“The past is a foreign country,” author L.P. Hartley famously wrote in his book The Go-Between. Perhaps that’s why we hold on to the postcards…
I’ve yet to meet a person that doesn’t love butterflies.
It’s easy to love the butterfly. She’s colorful and elegant, gliding gracefully from plant to plant, bringing smiles to all our faces.
However, I’d like to focus on the pre-butterfly stages that I personally find even more magical, so here’s my amateur, mini science class… When we meet the butterfly, she is at the final, adult stage of her life. Most adult butterflies have a life cycle of about two weeks (a few species can live up to several months). The adult female’s job is to mate and lay eggs.
These eggs are specifically laid on plants because the plants will eventually become the food that the caterpillar requires. So, the organism moves from the egg stage to the caterpillar stage with the help of the tasty plant her mama butterfly put her on. And that’s the lucky caterpillar’s main gig—eating, and more eating. Lucky worm. The caterpillar will grow about 100 times its size during this phase (growing up to two inches in several weeks). Because of that, it splits its own skin and sheds about four or five times. Wow. Besides the exponential physical growth, the food is actually stored and used later as an adult.
For her next magic trick, the caterpillar goes deep inward, cocooning herself, suspended on a branch or hidden in some leaves, transforming into what is called the chrysalis stage. This metamorphosis is usually the longest phase of the butterfly’s life cycle, ranging from a few weeks to much longer. To the human eye, this may look like the most boring of the stages, but it is actually the most active, and most dynamic one. Certain special cells are now growing incredibly fast and becoming legs, wings, eyes, and other important parts of what will eventually burst forth out of the cocoon as the adult butterfly. And the humans oooh and ahhh.
Amateur science lesson aside, I want to focus on these caterpillar and chrysalis stages, because they hold important lessons for all of us. You see, the phases of evolution of human consciousness are not that different, and we are constantly repeating these phases over and over again throughout our lives.
Our society prizes the butterfly—the finished, polished, sometimes photoshopped, ‘end product’ that we all aim for. But I want to show some love for the underdogs of the caterpillar and chrysalis! To me, they are more magical than the end product of the butterfly because they are when and where the real work is happening. The messy, real, authentic, pressurized, gooey, slimy, hard work is happening in these stages. And human beings are no different. Most people just want to see the ‘pretty’ butterfly stages of their own lives, and want to hide the messy chrysalis stages of their own development. But the transformative, messy, metamorphosis happening during the chrysalis phase is what deserves the most credit, in my opinion.
When it feels like your life is a big mess, remind yourself that you are simply in the pressurized, womb-like, seemingly chaotic chrysalis phase of this natural cycle of your own evolution. You are on your way to become the butterfly, but you’re not quite there yet. And it’s pretty tough in that cocoon. But you will not be here forever. It is actually impossible. The very definition of evolution will move you forward. Your wings will come. The longer you put those final touches on yourself while you’re in your cocoon, the more genuinely beautiful your wings will be.
Hang in that suspended chrysalis, love.
There is so much beauty in your transformation.