One of my favorite quotes is by Buckminster Fuller: “There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it’s going to be a butterfly.”
Consider the caterpillar – let’s do a biology lesson with a point…
The caterpillar is actually a larva which has hatched from an egg. The larva stage is when the caterpillar eats and eats and eats, stuffing itself with leaves and growing plumper and longer through a series of molts in which it sheds its skin.
Then, at a time understood only by its internal clock,
the caterpillar stops eating,
hangs upside down from a twig or leaf
and spins itself a silky cocoon or molts into a shiny chrysalis.
The next thing you know, it emerges as a butterfly.
It looks easy to us: slumber, then awakening.
But this change, like all internal change, is much more complex than it looks to the casual observer.
Within its protective casing, the caterpillar radically transforms its body.
How does a caterpillar rearrange itself into a butterfly?
What happens inside a chrysalis or cocoon? First, the caterpillar digests itself, releasing enzymes to dissolve all of its own tissues.
If you were to cut open a cocoon or chrysalis at just the right time, you would find caterpillar soup. But the cocoon contents are not entirely an unorganized mess.
Certain highly organized groups of cells known as “imaginal discs” survive the digestive process. These imaginal discs were formed while the caterpillar was still in the egg.
The caterpillar larvae grows an imaginal disc for each of the adult body parts it will need as a mature butterfly or moth—discs for its eyes, for its wings, its legs and so on.
Once a caterpillar has disintegrated all of its tissues except for the imaginal discs, those discs use the protein-rich soup all around them to fuel the rapid cell division required to form the wings, antennae, legs, eyes, and all the other features of an adult butterfly or moth.
And the changes aren’t over yet.
In order to become a fully functioning butterfly, the newly winged insect must struggle to emerge from its cocoon.
It is a long and tiring process, a time when the butterfly is most vulnerable to predators. But without this wrestling from the cocoon, the butterfly would not survive for this struggle is what strengthens its wings.
If you were to help a butterfly emerge from its cocoon, its wings would not develop properly and it would die.
Transformation frequently begins following a loss of some kind or another, whether it is the loss of your health, a job, a loved one, etc. Regardless of the catalyst, change is inevitable.
It’s not often within your control when you begin such a change. The longer you postpone examining your internal need to grow, the more painful the process can be. As Brene Brown says, “It takes more energy to keep running away from life than to face it.”
Metamorphosis is a process that moves from the inside out. It is a time of quiet self-reflection calling for dormancy or slowing down.
Change can be difficult.
You can feel vulnerable all through the process.
You can feel as though you are dissolving from one stage of life into another.
You might feel like you are “coming apart” or that “life is upside down”.
You can feel exposed or defenseless.
It can definitely be a struggle to emerge from these introspections in order to promote positive changes for yourself.
It might help to remember, though, that the caterpillar has no idea of what flying means. When it is lumbering along a branch traveling millimeters at a time, how can it understand wings?
And yet, all of those “imaginal discs” are inside, waiting for the perfect time to mature into what they are intended to be.
After its metamorphosis, the former caterpillar leaves gravity behind, fluttering in the sunlight and sipping from the sweetest flowers, bringing joy to all who observe it dancing from blossom to blossom.
Some butterflies even migrate for thousands of miles!
How much effort must that take? No more than it can handle.
There is something inside all of us that commands, “You must.” Whether it is dissolving in the cocoon or flying to southern climes, its spirit says, “You must.”
Nothing is as constant as change.
Take some time to notice what positive changes your spirit is encouraging you to enter.
And remember, unlike the butterfly, you don’t have to go through metamorphosis alone. Ask for support from a loved one or a professional.
What is saying “you must” inside you? Leave a comment hear to let us know.