I was recently reminded of a powerful distinction – the difference between change and transformation. With change, I can make a different choice, but, I can always revert back to old behavior. I can change locations yet return to where I began. I can change my mind about a person, but, I can also revert back to thinking about them as I had before.

Change allows for reversals. Transformation does not.

A butterfly cannot reverse the metamorphosis and shove itself back into the casing of the caterpillar. An oak cannot be reduced back into the acorn. Each are transformed into an entirely different way of being.

It’s easy to laud this analogy when discussing these physical form examples but it is a bit more rigorous when it comes to defining transformation in consciousness. Who among us hasn’t had dozens of epiphanies, been handheld to the banks of metamorphosis only to pull a Lot’s wife backwards glance and revert back to what’s familiar?

Working abroad drags these distinctions into the spotlight. Last week I met Guatemalan teenage girls who have made bold and perilous decisions to leave slave labor work in tortillerias, often against family wishes, in order to seek an education. They’ve begged, pleaded and escaped 6 AM to 11 PM work days, 7 days a week, forfeiting the $60 a month salary to seek scholarships in order to better their lives. They are, to me, transformationalist. They are not going back. They take two buses to get to their studies every morning and two buses back, often having to add chores to the lengthy list of daily responsibilities. Their hunger for life and expansion broke my broken opened heart even more and caused my chest to heave and pound with rare breaths of awe. I can’t stop thinking about them.

The same epiphanies happen in Cambodia and India as well. Every year, on these trips, I return to my private space and emotionally break down.

Being a minister in a spiritual movement whose vision is ‘a world that works for everyone’ accelerates the realization that my time on this planet is precious. It also makes me impatient around those who profess to want transformation yet complain about hard chairs, fewer potlucks or some minimal retreat workshop fee. I often feel deficient in my role as a supposed transformation catalyst because the requirements of metamorphosis seem inconvenient for too many.

Mark Twain was absolutely right. “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.”

But even Twain must have realized it is more accurate to say, “Travel can be fatal to prejudice….,” because yes, we can still travel and not be transformed.

Single mothers and fathers around the world make transformational decisions every day to provide for their families at all cost. Abandoned children pull their resilience out from the deepest of inner resources and defy obstacle after obstacle to show up and sit in a classroom. For them, there isn’t the luxury of looking back.

I want more time with those people. I must be with more of those people in order that I may learn to be more of that myself.