The Chaos Before the Butterflies

Rev. Carolyne Mathlin, Senior Minister

I recently discovered that some of the leaves on my geranium plants had been chewed up. When I first noticed the issue, there were only a couple of leaves that had been chewed. I dismissed it as evidence of a caterpillar’s one-time meal and didn’t think much of it. Over the next couple of days, however, it was obvious that all three of my plants had been the site of a major feast. When I realized the extent of the destruction, I first wanted to search for the culprits – and kill them. Since I couldn’t easily find any and I was needing to leave the house, I gave them a stay of execution. But I kept pondering my new houseguests. I began to wonder if those caterpillars were in fact the kind that would turn into butterflies. Not everything that munches on my leaves will turn into the elegant creatures that I love to watch gliding around my back yard, but there is a chance.
Depak Chopra says “all great things are preceded by chaos.” There seems to be a lot of that chaotic energy in the air recently. Whether I’m looking at my personal life and the technological chaos I’ve experienced recently. Or the changes at church over the last several months, most recently with our full staffing plan review and the impending departure of Mary Jeanne Hawes from her role as Director of Ministry Operations. And even national and international events that continue to weigh on my heart and mind. Just like my curiosity if the caterpillars will turn into butterflies, I wonder if all this chaos and change is in service to something clearer, purer and an even more brilliant expression of love and wisdom. But what to do in the mean time?
I look back at my first response upon realizing the extent of the damage to my geraniums. I wanted to kill the culprits. When we notice change or chaos, how often is our first response to try and control it, to “fix” the problem, even if the action is drastic. Yes, there are times when a quick fix is the answer. There are many other times when there is no quick fix. Wisdom helps us distinguish between the two categories. Plus, if you do try and fix something and it doesn’t work, or makes the situation worse, there’s a high probability you are in the middle of a process, not a problem to be fixed.
We are all attuned to energy, some of us more than others. Conscious or unconscious, we are all influenced by our environment, whether it be the planets or our physical location in any moment. Identifying who or what we can blame and trying to eliminate that element is rarely the long-term solution because it disregards the more subtle (and powerful) patterns at play. The ability to witness these patterns and work directly with them through shadow work, spiritual direction, and spiritual study are where the true transformation will begin to take place. The seeming chaos and destruction will continue to show up until we see and behave differently. For example, have you noticed in your own life that if you have an issue around rejection you’ll experience that over and over again throughout your life? The situations, the people, the decade might change, but the pattern remains. At some point we hopefully realize that there is something else going on. It’s not just everyone else doing this to us. We are holding a thought or perspective that is seeing rejection and until we address that subtle thought the pattern will continue. Our previous experience hasn’t been wrong and our coping mechanisms have served a purpose, but when we have the eyes to see the pattern itself, there is an opportunity for something new to be realized.
That’s why killing or using a person/situation as the scapegoat doesn’t really work. It’s not actually about them. There are energetic patterns at play that require our consciousness to see and work with them at metaphysical and spiritual levels. Chaos has the potential to birth great things, but it is not guaranteed. It takes our conscious willingness to choose to see what is happening at the energetic level.
This is one of the reasons I’m so excited to welcome Terry Patten to Unity of Tustin. He is one who holds the perspective of integration where we work with all that is arising in our life and in the greater world with “profound, inclusive, caring intelligence and commitment, not mere calculation. Only mighty, multidimensional, whole-being intelligence, anchored in the heart, has a hope to meet the challenges of our time” ( The core of Terry’s work is around the Integral Heart. He says the Integral Heart “Explicitly emphasizes the connection of consciousness, care and embodiment. It stands in the inseparability of the intelligence of the Integral impulse with the unified, awakened feeling awareness associated with the heart and the body.” I highly encourage you to mark your calendars and get your tickets for all three days he is here so you can experience the fullness in your own life of what Terry is offering.
Ultimately everything is included. Transformation is in process if we can see it as that, if we can consciously participate in it. When we see the destruction and chaos in our lives as things to control to fit our view of reality, we fundamentally retard the process of transformation and our ability to be with what is actually happening. This part of the process has been called the great undoing. It is about surrender and creation.
As I have continued my inner exploration I have begun to see the destruction to my geraniums with new eyes. So I’ve decided to let the process continue, chewed up leaves and all, in hope that there will be butterflies. Most likely I will never know if those caterpillars in my geraniums really turned into butterflies or not. I might be able to track their life cycle and search for signs of the pupa stage. But really, in this case, and in the changes at church and in the world, what is most important is that I stay present to the process, constantly checking in on the patterns at play and the choice points along the way. It is fruitless to lament the past, wishing things were different. The invitation in the midst of the transformational process is to be truly present with an Integral Heart. And then, watch for the butterflies…