We’ve all heard the analogy of how deep personal transformation is akin to a caterpillar turning into a butterfly. You have heard that one, right? How you have to be willing to let go of who you were, in order to become who you are meant to be? There, I gave you the punch line. Shortest blog post ever.
If you want the five-minute version though, read on. Change can be scary and unsettling, and by exploring the details of the caterpillar-to-butterfly transformation process, I’ve come up with seven ways to not only survive personal change, but to embrace it.
The caterpillar is the larval form of the butterfly, and for starters, she emerges from her egg by eating her own way out of it. She actually eats the whole shell; nothing goes to waste in nature. And talk about having to get yourself out of of a tight situation.
After eating her egg, she keeps on eating…and eating, and eating. Different types of butterflies enjoy different types of foods, so she sticks to her favourites whenever possible. She also moults, shedding old layers of skin about four or five times during her larval stage, each layer making room for new growth as she continues to shed and release what’s old and no longer serving her.
Eventually, the caterpillar gets the urge to stop eating, and she’s driven to wander, seemingly aimlessly, until she finds a safe place to pupate. Here, she makes a silk anchor called a holdfast, clutches on with her rear claspers, and slowly releases her hold, preparing for the most dramatic phase of her transformation.
Hanging completely upside down, the chrysalis layer begins to form under her skin, and her final larval layer of skin splits and is shed. Then, inside the chrysalis, the digestive juices that once digested the food she ate now begin to digest her from the inside out. During this process almost all the tissue that made her what she used to be disintegrates. She is literally butterfly soup. I haven’t looked for any studies on butterfly psychology or pain tolerance, but I have to guess that turning into soup is not what you’d call a comfortable experience.
The only part of the butterfly soup that bears any resemblance to what she was before is a special collection of formative cells that, up until this point, have played no part in her caterpillar life and have stayed hidden and protected during this partial death. The role of these ‘imaginal buds’ is to oversee the building of a new body out of the soup. The chrysalis hangs from her spot for several days, weeks, or even months, depending on what type of butterfly pupa it is.
Towards the end of this disintegrating and rebuilding process, the chrysalis very gradually becomes more and more transparent; eventually you begin to see the shape and colours of the butterfly inside. Only about a day before she emerges, the chrysalis becomes almost completely transparent.
When the time comes, the butterfly sheds this final layer and emerges from her chrysalis, hanging in place for several hours while her wings dry and fluid is pumped into them until they become full and strong. She quivers her wings to make sure they’re ready, and finally takes flight, off to feed on her favourite flowers for the rest of her days.
So thanks to the brave butterflies of the world, here are seven tips for getting through your own personal transformation with the same grace and beauty:
1. Know your own power. If your current ‘egg’ doesn’t allow you to be the person you want to be, you can get yourself out of any circumstance that stunts your growth. But recognize that sometimes, your ‘egg’ is only your perception of the situation, not the reality.
2. Learn from your experiences. Ingest and digest every experience and relationship fully. Take in and explore what you learned from it, where you made mistakes, and how you grew from it. Embrace the good stuff and carry it with you into your future; release the bad stuff and leave it in the past, where it belongs.
3. Take in the things that you like. We all have our unique preferences and inclinations; surround yourself with the people and things that make you feel good. Following your nose is imperative for optimizing your personal growth.
4. Know what you need. Take responsibility for keeping yourself safe and comfortable. Prepare for change as much as possible, and practice consistent self-care.
5. Fully allow the change. Don’t resist it. Sometimes it’s painful, and it’s normal if you don’t even recognize yourself for a while. But you know inside when you need to make a change, and it’s much easier when you just go with it and quit second-guessing yourself.
6. Trust the process. Even when you can’t see what the end result will look like, be patient; you may not be able to see exactly what your new life will look like until it happens. Just remember to be yourself. Always.
7. Emerge when it’s time. You can’t stay in your chrysalis forever, and even though you might be scared, there comes a time when you just have to get out there. It may take some time to get used to how it feels being the new you, so take a few baby steps to test things out. Then spread your wings and take flight into your new future: the one where you’re living a life that you love.
When you find yourself in a butterfly soup stage of life, do as the wise caterpillar does. As long as you stay true to exactly who you are, consistently give yourself what you need and commit to doing the things that you love, something beautiful is bound to emerge.