The Threat of Transformation

In today’s New York Times, Richard M. Ryan and William S. Ryan write, “At least some who oppose homosexuality are likely to be individuals struggling against parts of themselves…” (Opinion: Homophobic? Maybe You’re Gay)


Fear of others is always at least in part a projection of our own shadows, fear of our own full human potential, who we might be if we relax the armor of identity that presumably protects us from the threat of Otherness.

The impulse to condemn–be it as a subtle judgment or more overt and extreme forms of attack–contains a kernel of intrigue, something about someone’s life or choices or behaviors or presentation that catches our eye or ignites some neglected, buried, or denied aspect of ourselves. On a simplistic level, it’s like the woman who denies her children sugar yet binges on hidden Snickers bars once they’re asleep at night. On a more insidious and dangerous one, we see this playing out every day on a political stage bloated with hypocrisy, narrow-mindedness, and double standards.

I’m reminded of the oft-quoted words of Carl Jung: “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”

Last week, I met up with a friend I had not seen in probably ten years, a beautiful yoga teacher. And as we sat and talked in Muddy Waters, she told me about a part of the metamorphosis process I had not known about before. When the caterpillar dissolves into goo, essentially dies in the cocoon, imaginal cells begin to grow. Researchers do not know where these come from, but they contain blueprints for the butterfly-to-be. As they multiply, the former caterpillar cells attack them, threatened by their existence, the old attempting to destroy the new. But the imaginal cells group together, eventually forming a bond too strong for the old cells to withstand.

(Or something like that; if you are some kind of biologist and have a better description of this process, please feel free to share it with us!)

Perhaps all phobias and “isms” are projections, each ugly attempt to take away the rights of others a distorted refusal of self-acceptance, a frantic clinging to the status quo. All of this plays out in our legal system, in our daily lives, and within each and every one of our bodies, psyches and souls.

I’m interested in what happens when we learn both to love the shadows and let them die. When we begin to recognize that what we’re attacking could actually be the cells of our own transformations.

And I’m especially curious to hear your thoughts and ideas about this. Please comment and share.

8 thoughts on “The Threat of Transformation

  1. Pamela says:

    Who we might be if we relax the armor of identity that presumably protects us from the threat of Otherness.

    This is so powerful and beautiful. As we are moving to a Marine base I am having to wrestle with my own fear and judgement of sOldiers and War which of course is the fear of my own warrior self. Thank you for this!!


  2. Renae C. says:


    What a powerful image, the fight against imaginal cells equating to the frantic clinging to the status quo. I think you are on to something. I’ve wondered myself if the increase in angry rhetoric, self-protective moves, and projection (so obvious to all except the ones projecting) that are playing out in the public eye don’t represent some sort of a last stand in defense of “the way of life as we’ve known it” by a privileged ruling class. Wrapping this image of transformation around all of it actually gives me a little hope that something beautiful really is struggling to be born. And it gives me hope that in the knowing and loving and letting die for my own self and in the joining of what is being born around me, I am indeed playing some small part in a metamorphosis.


  3. Dawn says:

    I’m interested in what happens when we learn both to love the shadows and let them die. When we begin to recognize that what we’re attacking could actually be the cells of our own transformations.

    I find this so powerful. How paradoxical to love them AND to let them die. Beautiiful thoughtful post. Perfect for today too!!


  4. Murray Schwartz says:

    I like the paradox: to love them AND to let them die. Only then can the separate lives of others play out in freedom. Prejudices are plural, and each projection entraps the other in a form of the prejudiced person’s desire. (See Elisabeth Young-Bruehl’s essential work, The Anatomy of Prejudices.”

    Beautiful and important statement, Jena. The book is on the way (share with Aviva and Pearl).


  5. krista says:

    i especially love this analogy because butterfly is my homeopathic constitutional remedy — coincidental? i think not. sharing this one — thanks!


  6. happynik says:

    I love these thoughts about the caterpillar and butterfly. So many times in my life I have found that to be true -that when something irritates me about someone, it has more to do with me than them. Sometimes it’s something I have been through and I know how hard it is to watch someone struggle and I feel helpless, because I truly believe you have to figure it out or be in the right place to understand it all on your own. You can’t tell someone something they are not ready to hearI don’t think it’s possible never to judge, but I do my damnedest not to hold it against them and practice unconditional love and forgiveness. It’s not always easy, especially if it’s something I haven’t forgiven myself for. Thank you for this.


  7. Kate says:

    I’ve recently been exploring this in trauma therapy. It goes along with the idea summarized in the phrase “the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know” in that it’s less scary to stay with something bad but familiar.

    In my case, it seems like some of my trauma may be ready to join my history in it’s proper chronology rather than following me around as a puppy-like, ick-cloud. But this is scary because part of me believes that it’s ever-present nature is like a shield protecting me from the same trauma. This isn’t true in reality. And also, I’ve carried it so long, I’m not sure I know who I am without it. And there is a lot I have gained through its lens.



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