But I Miss The Caterpillar: My story of transformation and loss

February 1, 2018

Secure attachment to this moment is about finding safety, security, and perfect acceptance of what is, while still being free to miss what was, and long for what will be.

In 2017 I was given the opportunity to practice one of the more difficult principles we teach in Natural Lifemanship - Secure attachment is only found when we are able to feel an internal sense of connection during attachment with AND during detachment from important relationships.  The possibility that we can experience a deep sense of connection to others when we are physically alone is, oftentimes, difficult in theory and in practice.  I will share my personal story of growth, change, transformation, grief. . . and loss...extreme loss, and how our child helped me better understand that secure attachment extends beyond the relationship with self and others. We can also seek to find a secure attachment to this life and this moment, in general.  We can be “securely attached” to a thing, an idea, a moment, a belief. . . Secure attachment extends to “what is”, and that requires the ability to be connected to not only what is right here with us, but also what is gone, or not even here yet.

In Natural Lifemanship (NL) the way we conceptualize secure attachment, connection, attachment, and detachment are important.  Specific language and concepts help people effectively transfer learning organically and seamlessly between species and space.  This language also provides the space for abstract human concepts to become more concrete and physical, oftentimes making them easier to internalize.  Many times in NL physical concepts have an emotional counterpart and vice versa.  Attachment can be equated to the sharing of physical space.  Detachment can be thought of as exploring physical distance.  Both attachment and detachment can exist when there is a concrete felt a sense of connection, as well as an internal sense of connection. Alternatively, a sense of aloneness can prevail regardless of proximity.  Children and adults with a secure attachment pattern are able to feel connected and secure in their intimate relationships, while still allowing themselves and their partner to move freely (detachment).  It is this kind of relationship that we help people find with a horse – this is part of the reparative experience for our clients. . . and, I would say, for many of us as well.

More about attachment and detachment in therapy sessions can be found in this blog by Kate Naylor. More about how spiritual intimacy grows through connection with detachment can be found in this blog by Laura McFarland. When you sign up for Basic Membership you gain access to more than 5 hours of video demonstrating how attachment, detachment, and connection play out in a relationship that is built between horse and human + more online learning and many other benefits. View all of our membership content here.

But I Miss The Caterpillar...

A year ago, I was reading our two-year-old (almost three-year-old) a book called “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.”  On the last page when the caterpillar turns into a beautiful butterfly, our child said, “But where is the caterpillar?”  I reviewed the process the caterpillar had gone through in this sweet little book we’d read many times, and he said, “But I miss the caterpillar.”  We had a wonderful conversation about change and transformation. . . and loss.  You see, this conversation happened about two weeks after our nanny, Carolyn - “Kiki” to Cooper - died a sudden, tragic, unexpected, and untimely death.  Carolyn had been our full-time nanny, traveling with us as Natural Lifemanship was growing, since Cooper was 3 months old.  She was a member of our family, and like a second mother to me in every way.  She drove me crazy and I loved her dearly.  She made it possible for us to work in a field about which Tim and I are deeply passionate, while still spending as much time as possible with Cooper. . . something about which we’re even more passionate.  She helped us raise our child.  I think I’ll just repeat that again for emphasis.  She helped us raise our child.  She helped me, in very practical ways, navigate this whole working mom thing.  She loved Cooper and he loved his Kiki.  This was a major loss for our family – couched between and among more loss.  In the latter part of 2016 and throughout 2017 our family tragically, suddenly, and unexpectedly lost three more significant relationships.  We lost two more the “normal” way – it was expected and it was time, and still painful.  After my son and I talked about how change and transformation are often accompanied by grief and loss - in two-year-old language, of course - my little boy said, “I miss Kiki too.  AND I don’t wike (like) butterflies.”  At that moment, stories of Kiki walking the streets of gold, pain-free, with her mother and with her Jesus, did very little to offer me comfort. . . I must admit I agreed with my little philosopher.  I do believe death is the ultimate transformation, and I wasn’t particularly fond of butterflies at that moment either!

Death is also the ultimate detachment from the ones we love, and can result in disconnection. . . or not.   It takes many of us years to learn how to deeply connect with those we can see, hear, feel, and touch (attachment).  It is often much harder to find that connection when we are physically separated (detachment).  Connection with distance takes practice and intentionality and a willingness to sit in the pain of disconnection, for moments, instead of avoiding it.  It is a secure attachment that helps us navigate detachment and loss.   Typically death is much more painful when it results in disconnection.  I say typically because I do realize that sometimes death and disconnection are needed for healing and closure to occur.  Sometimes death makes it better.  There were moments this last year that I felt this disconnection. . . those are the moments when people describe agony worse than losing a limb. . . slowly. . . without any form of anesthesia.  I felt that kind of pain over the last year, many times.  I felt it in the moments that I could no longer remember someone’s hands. . . or hear their voice. . . or recall their smell.   Our child felt it the night he told me, “I don’t remember Kiki” and wept in my arms.  At the core of much developmental and attachment trauma, is an inability to find an internal sense of connection to others when together. . . through shared space and experience, eye contact, touch. . . this transfers to an inability to feel an internal sense of connection when there is distance.  Of course.  I continue to muddle through the agonizing moments of detachment and disconnection.  The freedom to “miss the caterpillar” guides me back to an internal sense of connection with relationships that meant so much to me, and mean so much to me. . . still.  Feeling “allowed” to miss what is gone helps us stay connected, even when detached.  Our freedom to grieve what once was and what will not be in the future opens us up to a connection in detachment.

However, 2017 definitely hasn’t been all about, what most would deem. . . loss.  It has been an amazing year for Natural Lifemanship.  We have grown, we have changed, and, I would argue, that we are in the midst of a massive transformation.  I’m experiencing how these concepts of attachment can be practiced in not only relationships, but also with ideas, businesses, and moments of our lives. I have always loved butterflies.  However, butterflies are sort of the end product, and they don’t really live all that long.  A close friend of mine recently pointed out that butterflies get all the credit, but that the caterpillar does all the work.  For Pete’s sake, The Very Hungry Caterpillar worked his little tail off to grow, and then he had to sit in a dark cocoon for two stinkin’ weeks!  Time in the cacoon isn’t just a long nap, by the way.  He worked hard!  The butterfly’s journey is really that of the caterpillar.  The growing pains of this year are no joke!  Sometimes I miss the simplicity of 8 years ago when it all began.  I miss the caterpillar, but I still long for the butterfly.  Transformation is always predicated on the death of something. . .which means that detachment is a vital part of life and growth. If we want to be securely attached - to a person, an idea, or a moment in time - we must have an internal sense of connection when we are attached and when we are detached.

To be securely attached to the present and the future we have to maintain a healthy connection to the present, and future, AND to the past - connection to what is and what was and what could be.  They all matter – that which I am attached to today and that which I have detached from – I need to be connected to both.  Secure attachment to this moment is about finding safety, security, and perfect acceptance of what is, while still being free to miss what was, and long for what will be (detachment).  This is at the crux of what we teach in NL.  We learn to find this through the relationship with our equine partner and then transfer this way of being in the world to every part of our lives.

Our business has changed.  Absolutely. We have grown up, matured, and deepened.  Transformation, indeed.    When Tim and I started this business almost eight years ago, we only dreamed about where we are today, but I still miss the caterpillar.  Doesn’t mean that I don’t fully love and accept where we are now.  Doesn’t mean I don’t long for the butterfly, but the caterpillar did a lot of work. (And still is!)

October 2017, in the midst of all this loss, Tim and I found out that we are going to have another baby!  It really is a miracle of grand proportions, a welcomed gift, and. . . a surprise.  We also found out just two days before our first ever conference, and before the busiest fall training schedule, we’ve ever had.  Can good news come at a bad time?  Well?  It did for me!  I am well aware of the transformative process every part of me is undergoing and will be undergoing as a result of this new life inside of me.  I am also very aware of the loss.  I kinda miss the naïve bliss of my first pregnancy.  I long for the butterfly.  I grieve the loss of the caterpillar, and I strive, each and every day to deeply revel in this beautiful moment.

This year has been all about transformation.  Our three year old has recently decided that butterflies are okay.  In fact, a few weeks ago he pointed to the body of a butterfly in our living room and said, “The caterpillar is still there.  It’s just different.”  After a long pause and a deep breath, he said, “But I still miss the caterpillar.”  This past year I thought we would have to teach Cooper about grief and loss – hopefully, we did guide him through this process a bit - but he taught me about transformation and true connection.  What a gift it has been to grieve with my child.  Secure attachment is about looking forward and looking back while maintaining a felt sense of connection now - Just like a child builds a secure attachment through this dance of looking forward and looking back, moving toward and moving away, all while feeling the satisfaction of safety and connection to self and others. . . at this moment.  I long for the butterfly and this lifelong transformative process, but I miss the caterpillar.  Secure attachment in our relationships can’t exist if we feel chronic disconnection when there is distance.  Likewise, a secure attachment to what is and to our future only exists when we find a healthy connection with the past.  I so look forward to 2018 – the growth, the change, the transformation . . . and the inevitable loss. . . and the beautiful connection that comes in the midst of it all.  I miss the caterpillar, and that is okay, because, really. . . I should.  Plus, our three-year-old says it’s okay!