Change, Time, Truth and Lessons from a Caterpillar

I recently turned 30, which, of course, is the start of a new decade in life. It’s something I have had a lot of mixed feelings about. Some good, some not so.

Of course, time marches on regardless of anyone’s feelings on the matter. Besides, what is age but a mindset? That and an irrefutable biological marker that you are indeed farther along from when you were born and closer to some kind of end, and maybe, possibly, something thereafter.

Here’s the thing, my internal existence is akin to a spiraling existential hurricane that has raged on from the age of 5 or so and can be best defined as an ever fluxing push and pull between a motivation to experience it all, living every moment to the fullest, and a crushing weight that makes engaging in the simplest of task feel like I’m hiking a mountain on Jupiter where the gravity is 2.4x that of Earth’s.

I’m semi-proud to say though that I have indeed found some ways to cope. I have found that the more I can learn about life, the natural world, the universe, all of existence really, the more secure I feel. The more accepting of our ultimate fate and that of all other living things. It gives me a perspective from which I can minimize (often to a fault) my own problems, needs, existence, and importance and look at myself as nothing more than a temporary speck of dust in the grand scheme of time and existence.

It’s a sensation that is simultaneously isolating while providing me with a sense of deep cosmic connection with all of everything. It helps me to not sweat the small stuff.

Or maybe that’s all just to keep my mind busy. Maybe I’m overcompensating for insecurities held deep down about my place in this world and, well, my own importance.

It also makes comprehending and coping with the “big” things that much more difficult. Politcs, climate, social justice. I look at it all and can’t help but feel helplessness for the future. We treat each other horribly and can’t seem to agree on anything even when it quite literally is a matter of saving our own existence.

I sound like great fun at parties, huh? I mean, I actually can be. My whole social personality is based around humor and trying to bring joy to other people, giving others what I can’t seem to give myself.

Combine all of that with an incessant need for validation from strangers and a sense that my life means nothing if I’m not constantly doing something or being of service to someone else and you’ve got a recipe for…well, me I guess. Whatever, whoever, I am.

Anyway, I promise this is going somewhere, although to where I’m not entirely sure.

I guess what I’m trying to say is I’m always thinking about the progression of time, cause and effect, our potential for subtle actions having unimaginable or unintended eventual impacts like the individual drops of a raging river, the interconnectedness of all life and non-life, and, I suppose, ways to cope with it all.

Writing, for me, is one way.

I’ve decided The Wild Life doesn’t have to be whatever it has been. It can be whatever I want it to be.

Maybe, just maybe, what I’ve always wanted it to be.

It can be a place for me to combine the inner turmoil with my passion and curiosity for the external world in an effort to better understand it all, myself included. Looking outward to see inward.

I’m 30 now. I have been for over 3 weeks. I have officially been alive for 10,964 days.

What does that even mean?

I mean, I’m only 30 on Earth.

On Mars where a year 687 days, I’d just be about to turn 16. On Jupiter, I would have just turned 1.

A year is but a journey around the sun. No matter the label, I’d look and feel the same.

Maybe days are a better way to measure the marching of time?

Nevertheless, I feel obligated to make each and every one of them count.

As tempted as I am to look at the marker of 30 as some sort of nexus point in my life, every day is just another day.

I have a lot of trouble comprehending fully the intensity of which some look at the transitioning of a calendar to be equivalent to that of a reset, or a metamorphosis. To me, January 1st has always just been another day in a string of days without any added significance. Part of why is that, for myself, if I try to do things like say “oh, I’ve got this goal, right? I’m going to start it Monday/next week/next month/on the 1st, etc”, it’s more so likely that I’m procrastinating and will inevitably not accomplish whatever goal that may have been to begin with.

Name any other animal that engages in this kind of self-afflicted psychological torture. One. Animals know changes in time through changes in the day to day, changes in the season, climate, and so on. They prepare, they migrate, they maybe even plan, but it’s all done moment by moment. Their existence is about meeting their basic needs first before anything else. I envy that sort of presentness, but I digress.

I definitely have made New Year Resolutions in the past, but I also make daily/hourly/weekly resolutions, at least typically, and it’s never worked for me. There’s no day like today and no moment like the present to just do the thing instead of planning to do it later. If I plan to do it later, my attention span or lack of motivation will ensure the thing doesn’t get done, or is done very last minute in a stressed-out scramble that destroys my ability to enjoy the said thing.

I feel like, at least for many, that the approach of a new year/month/week/milestone birthday gives us two things: 1) an excuse to postpone what we could begin now, and yet 2) hope for new beginnings.

New year, new you, right? Yet, what’s funny is that the you you want to be is already there. Today. In this moment.

Or at least this: there’s no need for a new you. As long as you desire to be someone else and set yourself goals in that mindset, you’re not going to be happy.

Happiness is not a goal post. You are amazing and beautiful the way that you are. You are who you are because of your life experiences. You are wise because of them. Your context is complex and the truth is, as hard as it is to accept, you don’t need to become a new you.

Exercising more, getting in shape, stopping drinking, getting out more, all of those things, don’t require a new you, they just require the you you are to either do, or do not, or somewhere in between.

You know why? Because none of those things actually define who you are. They are just things you either do, or do not. Changing what you do or do not isn’t changing yourself. It’s not creating a new you. Focusing on becoming a new you in order to accomplish your goals is like saying “remove my context, my past, my wisdom, my experience. Start me fresh with a whole new set of personality traits”. That’s silly. Instead, work within your context. Don’t focus on changing who you are. That’s nearly impossible. Change what you do or do not, by doing or not. That’s it!

Tap into your context. Tap into your motivations. Tap into who you are. Accept that person. Love that person. Only then are you truly going to change your habits and learn to be happy and grateful while doing so, not after. As long as you out happy and grateful on the other side of a goal, you will never reach it. That sound sad and depressing, until you realize that means happiness and gratefulness are already in your grasp.

It’s like the whole metaphor of the caterpillar and butterfly. Everyone always talks about how a caterpillar dissolves into goo and doesn’t know it but eventually becomes a beautiful butterfly. Aside from the fact that that interpretation shows people know very little about the behavior of the two (I’d much rather be a caterpillar, do you know what’s it’s like to be a butterfly?! It’s super gross, and kind of terrifying!), it also misses the most important part.

The caterpillar doesn’t change completely and become something or someone else. In fact, you know their cocoon? It’s actually called a chrysalis. Did you know it isn’t something they make from their surroundings and live inside of? It’s actually what lies beneath their skin. They shed their skin to reveal the chrysalis. Better yet, many of the structures that are now identifiable as butterfly traits can be found lying in wait inside of a caterpillar, or the basic framework for them already exists. Many of the parts actually don’t dissolve and simply continue or become slightly modified as the caterpillar transforms. It’s more of a glow-up than a complete change of who the butterfly is.

What I’m trying to say is this: the butterfly was inside all along. The caterpillar didn’t need to become something new, it’s unveiling who it’s always been.

So if anything, don’t become a new you this year. Instead, learn to love and accept the you that you are. Everything else will follow.

That’s right, Devon. I’m talking to you, too. 30 is only scary because it’s another day in the future and the future is unpredictable and unknown and there is this weird, constructed social pressure to do more and be more and have more. But today is just another day, and what day more perfect to learn to love yourself for who you are?

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