The cocoon

By Paulo Coelho

The great Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis (“Zorba the Greek”) tells us that once when he was a boy he noticed a cocoon stuck to a tree, with a butterfly was about to be born. He waited a while, but it was taking so long, so he decided to warm the cocoon with his breath. The butterfly finally emerged but its wings were still stuck together and it died soon afterwards.

“I just couldn’t wait for the sun to complete the necessary process of patient maturation,” says Kazantzakis. “That small corpse is until this very day one of the heaviest burdens on my conscience. But that’s what made me understand what a true mortal sin is: trying to force the great laws of the universe. We have to have patience, wait for the right time and then follow confidently the rhythm that God has chosen for our lives.”

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  1. Ian Barnes says:

    In Gestalt therapy we say “Don’t interfere in the field”. Same thing.

    Sometimes it’s right to act; sometimes it’s right to stand back and let things happen. The hard thing is knowing which is which.

    We see a butterfly struggling to get out of its cocoon and want to help. But if we help it, we prevent it from achieving its potential. (Apparently there’s a scientific explanation: the butterfly needs the struggle. As it squeezes out through the narrow opening in its cocoon, its blood gets forced out into its wings and inflates the ribs that support them. Without that, it won’t be able to fly.)

    On the other hand, if we see a small child struggling in deep water, we know that if we just stand back and allow things to happen, the child will drown. Same with the man lying in the street near Copacobana in one of Paulo’s stories that I read recently. Everyone wanted to just walk by and ignore him, but he desperately needed Paulo’s help.

    So “stand back and let things happen” or alternatively “don’t interfere in the field” is not useful as a general principle to live by, but rather as one possibility to bear in mind.

    Of course, at least in “Western” culture, we have developed a very strong tendency to always prefer action over inaction, so this story is a really important balancing force. But don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater: sometimes you must act.

    How to decide then? We can’t always know. Kazantzakis acted with the best intention: to help something weak that appeared to be in trouble. And without being omniscient, that’s all we can ever do. We put our whole heart into making our choices, striving to do the best we can for ourselves and others. Acting, or not, with as much love as we can.

    And then paying attention to the consequences and learning from them, rather than allowing ourselves to be paralysed by remorse.

    Best wishes,


  2. JARRIER says:

    A ousadia de querer mudar o curso natural do universo é uma tentativa de “brincar de Deus”. Por melhor que sejam as intení§íµes, o universo simplesmente progride conforme tempo e espaí§o. O universo ní£o tem desejos, idéias, etc. Ele vai anda independente do conceito “penso, logo existo”. O universo simplesmente existe…
    Abraí§os, Jarrier

  3. amazin69race says:

    “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven” [Ecclesiastes 3:1]

    And there is no more for me to say. Everything will be on its time. Forcing it means ruin the rhythm, the rhythm that GOD has created.

    So, just be patience .. there is time for everything.

    love for all,

  4. THELMA says:

    I just wanted to add that the Greek name for a butterfly is PHYCHE= Ψυχή= SOUL.
    The cocoon symbolizes the material life and then ..the butterfly flies towards the Sun, the Light, free ..

  5. molly says:

    Nice. Really nice. I see people in my life trying to force things to happen and not letting them grow in their own time, and out of this comes suffering. I like what Rainer Marie Rilke had to say…”everything is gestation and bringing forth.”

  6. Paula from U.S. says:

    I just thought that it’s a beautiful story with deep meaning. There’s always a time under the sun and we need to wait until the fruit is ripe… sometimes in the rush to get through daily life we forget to “live” life… to feel God’s rythm, which is so different from ours. Just to take a moment to breath in and look around, be a sentient being, aware of our surrounding, the buildings, the warmth in the air, the sunlight as it passes through the trees, the murmuring crowd, the expressions on people faces, the sound of children’s voices in the distance… all in one breath, it allows us to feel part of something bigger and synchronize our rythm with God’s. It’s just beautiful to think like this! Sad for the buttefly, but the right sacrifice to pay for such a timeless teaching. Love and peach to all.

  7. De aquí­ deduzco dos casas:
    1º que hay que esperar siempre a que la naturaleza marque su madurez.
    2º todos tenemos pecados a ciertos niveles de conciencia.
    Y Ahora tengo un pregunta:
    Si forzar las grandes leyes de la Naturaleza es el máximo pecado o de los más graves ¿Qué hay de la magí­a cuando altera las leyes de la Naturaleza?
    Un beso Paulo. Tendré respuesta?

  8. Toni says:

    I really love this. So many times I told my family, “let the kids be kids while they are kids”. So many children forced to be small adults make up for it when they are older. One of the universal laws is that everyone must be a child sometime in their life, whether they are 5, 7, 11 or 31, they will go through the phases of life.

  9. Chris Cade says:

    If Kazantzakis is true to his lesson learned, then it is impossible to have a mortal “sin.” The lesson learned was required for him to understand that even his killing of the butterfly was the path of God for him to follow confidently.

    By his own words, it was God’s will that he tried to release the butterfly early.

    So then, is it not impossible to have a mortal “sin” if everything we do is God’s will? Perhaps everything we believe as “sin” is really just a lesson which God wants us to learn….

  10. Silvia says:

    Paulo, this quote is so inspiring. I am one of those people that is always impatient for things to happen, and after reading this I feel like sometimes it’s ok to wait because if it’s meant to happen it will. Thank you.

  11. Nicole says:

    Great words of wisdom

  12. Hi Paulo and Everyone,

    This poignant tale has other meaning for me.

    It shows the economy of the universe in that nothing is actually wasted. It embodies within it a tale of transformation, the caterpillar the chrysalis and the butterfly. It has a hint of fate in that the butterfly just happened to be there exactly when Nikos came along. It still got to see the light of the sun for a while but did not reach its full potential that time around, having to wait for another lifetime.

    Nikos received a lesson in trying to rush the hand of fate and instead of looking at it for the marvellous gift that it actually was, he chose to live his live with remorse not forgiving himself.

    In so doing he acted as a mirror for the butterfly.

    Best wishes,


  13. THELMA says:

    You are an .. angel, my dear-est Paul from Austria, with this desire and need of your to help. God bless you.
    Yes, as Kahlil Gibran has said, we are the bows and our children the arrows..
    Nikos Kazantzakis’books have a special place in my heart and in .. my library!
    The Laws of the Universe and Life is the Harmony. Violation of the laws brings pain, disaster, darkness and evil. The whole Universe follows the Music of the Spheres and Love.

  14. karen says:

    A beautiful profound true story.

    Yes, there is God’s rythmn and way and there is ours.
    Our task is to be still enough within to sense and feel His rythmn and not the one of our minds.
    Perhaps if Eve had stopped for just a second to find this rythmn she would not have thought it was such a good idea to take the apple and offer it to Adam.
    Just a thought. They seem to be very similar stories.
    Much love everyone.

  15. Alexandra says:

    I understand…How many times we failed trying to obtain sooner something important?Every thing needs the just amount of time.We have to pass all stages ,not jumping over some of them.

  16. Savita Vega says:

    Thank you! At least now I know that I am not the only one who screams every time I dream that I am touching a butterfly.

    And his definition of sin: yes, sin is not as we so often imagine it – items on a list, held as forbidden by society and the church. Sin is something altogether different. Something much more profound, much more serious than that. I’ve done a lot of things in my life that were contrary to that formal list of “thou shalt nots,” but the real sins I have committed – the ones that I can feel etched like scars in my own heart – had nothing to do with that official list of do’s and don’ts.


  17. Sefer JAN says:

    This story reminded me the philosophy of Wu Wei, an important tenet of Taoism, that involves knowing when to act and when not to act: