Contemplating the Caterpillar

green caterpillarBy Tiffany A. Dedeaux

Insects are opportunists, enduring, and possess an uncanny wisdom for doing what humans do, but more efficiently, according to Ted Andrews in Animal Speak. What is the message to me? I grew so hot in the unsavory spring heat, that I opened my office window. Once, when I turned to look outside, I noticed a golden-flecked caterpillar crawling on the window screen. ‘Huh,’ I thought. ‘How’d he get inside?’ All windows and doors had been closed, and all screens were in-tact.

“Life only becomes more difficult…when we resist its natural flow.”

Is it possible that the caterpillar is telling me to go, inch-by-inch, along this row that’s been so tough to hoe? I have asked other business owners what it takes to succeed and, once all ideas are exhausted as ones that I’ve tried, I have been told to wait.

The secret is time. ‘But how long?’ I finally asked, frustrated. ‘Weeks? Months? Years?’ caterpillarYears. On average reports are that businesses take 3-5 years to establish a foothold or fail. I am not sure why I forgot this fact. Perhaps it is easier to do the back-breaking work when your head is down and you’re not looking at the long row of time ahead.

Next time I looked at the window screen, a white material draped from the corner to the caterpillar. ‘Maybe he’s weaving a cocoon,’ I thought, going back to work with the slight hope that I could witness his metamorphosis.

“This the second stage of metamorphosis, the second key to creating and manifesting anything….to making the changes that facilitate or carries on life.”

If the egg is the idea and the caterpillar is the work, I am creating a business, trying to manifest a utopia of satisfied workers. Interestingly, this is the second stage of metamorphosis, the second incarnation of my business, and the second time I’m doing all the things I think I’m supposed to do…

When next I looked at the window screen, a spider was charging toward the caterpillar. ‘That’s not a cocoon, it’s a web!’ The caterpillar broke free and continued to roam around the window screen as the spider and the web disappeared. ‘He’s too strong for the web,’ I thought, in reference to the caterpillar.

“Many people fail at life because they try to accomplish the great all at once, rather than building and doing a little at a time so that it becomes great over time.”

As I contemplate what it means to wait, someone astutely points out that all the people who told me to wait are the ones who never quit. I have moved locations at least once, and that’s had me thinking I stepped far out in front of my vision. Perhaps I am being told to do a little at a time…

The last time I saw the caterpillar he was crawling on the rug on the floor. I scooped him up in a piece of paper and set him out on the front porch next to the garden.

“Change ensures growth. We have to shed the old before we can come into the new.”

My idea is this new carnation of my business as a Career Coach. I’ve been asked about being a video editor and I’ve had to explain that technology is such that everyone thinks they can edit. It doesn’t matter that I spent more than a decade training my eye, with an Emmy on my mantle to remind me of my work. This is not the Age of Expertise, as some career trend reports said would be the case. This is a time of doing for yourself…of having your own experience…of creating with your own hands.

I have been asking other business owners, what have I been missing? The last time I focused on my business it took off on the wings of one contract with one large company. I knew that was not the way for sustained flight. This time the building of my company is more deliberate, more an expression of my way in the world and not the art that would enliven it. More like the steady, slow movement of a caterpillar: full of promise and slow with definite answers.

When I conceived of this version of my business, a ladybug stopped me and compelled me to consider this path of awareness. She appeared periodically in my locked office, at just the right time for me to know that ‘yes, I had a good moment,’ and ‘yes, coaching is the path for me.’

black caterpillar

Now I have this visit from a caterpillar. What am I to think? Andrews would have me know that the caterpillar, with the spinning of its cocoon, ‘works to strengthen itself and achieve its foundation.’ I, as is evidenced by my visitor, am beyond the idea stage. I am in what I’ve referred to as the opportunity stage where, like an idea, things ‘need to be worked with, shaped, formed, developed, and honed.’ I am in the building and strengthening stage, creating the foundation of this enterprise. When I am done, the Age of Chrysalis can begin.

“Everything we create in life has to go through stages.”

Broken Circle

By Tiffany A. Dedeaux

The difference in the last 4-5 years of living with loss is that my husband has gone from being rocked by movies dealing with grief similar to his own, and now he can appreciate the beauty of the story.  The most recent movie we watched that dealt with grief and loss was Broken Circle Breakdown, a movie that jumps around in time but focuses on the beginning and end of one particular couple who conceive and eventually lose their child to cancer.

The beauty of the movie, for me, was in how the breakdown was illustrated, obviously written by someone who’s experienced such a loss.  There were three aspects to the story that also stuck with me:  The metaphor of the broken circle and the appearance that the circle could be mended, how the love of America mirrors the experience of dreams meeting reality, and the role the rest of nature can have in helping us cope or in helping us find the words to express what we’re experiencing.

Broken Circle

Broken Circle

Near the end of the movie the father tells the mother that the circle is broken, their daughter is dead and not coming back.  What I realized also towards the end of the movie was that, in a performance with their bluegrass band, the father in his pain was reaching out to the mother, his wife.  In her grief the mother continued to reach for the daughter they lost.  This illustrates the broken circle, yet at the same time if the mother could have found the strength to reach back toward the father, there would have been a chance the circle could have been mended through adjustment.

The parents were content as a couple when the pregnancy was discovered, but once there was a baby the couple would never be the same which is why there is an argument that you can’t go home again.  When you return you see with new eyes, expanded by your experience so nothing will or could be as it was before.

Broken Circle Dreams and RealityDreams Meet Reality

The father loved America so this foreign film had parts that were in English, including the musical performances.  There were also seemingly random clips of American media coverage of 9/11 and President George W. Bush’s veto of the stem cell research bill.  This randomness makes sense when you consider that the father loved America because he saw us as a land of dreamers, and once he accepted the pregnancy he was living the dream.  The dream turned into a dark reality with his daughter’s illness and death.  The vetoing of the stem cell bill was such a deeply personal wound for him, not only because it came from America, but because he felt science, the science that could have saved his daughter’s life, was being unnecessarily held back in the name of morality.

Solace in Nature Broken Circle Poster

Another interesting point of the story and my reaction to it had to do with the rest of nature.  I never considered the father an atheist even though he didn’t believe in life after death and railed against God with a nod toward evolution.  I don’t know why that didn’t hit me, but maybe it was because he still had faith in something even if it didn’t match that of his wife or daughter.

It was the daughter who witnessed a crow flying into a pane of glass and dying.  She picked it up and wouldn’t let it go.  The father tried to take it to throw it away, calling it ‘dirty.’  The daughter, I felt, knew she was dying or at least at Death’s door and was struggling to come to terms with it.  I felt there was a connection in how he was handling the death of the crow and how the daughter thought he would handle her death.  The father eventually had a talk with his daughter.  She told him she believed the crow was now a star and he let her believe that.

While in the hospital for treatment the father was encouraged by the daughter to tell the story of the stars.  He talked about how by the time we saw the light of the stars they were already gone; but the light didn’t stop with us.  It kept going, shining on forever.  I thought this was a brilliant way to see his child’s life, whether or not he recognized it, and could also be a fabulous way to think about the people we have lost.

Lost and Found

On a few occasions while writing this I realize that as an alternative to saying someone’s died I want to say that they are lost.  This is not in the literal sense, but that they are lost to us as we have known them.  Or, perhaps, we are lost as we deal with this change in relationship.  My idea with Living With Loss is that those who have died are still with us, just in a new way.  The daughter lost the crow but found it in the stars.  The father stayed grounded but could have found his daughter in the light of the star.  The mother lost the daughter but seemed to find her in a crow sitting outside the window.  If everyone let the other believe as they felt inclined, as the father had with the daughter, the circle could also have been born again as the mother seeing her daughter in the crow, the daughter seeing the crow (herself) as the star, and the father seeing the light of the star as living forever…

What made the father strong, what he found as he reached for the mother who kept pulling away, I cannot say.  What I do realize now is that there is amazing grace in experiencing loss and finding something new to hold onto.

In your experience with grief and loss, what have you found?  How has it changed over time?

A Big Year: Count Rather Than Kill

My husband came across a movie perfect for the topic of narrative ecopsychology.  It’s called Big Year and stars Jack Black, Steve Martin, and Owen Wilson.  It’s perfect because it’s a movie about embracing the rest of nature and how important those experiences can be (if you ignore a sometimes out-of-balance sense of competition).  The premise is a birding ‘competition’ meant to inspire people to count rather than kill as many birds as they can in a given timeframe.

For me the powerful aspects of this movie are not just the focus on the rest of nature but the different angles of the various stories.  In fact, in the end they literally show you pictures of all the species of birds seen during the competition.  At another point we even follow the plight of one particular hummingbird and how storms can create challenges in their regular migration patterns.  The narrator goes so far as to say ‘you can’t prepare for bad weather’ which often requires that you ‘work twice as hard to go twice as far.’

And then there is the story of the human animal…  The movie states, at one point, that ‘men never stop competing’ because if they do, like sharks who stop moving, they’ll die.  The movie shows how competitive even the experiences in nature can be, so that raises a flag for me that we must also hold the intention to balance consumption with appreciation.  It is interesting that in the end of the story I saw that those who were not completely consumed with the one goal of counting birds and also made room for connecting with other people seemed to have a richer, fuller life.

Each of the men involved are looking to do something big that year.  Owen’s character wants to set the pace and ensure no one breaks his record.  His identity is tied to that accomplishment.  It’s cost him human companionship and I’m truthfully not sure if he is having a quality outdoor experience or just a quantity counting experience.  The best part of his story is that he broke the traditional boundary and didn’t just go birding in the United States.  Nothing shifts a perspective or opens up to a deeper appreciation than doing something you’ve never done before.  It seems it is best not to not ‘just stay on the beaten path.’

Steve Martin’s character has a journey that helps him realize he can let go of the career he built for himself and still be full of life and connecting with others in more meaningful ways.  In fact, I think it takes his time in nature to fully be ready to let go of his professional life and embrace retirement.  That is why I focus on Elders in both a transitioning life phase as well as a transitioning career phase.

Jack Black’s character comes across as a nerd to his friends and a failure to his family until he tells the tale of his adventures to his ailing father.  Realizing his son’s lived more in several months than he has in a lifetime they go out together to see an owl in its natural habitat.  This is a moment where Jack comes to realize his connection to his father and his father, having finally had a great adventure, has something he can’t stop talking about.  This has me wondering if the people in our lives who constantly criticize and have very little else to say are not truly living themselves.

Something else this movie has made me think about are the different requirements for migration each bird must meet.  Some must lose weight before the journey while some must gain.  This is why, as birds or as people, we cannot judge the journey of another because we may not fully appreciate the things that are required. Think about it.  What does your migration pattern require of you?

For this to be a big year for you, what must you avoid killing and what must you count?

Honoring Our HiSTORY: The Elements of the Narrative

By Tiffany A. Dedeaux

The same basic elements of life can be seen as the same basic elements of an event, ceremony, or examining a story based on (narrative) ecopsychology principles.  This is not to limit an experience but to ensure, as in The Fifth Sacred Thing by Starhawk, that the voice of the earth is included so that we “tap into other sources of wisdom that might provide the resonance that help” us find the meaning we seek.


The earth can represent the formation of the land, the systemic purpose, or a creative metaphor.  As I already mentioned, the Gullah Geechee lived on the barrier islands.  The islands themselves were interesting because they served as protection for the mainland against the storms that raged.  The islands also protected inhabitants from outside influence which allowed the Gullah Geechee to maintain much of their native culture.  In considering that, as spokesperson Marquetta ‘Queen Quet’ Goodwine said, “if these islands are damaged or destroyed, eventually whatever happens here hits you.”  That proved true when the waterways were later contaminated hurting both the local and regional fishing industry.  This can lead to a broader meditation point that what we do to the earth we do to ourselvesIf we pollute the earth we ultimately pollute ourselves.  At the same time, if we care for the earth we also care for ourselves.


Air can be the story of the person or people involved in a situation or a great opportunity to include the story of the indigenous inhabitants of a region as well.  It is one thing to go and experience the tourist section of the islands and have it tell the tale of your family vacations.  It is another thing entirely to realize that those same shores were where Africans were dropped off and sold.  The desire to return home was so strong that, according to Queen Quet, at Ebo Landing some ancestors walked across the ocean in order to get back home.  Another interesting meditation point is how knowing an indigenous story could change your experience of a place.


Desire, passion, or purpose is represented by fire.  After experiencing the earth, hearing and telling the stories, what do you feel compelled to do?  For Queen Quet, finding out about her ancestors and realizing that her people were continuing to lose the land they inherited inspired her to educate everyone about their property rights.  Being a link to their ancestors is why Elder Carlie Towne and Elder Halim Karim Gullahbemi created the Gullah Geechee Foundation.  What does the story of your ancestors ignite in you?


Water symbolizes mirroring, spirituality, or reflection.  It was the water around the Sea Islands that helped those brought over on the slave ships feel at home because they could continue to worship as they had.  Elder Towne said, as part of the 2003 reunion, it’s important to take care of the community because “I am just a reflection of you.”  This goes back to how we care for the earth we care for ourselves.   We reflect the earth community just as the earth community reflects what is in us.  As a metaphor water in a gathering represents time of reflection or the mirroring that takes place in council.  This time to think, to hear your own voice, or hearing your voice reflected back to you can be the most powerful and inspiring part of a gathering.  It is my favorite part of the quest and of coaching.  What was the insight that came up the last time you had a moment to reflect?

Think back to the events that left you wanting more and the events that were most powerful.  I would argue that those powerful events, those that are life changing, included the four elements of life.  If done right those four elements feed the fifth element…the fifth sacred thing…and that is your spirit.

Honoring our HiSTORY: The Molecules of the Narrative

By Tiffany A. Dedeaux

I thought it would be a great moment to stop and reflect on how and I put story and ecopsychology together.  As part of my Masters’ thesis I edited together a documentary on the Gullah Geechee people focusing on their relationship with nature.  In the months it took to pull the work together I was already exploring how important story was to the human/nature relationship (i.e. narrative ecopsychology) so I used the metaphor of water to organize my thoughts and laid out three depths of understanding and engagement.  The first level is the molecules of the narrative which suggests that by examining the story, people, and place you get a context that could reveal the soul of the experience.

They tried to break my will by taking me from my family.

They tried to think that they could take what God had given unto me.

But they only rooted me deeper in the spirit you see. 

The People

The Gullah Geechee are slave descendants.  The Gullah, said to come from Angola, have maintained much of their language and spiritual practices.  The Geechee, who dealt more with outsiders, developed a bridge language in order to be understood.  As a people they were prized because, according to some members of the Gullah Geechee Nation, their genius allowed them to produce ‘greater than the great work of the Pyramid of Egypt,’ their physical ability allowed them to ‘plot the sky with their naked eye,’ and their skill with the trinity of cotton, rice, and indigo made them ideal to work the fields.

The Story

The story of slavery is what ties the Gullah Geechee to Liverpool, England where the slave ships were built; West Africa where their ancestors were loaded as ‘black cargo;’ and the United States where they were put to work.

The Place

The Gullah Geechee reside anywhere between North Carolina and Florida on the Sea Islands.  The Sea Islands act as barrier islands to protect the mainland United States but, because of the limited access, also served to protect those who inhabited the island from outside interference.

Look at your family’s relationship with nature.  What insights are revealed when you look at the people (or culture) involved, the places involved, and the stories that are being told?  If you’d like to explore this together, register for my coaching seminar Learning to Love.

Roar of Confidence

In a talk about tattoos someone showed me their image of tiger eyes looking through a butterfly shape.  Metaphors and imagery is a great way to remember and visualize your goals.  I wanted to reinvigorate my confidence in a new project so I held the intention to find an animal to represent my confidence and I went about my day.  In a moment I was sitting at my desk when I remembered that stunning tiger tattoo and suddenly I heard “you’re gonna hear me roar” playing on the radio in my mind.  The song was written by Katy Perry but I LOVE Olivia Henken’s version.   Suddenly I knew my confidence would be represented by Tiger and Tiger would “lead the way that I may know how to go confidently through my life.”

As if that were not enough to convince me that I had found my guide someone walked by me singing Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger, my husband always tells me to ‘go get ‘em tiger’ when I leave for the day, and tiger is my sign in Chinese astrology.  It remains to be seen what will become of my next journey but what a delightful way to be called into a new adventure. 

Think of one thing you want to work on or address in the coming weeks.  What image best represents who you are and who you want to be?

Storms of Life: Death and Movement

At this, the final stage of the storm, there is dissipation.  The winds die down and either move on or cease.  There can still be wind, rain, and clouds, but this is not necessarily the end.  Current conditions don’t promote growth, but a storm can regain its strength if the conditions improve.

What began as a stirring begins to wane, no longer sustained by momentum.  We either move on to what we want to accomplish, or express next, or we simply stop where we are and maintain a new status quo.  We may still be doing the things that brought about the change, but we are not as engaged or as active in making the change as we once were.

Now we can apply the changes we wanted to make.  We share what we’ve learned, what we’ve done, and we teach others how to do the same.  This is our vocation; our ministry.  This is the application of our ideas, the incorporation of all that we’ve learned and who we are now.

As with any storm we can become stuck or stalled.  The trouble with this is that flooding can result, as can fires from striking out or destruction in extreme events.  Incorporation is about returning to balance even if it is in a new normal.

What stage of storm are you engaged in with your life?  With your career?