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Tale of the Caterpillar: Five Lessons of Transformation

Jan 28, 2022 | General

The transformation of the caterpillar from a lowly leaf-eating worm to an airborne pollinator of crops and flowers is arguably the most remarkable in nature. The butterfly is the champion of “impossible” and destroyer of “improbable.”

The bug’s changeover may not seem immediately relevant for those seeking self-development. Obviously, humans don’t completely change our bodies. There are valid parallels to be drawn from an aspirational perspective nevertheless.

Einstein emphasized taking a deep look into nature to understand everything better. Pondering the remaining multitude of natural mysteries help us bridge the gaps in our knowledge about ourselves and the cosmos.

The number of dramatic and far-reaching societal shifts currently displacing former understandings have touched virtually every life across the globe in recent years. There are few if any other species that periodically experience a more consummate shift than the caterpillar-butterfly conversion.

So let’s take a metaphorical look at the butterfly’s metamorphosis to understand our own circumstances better.

Broadest Perspectives

The most striking and often overlooked aspect of the caterpillar-butterfly transmutation is the incredible permissiveness of nature. It’s exponentially greater than humanity exhibits among its own kind. The hair styles of the Beatles and later punk rockers were topics of considerable consternation, for example.

Such a radical change between two forms of the same bug almost slaps us in the face with impunity – shouldn’t there be a law that prevents or at least reigns in this level of extremism?

Apparently not. Nature seems completely indifferent, but is it really? For that answer, we need to consider how the change serves the whole of nature.

The caterpillar at first seems a rather greedy sort. It gorges on leaves for days and weeks on end with little or no concern for the plant’s welfare. The food is needed to create a robust body with the fuel necessary for the modification to come. The temporary tolerance for its meals is richly repaid from nature’s viewpoint though.

Once the butterfly emerges in its new body, it has an entirely greater mission: pollination of crops and plants of all varieties. It takes on the mantle of ensuring the continued propagation of perhaps millions of plants for the remainder of its life. Those plants in turn feed millions of mammals, who also fuel more plants by fertilizing the soil and creating warm homes for more bugs.

That’s a great deal. Try finding an investment with returns like that at your local bank.

No Baggage Allowed

Before anyone gets too envious of the caterpillar’s ultimate destiny, keep in mind the caterpillar must leave everything behind. The reformation is far more complete than anything a living human being will ever experience.

The caterpillar tears off its skin, retreats into its exoskeleton and proceeds to dissolve every organ and molecule of its body. No other baggage from the past is permitted beyond some memories of what causes pain, which it’s well equipped to avoid afterwards.

The only physical survivors of the caterpillar are called “imaginal disks” that build its new body and fresh experience of life. The imaginal disks use the remaining soup of proteins to reform into completely different organs: a new mouth, eyes, legs, digestive system, sexual organs and a newcomer called wings. It can never go back to what it was, and there’s no reason to believe it would if it could.

Imaginal disks are the strange but very real name for the origin of the caterpillar’s structural metamorphosis. Does the caterpillar imagine its future form before realizing it? There is no way of knowing. But if it does, the caterpillar exhibits a strength of character and trust far greater than ours. Regardless, it seems unlikely that even the caterpillar could imagine such a profound restructuring by itself.

It does somehow learn the complex dynamics of flight and wind currents with the use of distinctive wings known to few other species. That’s a nice and absolutely crucial benefit of unknown origin.

Lessons for Humanity

The wonderous and apparently miraculous conversion of the caterpillar-butterfly has practical lessons for every human being who has ever faced a challenging life transition fraught with uncertainty. The caterpillar’s tale is our own.

As I write this in 2022, the entire world has endured years of previously unimaginable life changes and improbable events. They’re so complete and universal, they need not even be named here. Everyone has some experience. Everyone is doing the best they can.

The time to build a new chapter of life will soon be upon us all. Every human being is gifted by nature with an extraordinary capacity to reform a tragic past into a bright future. The so-called miracle of the caterpillar-butterfly transfiguration is a simple expression of what was always within.

The only real surprise is that the butterfly was within. It seems an extreme and unlikely product of evolution.

Trust in the best of your nature whenever the road ahead is uncertain. You will come to realize what the butterfly has already learned:

  • Equal Distribution of Gifts: There are no hero or elite butterflies. They all equally share the capacity to do the “impossible” to achieve the “improbable.” You have the same advantages as everyone else.
  • Nature is Unstoppable: There are no limits to nature’s expression from one form to another or from one expression of a form to another. It is its own authority of what is possible. Dare to think big without imposing limitations.
  • Service to the Whole: All expressions of nature share a common set of features. Service to all and harm to none are nature’s only arbiters of success or possibility. If your dream is within those broad parameters, it is entirely achievable.
  • Knowledge Follows Form: Don’t fear uncertainty. Spread your wings when the time comes. You’ll know how to use them. Human history overflows with examples.
  • Persistence is Fundamental: Once begun, the only requirement of the changing organism is persistence in the process with focused effort. All else is added according to focus.

Anyone devoted to the above will succeed even if new circumstances require radically different approaches to life. It is not important nor even our business to know how the principles work. The experience of becoming imparts all understandings needed.

There is genuine magic in maintaining unwavering trust in yourself after the first step. The beauty of nature takes over from there and leaves none behind. You’ll do well to align with your inner nature.

You may find the same nobility of the butterfly. Possibly far more.

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Written by: Brian J. O'Malley

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