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Peace in a Pod

Here at Treargel, the garden is growing exponentially. This is amazing apart from the bits we don't want to grow, namely the hogweed, our nemesis!

Martyn in the Treargel garden, chopping down a tall hogweed plant.
Martyn attacking our hogweed

I am currently reading a short book, Chrysalis: The hidden transformation in the journey of faith by Alan Jamieson. I say reading, slowly consuming is perhaps more apt. Some books have to be savoured I find. It is a fascinating description of life and faith as a series of stages; using the wonderful analogy of the caterpillar, chrysalis and butterfly. As I am going through a series of life changes myself; swapping careers, looming menopause, teenagers flying nests, faith evolving, etc, there are so many aspects to this analogy I find illuminating.

Jamieson describes the caterpillars, consuming everything in their path, excited about life and moving forward. Like us, when we first decide what our passion, faith or vision of life is going to be. Happily munching through 1 apple, 2 pears, 3 cakes … (Oh sorry, that’s another book;). The caterpillar then, through some deep instinct, suddenly stops eating, attaches to a leaf, and makes itself into a chrysalis. Here it ceases to have a form as such and turns into goo (that's the technical term). For many of us, this seems like a backward motion. Formlessness and apparent death is not fruitful, it’s not ‘reaching’ anyone, and is not productive. It goes against our Western Protestant Work Ethic; to be sitting still, hiding in the dark, waiting for what? In my faith background, if you are not going forward then it is presumed you are backsliding, something that is very much frowned upon.

However, Jamieson points out;

‘The metamorphosis of the chrysalis, like the seed planted in the ground, is a process of both death and new life. The time of the chyrsalis is a tomb time: the time of cocooning before the miracle of new form. What is happening is a biological miracle’. (P51)
Our dog on the garden sofa asleep.
Neo mulling

Unfortunately, dark tomb times, spent in doubt or pain, don't often feel like a 'biological miracle'. Not knowing when or if there will be light at the end of the tunnel or why we are in the tunnel in the first place, is hard. But Jamieson argues that these times are important and necessary. And, apologies for the promo, but we would love Treargel to be a refuge for people while they go through this. A safe place to cocoon for a while. Bed down, sleep for hours, ask the difficult questions, mull. (What a great word, who has time to ‘mull’ these days?) A place where we can step out of our normal lives and re-think what we are doing, or ‘re-check where we are on our life maps’ as I was encouraging a recent group down in the Dell. A place that is quiet, peaceful, comfortable and beautiful.

Two Treargel mugs
Retreat in a mug

I know it is a luxury to have the time and money to go on a retreat. But if I can’t get away, then I steal some time out with a coffee, go for a walk or simply lie on my bed. (Why do I use the word ‘steal’? I obviously still feel guilty about it, for some reason).

Not that all times of change are painful and dark, but they are generally a confusing and liminal space. Times when we are unsure we’re doing the right thing. For example, I struggle at the moment to know when my teenagers need a hug or a kick up the arse! To be there for them or let go? Probably ‘both/and’ as Rohr would say. Change is also generally undefined and doesn’t fit into a neat programme. For example; can anyone tell me exactly when and how long is menopause?

But perhaps part of this dark cocoon time is simply acknowledging we feel pain, anxiety or that difficult change is happening. As we wait patiently, or rather, impatiently in the dark, simply acknowledging can seem pointless. But it has been shown (mentally, psychologically and spiritually) to help heal and support us as we go through hard times. See Padraig O Tuama on Saying Hello, the Welcoming Prayer or Sacred Pause.

(Apologies, I failed to get a butterfly picture, they are all too quick! Can you identify what's on my sleeve?)

As I am nearing the end of the book, Jamieson encourages the traveller (of stages) to brave coming out of the chrysalis. So we can rebuild ‘a new way of living: a way of living which is congruent with our deepest sense of ourselves and what we desire to do and be in the world.’ This is a deeply personal and difficult time, he says. A time of struggle, that is necessary and can’t be done by anyone else. (Though can be supported by non-judgemental and understanding friends accompanying us.) This struggle needs time and space because, and he cites Parker Palmer in saying,

‘The soul speaks its truth only under quiet, inviting, and trustworthy conditions’. Like a wild animal, the soul is, ‘tough, resilient, savvy, self-sufficient, and yet exceedingly shy’. We have to be willing to be quiet and wait for a bit, ‘to catch a glimpse of the precious wildness we seek’. (P74)

It's true, I find it difficult to ‘hear' my soul when life is noisy and crazy (most of the time;) and need to take time out to listen and pause. (Here she goes again, plugging retreats) But I love the idea of ‘inviting and trustworthy conditions’, places and people, who encourage and give us space to wrestle out of our cocoons.

I would like to find these for myself and to offer them to others, I hope somehow, you can too.

Well, I am looking forward to the butterfly part of the book (and my life?) but for the moment, I will try to be content with pausing, growing and wrestling in the darkness of my cocoon. Here's to the messiness of living as goo.


A leaf with holes in it.
Chewed hogweed

n.b. Google tells me ‘cocoons are specific to moths, while chrysalises are formed by butterflies’. Plus, caterpillars seem to love hogweed! Apparently, it’s ‘An absolute magnet’ for all kinds of insects and thus great for birds and the general ecosystem.

Hurrah! Don’t worry Martyn, sit down and have a coke instead, we'll call it re-wilding and taking part in the Circle of Life.

At Treargel most guests spend time on their own, in peace, quiet and tranquillity.

But sometimes we do gather together.

I’ll leave you something to ponder.

Henri Nouwen says about living with pain;

‘It is better to feel your wounds deeply than to understand them … we cannot cover the hurts of our hearts with the bandages of our mind’.


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