Burning Questions & Emergence from the Chrysalis

A call to questioning, world-building and emergence of new life.

The moth kept throwing herself against the window. Her delicate winged body was beating frantically upon the invisible wall as she tried to fly out into the forest. It was just there. Just beyond the glass. A hazy, euphoric realm that she so longed to reach. It broke my heart as I watched her; I knew she wouldn’t make it. And yet she kept trying with all her might, blinded to the screens that blocked her path. Behind her, another window stood ajar.

The message of the little moth was clear to me that afternoon. We also find ourselves at an impasse, stuck in a place we know no longer serves us. We beat against cold glass, caught inside golden cages, trying to reconnect with a world that to calls us in so many voices. We get glimpses of it. Sometimes, we listen. Something new is indeed slowly coming to life, inviting us in, cropping up in a bewitching pattern of acupuncture points around the world. We want to fly towards it but at times it can also feel just as inaccessible as crossing through those sheets of impenetrable glass. Meanwhile, apocalyptic news flashes continue to bombard our senses, distracting us with their blinky lights, causing a deep collective experience of dissonance, doom, and denial.

Cue: we bury our heads in the sand.

Why is it that we often remain as passive spectators, hordes of somnambulant citizens, wanting to change but not really committing to it? Why is there such a gap between all we know and what we actually do?

We sense that we need to go somewhere new and yet don’t quite know where to fly towards. The space between stories has always been notoriously difficult to navigate. Liminal transitions have roadmaps — although we must be careful not to confuse the map for the territory. The hero’s journey has many faces. Just like Janus, the Roman god of change, we must both look both back to the past and to the future when we sense where we could go. We must ask how we can best endure this exciting and imminent voyage through chaos and what tools we’d like to have with us in our vessel while we steer the ship.

What skills and, perhaps even more importantly, what states do we need to cultivate to equip us in re-creating, building and prototyping this constantly evolving entity of a “newer” world?

What is waiting to emerge?

We need a hell of a lot of different world-builders to come together to start playing with these questions. We need systems thinkers who understand that today’s solutions can become tomorrow’s problems and help us guard against becoming the Frankensteins of our own creations. We need artists, storytellers, philosophers, scientists, farmers, economists, explorers, indigenous elders, activists, lawyers, regenerative practitioners — the list is endless. Where and who are they, and how can we best create places for transition and spaces of learning where we come together to harness our collective wisdom?

These are the questions I am asking myself every day. I’ll admit I am a little shy to state them so bluntly, knowing that my outlook and knowledge is limited at best. Over the coming months however I would like to share some thoughts on the above — on ideas I have come across, from different fields, different thinkers, generating a conversation and inviting in fresh opinions to my own thinking.

More than anything, I feel it is important to ask the right questions. A call to questioning is the first and essential step in tinkering with our default mode of operation.

I picture this act of questioning like taking a breath. As you breathe in, your lungs expand, you’re filled with cool air, all potentialities are opened to you; as you breathe out, the chest contracts, air compresses into a thin, precise flow, and then, there’s a pause, a silence, before the process begins all over again. Draw three diamonds side by side and trace their edges with a pencil. This is what it looks like: the expansion to all possibilities, followed by a contraction to a singular point, and out, over and over again. We must never think the questions are done being answered.

As we begin enquiring into our dominant paradigms and delving into the mad maze of our monkey minds, this then is perhaps what we should try to do:

To cast the net wide with curiosity, sensitivity, compassion and intuition, sensing and feeling the broad realm of possibilities out there, and then draw in that day’s catch, into an action, a prototype, a point of focus. Macro view, micro view, in constant breathing balance. Fractal forms, a single brain and an entire universe, all contained in the same sphere.

And here’s the cool part. It’s often at these inflection points that the greatest opportunities lie for creating a real and lasting intervention in systems.

So, back to our little moth.

Why are we stuck on the other side of the glass even though the door is wide open to us?

The moth gives us one answer — she is blinded to what blocks her from the world. And us human beings can be pretty oblivious to all the patterns, fears, biases and thought processes that keep us trapped in the same place.

I’d like to close with one last story that illustrates this with a certain poetry. Indulging in a little creative license, I move from the moth to its close cousin, the butterfly.

Something bizarre happens before a butterfly emerges from the chrysalis. Right before its darkest hour, when its nebulous, vulnerable, tiny form is slowly undergoing the irreversible metamorphosis that is about to change its life forever — a battle takes place.

Certain groups of cells wake up from a deep slumber. They start to glow more brightly. Somehow, they know what is to come, what needs to happen, what they are here to do — that a butterfly needs to be born.

They group together, saying, “Hey guys! We’re about to become a butterfly! How cool!” and begin to wake up the other cells in the dormant cocoon. Only — there’s a catch. The rest of the organism freaks out. It thinks these awakened cells are trying to kill it off; indeed, their previous form of existence is about to change forever. The cocoon is so warm, so cosy. It is all they know. But, as the laws of physics so tellingly teach us, everything is subject to a catalytic process of transformative disturbance. Of constant flow and change. To just “remain where you are” invites in not only stagnation but disease. All transitions can be deeply uncomfortable, of course, but this is hardly a reason not to transform into our soaring potential selves.

The imaginal cells know that a butterfly is a system upgrade to the messy goo of the larva. They can see outside that pane of glass and are trying to fly out.

The butterfly has a happy ending. Take a walk in the park. Remind yourself that butterflies exist. And then, ask:

How do we want our story to go?

What do we need to let go of in order to emerge from the beautiful, protective chrysalis that serves us no longer?

And, importantly, what do we want to fly towards?

Learning Journeys | Ecological Literacy | Author, poet, wilderness guide | Investor | Co-founder Atlas Unbound, Ground Effect (alexafirmenich.com)

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