Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Galen Pearl. It’s part of my occasional series Stories of Transformation.
“What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly.” – Richard Bach
Years ago, I was a mess. Chronic fretting and stress were affecting my health. My determination to control my world was wearing me out, and of course it was a complete failure. I yelled at the kids…a lot. I didn’t sleep well. Relaxing and having fun were out of the question.
After ending up in the emergency room twice with excruciating pain that had no medically detectible origin, I knew that this was my wake up call from life. As Step One of the Twelve Steps says, my life had become unmanageable, and I had to change or die. So I set about to transform my life.
From Fear to Joy: The Year of the Workbook
I got serious in therapy, I went to an energy healer, and I soldiered through what I remember as the Year of the Workbook. I did workbooks on anger, forgiveness, fear, codependency, control, gratitude, emotions, and I don’t even remember what else. I studied A Course in Miracles, the Tao Te Ching, and other wisdom teachings. I lit candles and chanted. I meditated and prayed.
I was, to understate it, highly motivated. And you know what? It worked. My life was transformed from one driven by fear to one grounded in joy. I quit yelling, slept better, and began to love my life. Miracles indeed.
Since then, life has continued to get better and better. I look back and just shake my head at the way I used to live. I don’t know how I held on so long. Or why.
A Different Transformation: Coming Home
Now I appear to be in a completely different transformation process. So different from the one before. That one was triggered by desperation and characterized by singular determination and effort, lots of effort.
This one is more mysterious, triggered by…what? I’m not sure. A calling inward, a remembering, an invitation. And it is characterized not by effort, but rather by the absence of effort. In fact, effort seems to hinder it rather than speed it along. It is a releasing, a falling away, a yielding. My role is simply not to interfere.
And the end result? I can describe the first transformation as a shift from fear to joy. This one? I have no words for it, but the image that keeps coming to me is home. I may not have words for it, but I know I want to go there. I know I already am there. There are no workbooks for this one. Only faith. It is enough.
Transformation Happens in Many Ways
I guess my point, if I have one, is that transformation can happen in many ways. There is a story about a zen master whose disciples were gathered around his deathbed. He motioned them closer and they leaned in, thinking that he was about to whisper some last great pearls of wisdom. Perhaps he was going to tap them gently with enlightenment.
Imagine how they startled and jumped back when he started flailing and screaming, “I don’t want to die!” Then he quieted and told them that there was no right way to die. He died peacefully soon after.
I love that story. It makes me laugh every time.
Like dying, there is no right way to transform. We sometimes seek it, and sometimes it seeks us. Sometimes it happens in an instant, and sometimes gradually over years. Sometimes it requires effort and sometimes we need only allow it.
The only thing I know for sure is that we need not fear it.
“Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase; just take the first step.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
Galen Pearl is the author of the book 10 Steps to Finding Your Happy Place (and Staying There), and writes a blog with the same title.