Two Practices Useful For Stepping Off The Edge

This is an excerpt from my forthcoming (and yet to be titled) book in collaboration with Patti Digh

Photo by Paulo Brabo


Two Practices

There must be a moment when the butterfly, newly emerged from the cocoon, virgin wings gently flapping, untested and unknown, releases for the first time its hold on the branch; it cannot know what will happen because it has never experienced flight and yet it lets go. It steps into space. Can you imagine? The earthbound caterpillar following an internal imperative, an impulse devoid of sense-making, weaves a chamber around itself and falls into a deep sleep, fully protected, safe and warm. When it awakens it is profoundly changed. Does it wonder, “who am I?” Its once comfy cocoon is now a complete misfit for its body, a giant cramped in a kid’s bed it wrestles mightily to be free of this tight chamber. Once free of its wrapping it shakes and stretches its new body for the first time – and recognizes nothing about itself. Had it a mirror it would gape at its reflection looking for some remnant of its former self. Nothing in its experience has prepared it for a body with wings. Nothing in its experience has prepared it for that first big step into space. And, at the same time, every impulse in its body says, “Let go! See what happens!” The same imperative that drove the caterpillar into the cocoon fulfills itself in when the butterfly steps into space.


We do not underestimate how difficult it is to step out of the cocoon of the story you tell yourself about yourself though, if you are reading this book, you are probably like the newly minted butterfly still locked in the cocoon of an old story. You are following an inner imperative that makes no intellectual sense. If you are like the rest of us you daily ask yourself, “What am I doing?” Following an inner imperative necessarily comes with struggle because, like the butterfly, it requires you to leave the safety and comfort of everything you know and step into a new way of being that makes no sense from the old perspective. The struggle to be free of the cocoon is necessary – in fact it is vital to the growth and survival of the butterfly. In fact, if you help a butterfly out of its cocoon, if you try to eliminate the struggle, you will kill it. The inner imperative requires an obstacle and this is true in every process of transformation.


To help you begin the process of wrestling your way out of the old story we offer these two practices that are helpful in the struggle – these are the first of sixteen practices and form the foundation upon which all the others are built. And as is true of every practice we offer, you will only benefit from them if you practice them. They are practices; they are not inert concepts:


Have the experience first and then make meaning of the experience second. Much of what we ask you to do won’t make sense until the end of the series. Making meaning second is actually how things work naturally with your brain and yet we find most people invested in the idea that they need to make sense of something BEFORE they try it; that’s folly and will keep you in the cocoon forever. It’s the equivalent of the butterfly standing on the branch saying, “No Way! I’ve never done this before! I don’t care what the rest of you do but this caterpillar is keeping its belly safe on the ground!” Following an imperative rarely makes sense until after you step off the branch. So, we ask that you suspend your need to know, your need to control, your need to be right and open yourself to having experiences that may or may not make sense.  We promise the meaning will emerge – it always does. Practice having the experience first and then make meaning of the experience second.


All significant learning happens at the edges of your comfort zone. Think about it: it is generally uncomfortable to “not know.” In fact, most people go to great lengths to create the illusion that they know because to “not know” is vulnerable. The first thing we do when we are uncomfortable is to judge ourselves and/or others, usually both. When you go into judgment you impede your capacity to learn. Self-judgment creates a thick blanket of fog around you; it’s one of the most dense stories you can generate and (obviously) obscures your capacity to see. Ironically, most of us have an inner superhero that tells a great story about what it does in the face of danger but has no idea of what it really does when uncomfortable. The second practice is to suspend your judgments and learn: witness what you actually do at the edges as opposed to what you think you do. Suspending your judgments allows you to see and honor your choices: running away is just as valid as jumping over the edge or standing very still –  they are valuable because they are conscious choices available to you whey you give yourself the gift of not having to know. Suspending your judgment affords you the privilege of learning something new.

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