion that the mystic adhered to. Transcending the boundaries of culture and religion in their visions and their writings, mystics are pioneers of evolution, reporting back to the rest of humanity on what lies ahead for all of us. As Evelyn Underhill writes in her masterful book Mysticism, "The mystic cannot wholly do without symbol and image, inadequate to his vision though they must always be: for his experience must be expressed if it is to be communicated, and its actuality is inexpressible except in some hint or parallel which will stimulate the dormant intuition of the reader.(8) The Jesus of the New Testament used parables constantly, as we know. The phrase "The Kingdom of Heaven is like . . . ," which runs like a golden thread through the gospel narrative, is considered by some to tell the story of a transformation of consciousness from human to divine, from personal to transpersonal.

Likewise, myths, legends, and folktales are important sources of transformational metaphors and symbols. They often contain metaphoric accounts of transformative experiences. They are like the stories told by explorers to future, would-be voyagers, describing in symbolic form major features of the interior landscapes traversed by the consciousness voyager. Sometimes in a cautionary mode, sometimes in an inspirational mode, they allude metaphorically to the interior conflicts to be resolved, hardships to be endured, obstacles to be overcome, rewards to be won, tools to be used, allies to be found, visions to be seen.(9)

Symbols and metaphors, then, function in the psyche as connecting links between states and levels of consciousness, bridging between domains of reality. They serve to elucidate the structures and functions of consciousness while we are undergoing both ordinary and extraordinary transformations. Many of the deepest, most powerful archetypal symbols are not necessarily articulated verbally. They may be numbers, shapes, colors, natural phenomena, plants, or animals, and they may be expressed in a great variety of cultural forms, including painting, sculpture, architecture, song, dance, ritual, movement, gesture. These primordial, or archetypal, images are found in virtually all cultures and during all ages, thus representing a kind of universal language.(10)

Another, most important function of symbols is their ability to induce or catalyze changes in our perception, feeling, or thinking. For example, a Buddhist monk meditating on a symbolic figure will experience specific definite changes in his consciousness, intentionally induced or facilitated by that symbolic image. In Jungian psychotherapy the patient is often encouraged, in a process known as "active imagination," to extend and develop the meaning associations of the image encountered in a dream. Jung repeatedly emphasized the active, dynamic nature of symbols and their ability to work within us - even on us - without our conscious recognition.

While Freud postulated that the symbols in the unconscious functioned primarily to conceal the impulses and conflicts that they symbolized, for Jung the symbol was a bridge between conscious and unconscious, an element that "points beyond itself to a meaning that is darkly divined yet still beyond our grasp." Religious symbols in particular, according to Jung, have a distinctly revelatory and transformative character. "Even today we can see in individuals the spontaneous genesis of genuine and valid religious symbols, springing from the unconscious like flowers of a strange species, while consciousness stands by perplexed."(11) Jung is referring here to the dynamic, spontaneous activity of symbols in the psyche, an activity that brings symbolic visions to people in dreams, meditations, and other such states of consciousness. Such visions always "just come," they are not "made up," and they may surprise the individual in whom they arise.

The following chapters present ten key metaphors that are found in most of the world's great spiritual and philosophical traditions. Mystics, hermits, monks, yogis, saints, sages, magicians, shamans, physicians, wizards, teachers, warriors, scholars, artists, poets, philosophers, scientists, psychologists -- all of those who have functioned as way-showers on the evolutionary path -- have found these metaphors and symbols indispensable for describing their experience, for awakening intuition and for catalyzing transformation.

I invite the reader then to explore these central metaphors. A particular metaphor may trigger a memory of a deeply moving transformative experience the reader has had. Another may point dimly to some totally new, as yet unknown yet subtly sensed dimension of experience. There is no pre-established sequence, no predetermined goal. Each one finds his own path, each works out her own destiny. The myth of each life is a unique configuration of elements.

While it is widely believed and asserted that "all roads lead to the same mountaintop," I find this to be an oversimplified and misleading analogy. I prefer the ancient symbolism of humans as radiating sources of light, as "walking stars" treading the Earth path; or the image of giant trees rooted in the Earth, with crown and branches reaching to the heavens; or that of caterpillars dimly sensing their potential as scintillating, liberated butterflies. The exploration of the psyche, of inner space, seems to me very analogous to the exploration of outer space: one can go in all directions for an infinite distance and length of time. As Buckminster Fuller pointed out, each individual exists at the center of a movable sphere of omni-directional awareness, that moves, like a shadow, everywhere we move.(12)

The process of sharing these inexpressible experiences of transformation may bring us to a greater awareness of our interdependent, common humanity: whether we speak of union with God, or with the Tao, or of cosmic consciousness, or of wholeness, there is a common core here in all of us; we are one in this -- and further, we are interconnected with the natural world and the cosmos in which we live. Everything is then seen as metaphor: reality itself throws symbols at us with abundance of meaning. We seem to be designed for comprehension and communication of meaning.

The phenomenal world is a mirror reflection of a basic ground reality unknowable by us, according to the ancient Indian sages. "All phenomena," said Goethe, "are merely metaphorical" ("Alles Vergaengliche ist nur ein Gleichnis"). Or, as Gregory Bateson stated it, mind is metaphorical, and mind is "the pattern that connects." In this kind of vision, we are "carried across" metaphorically, across boundaries of culture, of historical era, of race and language. We find linkages, from self to world, from world to world, and from self to other selves.

Theories of Human Transformation

It may be useful to take a brief look at some of the theoretical approaches to the understanding of transformation that have been proposed by historians of religion, philosophers, evolutionary theorists, and psychologists. These theories, as we shall see, have often resorted to the same symbols, metaphors, and images we find in the accounts of the mystics and in the myths of ancient peoples, to explain their perspectives on transformation. Each of these theories and each of the metaphors contribute a valuable thread to the tapestry of our understanding.

William James, in his work on religious experience, used the classic concept of conversion, literally a "turning around," to describe not only a person's change from one religion to another, but also the process of attaining a sense of the religious dimension of life, a sense of the sacred. "To be converted, to be regenerated, to receive grace, to experience religion, to gain an assurance, are so many phrases which denote the process, gradual or sudden, by which a self hitherto divided, and consciously wrong, inferior and unhappy, becomes unified and consciously right, superior and happy, in consequence of its firmer hold upon religious realities."(13) Religious conversion then is one form that a transformative experience might take for contemporary men and women. The metaphors of awakening and of progressing from fragmentation to wholeness are related to this conversion model of transformation.

The historian of religion Mircea Eliade has emphasized the importance of the discovery of the sacred. This does not necessarily imply belief in God or gods or spirits; rather, awareness of the sacred is inherent in man's mode of being in the world. "Through experience of the sacred the mind grasps the difference between what is revealed as real, potent, rich, and meaningful and that which is deficient in those qualities -- in other words, the chaotic and perilous flux of things, their fortuitous and meaningless appearances and disappearances."(14) This kind of experience of a sacred quality of the world, of all life, and of our life in particular is often a significant element in the transformative experience of modern individuals, even those of an atheistic or agnostic orientation. The metaphor of uncovering the veils of illusion to discover the real is felt to be a particularly appropriate one for this kind of experience. A person may echo the words of that wonderful spiritual "Amazing Grace," "I was blind and now I see."

The language of mysticism speaks of the human transformation most directly; and in a way that is not particularly bound to a specific set of religious beliefs concerning the nature of God or divinity. Mysticism refers to an experience of which one cannot speak (it comes from the Greek muein, "to keep silent"). As William James wrote: "We pass into mystical states out of ordinary consciousness as from a lesser into a more, as from a smallness into a vastness, and at the same time as from an unrest to a rest. We feel them as reconciling, unifying states." And Evelyn Underhill speaks of mysticism as "an organic process which.. . involves the achievement here and now of the immortal heritage of man . . . the art of establishing his conscious relation with the Absolute."(15) The mystical literature of East and West provides lucid and detailed accounts of the phenomenology of transformative experiences. Mystics try to show us the ineffable, to point to visions of reality inexpressible in ordinary terms. They are the butterflies who try to awaken the human larval caterpillars to the "immortal heritage" that awaits them.

Many writers have outlined stages of the mystic path. Underhill states that in Christian mysticism the stages are (1) awakening or conversion to divine reality; (2) purgation and purification; (3) illumination, visions, ecstatic states; (4) death, "the dark night of the soul"; and (5) union with the divine. The teachings of the Gnostics distinguished three stages: (1) awakening, (2) revelation, and (3) anamnesis, or recollection. There are also many other models that outline a developmental sequence of stages in transformation. Each of these stages is associated with a metaphor, and without prejudging whether these experiences always occur exactly in this order, we will examine these metaphors.

Another concept that recurs again and again in this literature is rebirth and regeneration. The so-called mystery religions of ancient times preserved secret teachings of rebirth and expressed them by staging them in ceremonies and rituals. Some native cultures in various parts of the Earth still practice ancient rituals of rebirth and regeneration. As Jung pointed out in his essay "Concerning Rebirth," much of this literature is concerned with beliefs about reincarnation and resurrection into life after death. Rebirth (renovatio) within one lifetime, however, is "an essential transformation, that implies a change of essential nature."(16)

Those who went through the "mysteries" in these religions were provided an experience they were not allowed to speak about. Through hearing the mythic story recited and seeing it enacted, they were initiated, or entered into the process, the way, as prescribed in that particular culture. In some instances, hallucinogenic plant derivatives may have been used, as has been suggested recently for the Eleusinian mysteries by Wasson, Ruck, and Hofmann.(17) This kind of initiation, clearly involving an altered state of consciousness, could be regarded as a preview or rehearsal for those who were preparing to experience the dying and regeneration in the domain of their own psyches.

From a merging of Hellenistic philosophy and early Christian thought, we have the concept of metanoia, which literally means "beyond {meta} the mind {nous]," a transcending of the rational mind. Metanoia was usually translated in the Christian writings as "repentance," which means "to feel sorry again"; it is more accurately rendered, as A. K. Coomaraswamy has said, by "change of mind," or intellectual metamorphosis. "Metanoia is a transformation of one's whole being, from human thinking to divine understanding."(18)

In modern psychology, the terminology of development, personal development, or spiritual development has been used to describe this central human process. The work of developmental psychologists, such as Freud, Erikson, Piaget, Loevinger, Kohlberg, and others, has delineated sequences of human development from infancy to adulthood (and more recently into maturity and old age) in such areas as sexuality, social relationships, cognition, and moral values. Eastern philosophies on the other hand, focus on development beyond the stage of normal, well-adjusted maturity into transpersonal, trans-rational levels of consciousness, variously called subtle, causal, mystical, spiritual, or unitive. Some work has been done, for example, by Ken Wilber,(19) to formulate an integration of these two traditions: in this approach, human development proceeds along a linear sequence of "levels," each of which transcends and includes the previous one. The details of these linear models will not concern us in this work. It is my belief that the processes described by the metaphors occur at all levels or, one might say, at each transition from one level to another.

Other theorists of human development have suggested the concept of transition: William Bridges, for instance, has pointed to a basic formal pattern that underlies all kinds of transitions, whether they are those of adolescence, midlife, illness, career change, marriage, separation, aging, or others.(20) There is always an ending, then a neutral, or intermediate, zone, then a new beginning. When something ends, we tend to feel afraid of loss -- and of death. In the intermediate zone, we feel confused, ungrounded. At the times of new beginnings we feel uncertain, anxious about choice and commitment. We shall see, in the subsequent chapters of this book, that this three-phase pattern is pervasive in the literature. We are probably always involved in some endings, some in-between zones, and some new beginnings.

Scientifically oriented thinkers have used biological evolution, the development of species, as an analogy for individual human transformation. On the assumption that ontogeny, individual development, parallels and repeats phylogeny, the development of the species, humans are seen at the growing edge of a new evolutionary phase. This phase involves not physical organic changes but changes in mind, in consciousness; not the physical environment, the ecosphere, but the mental field of the planet, what Pierre Teilhard de Chardin called the "noosphere." For Sri Aurobindo, in man a definite new step is possible, a kind of reversal, "for it is through his consciousness, through its transmutation and no longer through a new bodily organism, that evolution can and must be affected."(21)

Another biological analogy for human transformation is the notion of metamorphosis. In this process, seen primarily in insects, crabs, mollusks, and the like (rarely in vertebrates, and never in mammals), the juvenile form of the animal is unrecognizably different from the mature form." The caterpillar that metamorphoses into a butterfly has been one of the most enduring symbols of human transformation. This implies that human beings are in a kind of larval stage, and that a change is possible that would make us as different from the way we are now as butterflies are from caterpillars. The caterpillar lives in a different world than the butterfly. Can it know anything about this "higher" world, which includes more dimensions of movement? Can we humans know anything about the world of the ultra-human, the transformed human? This question challenges us to explore and understand the sometimes tantalizingly obscure symbols and metaphors. Perhaps those who have made it to "butterfly" are trying to tell us "larvae" something.

In the alchemical tradition, which can be regarded as an early attempt to formulate a science of consciousness, there occurs the idea of the transmutation of elements. Psychologically, the elements symbolize the elemental aspects of our nature, which are to be transmuted from a disorderly state of chaos and impurity to a state of harmony and balance. This alchemical principle is recast into psychological terms in Jung's theory of individuation, according to which the four functions (thinking, feeling, sensing, and intuition), which are normally in a state of imbalance and disorder, are integrated until the psyche reaches a state of undividedness, or indivisibility. The alchemists and practitioners of the humoral theory of illness and medicine believed that physical and psychic processes involved multiple interactions and transmutations of the elemental energies and substances ("humors") within the total organism.

Modern biology and medicine have the concept of metabolism, which refers to the transformations of solid, liquid, and gaseous substances into characteristic biochemical structures and physiological activities. There is an analogy here to the functions of mind, or awareness, which Sir Julian Huxley pointed out in proposing the concept of psycho-metabolism: this is the brain's transformation of the raw material of subjective experience into characteristic patterns of awareness, which canalize and help to direct behavior. The primary problem of psycho-metabolism, according to Huxley, is "how the developing human being can integrate his interior life, whether by reconciling emotional or intellectual conflict in a higher synthesis, or by reconciling diversity in a more embracing unity."(23)

Variations On the Theme of Self-transformation

1. The transformation may be abrupt or gradual. Ecstasy, peak experience, inspired revelation, the flash of inventive insight, the poet's vision -- all these are sudden experiences that may bring about profound changes in a person's life. Likewise, a conversion experience may be abrupt and total, as William James has described in many cases in his book. Zen Buddhism speaks of the moment of satori, the moment filled with paradox, which changes everything and nothing. On the other hand, there is much teaching, and much evidence that this moment is the result of gradual, step-by-step changes, whether in healing, in psychotherapy, in meditation, or in learning of any kind. Evelyn Underhill is one of many students of mysticism who argue that all conversions are gradual: "the apparently abrupt conversion is really, as a rule, the sequel and result of a long period of restlessness, uncertainty, and mental stress."

2. The transformation may be temporary or lasting. We call a temporary transformation an "altered state of consciousness," the lasting transformation, "personality change." Altered states include sleep, dreaming, hypnotic trance, meditation, psychedelic states, absorption in creative activity, illness, depression, elation, and madness. The psychiatrist and health researcher Andrew Weil has suggested that altering consciousness may be an inherent need of the human brain, the "natural mind." Here the reader may raise the question: So what? Does the altered state experience lead to lasting trait or behavior changes? What kind of long-term changes occur in people who experience such states? Are the changes all good? We need to ask ourselves what is the persistent quality of consciousness that we are expressing." It is the outcome of action that tells us how enlightened someone is. As Jesus said, "Ye shall know them by their fruits."

3. The transformation may be externally or internally induced. We have all encountered examples of profound transformations of consciousness triggered by some external event, such as an accident, the sight of a spectacular natural wonder, or contact with another. The "love at first sight" phenomenon can certainly be regarded as an externally induced change of state. In a more mystical vein, the external person is typically a guru or spiritual teacher. The rite of baptism in christianity, the "power transmission" (shaktipat) in Tantric Hinduism, the hypnotic induction in modern psychology, are ritualized forms of such externally induced alteration. On the other hand, there are equally numerous examples of changes of state and character occurring apparently without any external influence at all. The concept of self-actualization definitely implies that something unfolds gradually and slowly from Within, emerging from the inner depths of the psyche. The opening of a flower (compared to the opening of a yogic chakra) and the growth of a tree or butterfly (compared to the psychic growth of a person) are analogies that suggest self-induced, intrinsic transformation.

4. The transformation may occur through grace or intention. Experiences of heightened consciousness, of mystical oneness or rapture, may be accompanied by a sense of their having been given freely and unexpectedly through God's grace. Aldous Huxley called his ecstatic mescaline visions a "gratuitous grace." Religious devotees are often exhorted to rely completely and only on the grace of the guru, or saint, or deity for the transformation of their lives. Then there are the esoteric traditions of spiritual practice, which emphasize the role of meticulous training in and practice of various meditative and yogic disciplines, and conscious efforts to bring about desired changes. The transmutational work (opus) of the alchemists and depth psychologists, the healing "journeys" (altered states) undertaken by the shamanic healer, the ritual sacralizing of sexuality in the Tantras, and Gurdjieff's process -- "conscious labor and intentional suffering" -- all fall within this category.

5. The transformation may be invisible to others or openly manifest. The healings and miracles performed by Jesus were the "signs" that were needed by the common people of his time, to persuade them of his nature and mission. Yet the history of religion is filled with unrecognized saints who labored in selfless love and service, motivated by an inner vision or experience that transformed their being. Eastern texts describe the special physical and psychological features of an enlightened Buddha or the various psychic capacities (siddhis) that yogis acquire in the course of their practice, which serve as signposts along the way. On the other hand, there is the Taoist tradition of the self-effacing sage, "tentative, as if fording a river in winter; hesitant, as if in fear of his neighbors; formal, like a guest." The mind of this Taoist sage is described as being like muddy water, which if it is left to settle gradually becomes clear."

6. The transformation may be progressive, regressive, or digressive. This is probably the most important question about the nature and value of a transformative experience. Progressive transformation leads from limitation to freedom, from darkness to light, from fragmentation to wholeness, from separation to oneness, from sleeplike inertia to awakened awareness, from personality to Spirit, from ego to Self, from mortality to immortality, from illusion to realization. It is, in its myriad variations, the single goal of the classic mystical quest and of all spiritual disciplines. Regressive transformations are those that take the opposite direction, from limited "normal" consciousness to even greater limitation or imprisonment, to deeper darkness, more extreme fragmentation and separation, into the chaotic depths of madness, despair, and the states of consciousness associated with violence, injury, and disease. Jung referred to these regressive changes as "diminutions of personality," citing such examples as the primitives' "loss of soul," the hysteric's loss of function, the listlessness of depression.(27)

By digressive transformations, I mean those changes in consciousness that are neither progressive nor regressive but simply different. Some kinds of hypnotic or trance States might be cited as "state" examples as well as possession by spirits, as reported in primitive cultures. Other instances of this kind of transformation discussed by Jung include those brought about by identification with a group, whether a mob, race, nation, or political party, and those brought about by identification with a cult hero. To these, a modern observer might add the transformations wrought by identification (plus idealization and imitation) with a popular star of the sports or entertainment world; and the changes in individuals subjected to various programs of "thought reform," brainwashing, behavior modification, aversion therapy, programming, reprogramming, or deprogramming.

The subject of this book is primarily progressive transformation, although discussions of regressive transformations are included for comparison and elucidation. The focus of attention on these progressive transformations -- otherwise known as "evolutionary," "psycho-spiritual," or "mystical" transformations -- carries with it the implicit judgment that these are better, more worthwhile, and more important to study. Indeed, I would go so far as to state that humanity is truly at an evolutionary choice point: we know in our hearts that we are either going to have to grow up very fast, change ourselves in radical ways, or we will destroy ourselves and perhaps the entire planetary ecosystem as well. We have a desperate need for greater awareness of our own inner dynamics and processes if we are going to survive the twentieth-century global crisis.

Finally, there is a variation on the theme of transformation that is often overlooked and yet that is very important: the distinction between transcendence and transformation.(28) To put it simply: to transcend is to go beyond; to transform is to make different. We transcend a given state of consciousness or a personality characteristic by rising above it (note the spatial metaphor) or by moving beyond it. For example, we may transcend a state of fear or anxiety by moving into an attitude of love and trust, or we may transcend a sense of separateness by meditating on the perception of oneness. The thought patterns of fear or separateness remain in our minds and may be reactivated at another time. It is as if we were stopping the music by lifting the tone arm off the recording. In psychological alchemy, transcendence is associated with the element air, with its upward motion; and with the process of sublimation, where an impulse is channeled into a "higher" expression (for example, sexual energy channeled into creativity).

Transformation in the stronger sense (sometimes also called transmutation), however, implies that the patterns of thought or perception are actually changed. The structures and functioning of our psyche become different. Some writers speak of this as a transformation of energy: the energy of fear or anger is transmuted into a different form of expression. If, as a result of unitive experiences and spiritual practices, a person no longer has the sense of separateness, even in ordinary, everyday consciousness, then the personality structure itself has been transformed. In the sound-recording analogy, the engraved patterns on the record have literally been erased or remade. Transformation is symbolized by the element fire; and is associated with the notion of purification and with solutio, the dissolving of problems or barriers. I will let the old Chinese master Chuang Tsu, have the last word here: "When one is changing, how does one know that a change is taking place? When one is not changing, how does one know that a change hasn't already occurred? Maybe you and I are still in a dream and have not yet awakened. . . . Be content with what is happening and forget about change; then you can enter into the oneness of the mystery of heaven."(29)

 

Mindfire