(Estimated reading time 3 minutes)
Change is not easy, but it is inevitable. There’s something about the process, whether it’s a change we choose or one that was chosen for us, that has us letting go of what we once were, without assurance of precisely what we will become. It’s this unformed, middle stage of the process that I think makes change so challenging. It’s the dismantling of what went before that has us disoriented and wondering if our lives will ever take solid shape again. As I think about my own transition over this past year, I can’t help but wonder if I could gain some insight into the process of change by looking at a dramatic transformation that occurs in the natural world.
In his well-known children’s book, Eric Carle describes the metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly. He writes about a small caterpillar who is very, very hungry. The caterpillar eats and eats and eats until one day it is no longer small. He makes a cocoon around himself, stays inside for more than two weeks and emerges a beautiful butterfly. I’m wondering if transforming oneself is really as simple and seemingly effortless as Eric Carle makes it sound.
What actually happens inside that cocoon? The same juices the caterpillar used to digest food as a larva it now uses to break down its own body. If you were to cut open a cocoon or chrysalis at just the right time, caterpillar soup would ooze out. The fluid mix contains imaginal discs. Like the word imagination, these undifferentiated cells can be used to form anything. They use the protein-rich soup – the previous, broken down version of self – to form the wings, antennae, legs, eyes and all the other features of an adult butterfly.
If we struggle as we transition from one thing to another, perhaps we can gain some insight and encouragement from the butterfly who must first (as a caterpillar) digest its own body, become an imaginal goo – a fluid mix, full of possibility – and only then can it gain its wings. Navigating significant change can be a challenge. It can sometimes feel like we are in this unformed space where nothing is settled, but if we take our cue from the life cycle of the butterfly, we can be assured that we are in fact re-forming into a new version of ourselves that is almost ready to take flight.
“For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.” Cynthia Occelli
I’m a writer, speaker and coach, who is passionate about helping ordinary people move beyond what is holding them back so that they can live extraordinary lives. You can connect with me here or learn more about coaching with me.