Who isn’t enamored with the butterfly?
Whether the adoration comes from the beauty, from the perceived freedom of physical wings, or the remembrance of what came before its majesty, we all know a holy transformation has taken place.
The life cycle of a butterfly is like the pranavah, the mystic sound of Om, that Patanjali talks about in the yoga sutras. This innate humming resides in the continual cycle of things.
At the stage of flight, magnificence and wings mark the end stage of a transformational journey that began much earlier on. The significance of the mystery of a butterfly’s cycle is felt by all. Its metamorphosis is revered, but what I want to revel in is the entirety of the adventure.
To begin, two butterflies must find one another and mate. When this miracle occurs and fertilization is successful, the female is ready to lay her eggs. Did you know that the shape of butterfly eggs vary? And each of these unique and individual eggs, I have learned, consists of an outer casing inside which is the females fertilized ovum. At the top of that egg is a tiny opening to allow the male sperm to fertilize the egg. WOW! Sometimes the eggs are laid singly, and other times they may be in a bunch. If an egg survives the first transformation, there is a variable amount of time to hatch.
The larva is hatched….. and they are eating machines. It is solely in this stage of the larva that physical growth occurs. And just as it can be so different for each and every individual sentient being, each little caterpillar is so NOT the same! They can be naked, or hairy or colorful, or with or without stripes. Contemplate this: do you have a preference for caterpillars? Which ones would you let crawl on you, and which would you pass on by? Some caterpillars will eat your plants, and some are poisonous to their predators.
I did not know that throughout the larval stage, a caterpillar has to shed it’s skin several times in order to accommodate further growth. There are an average of five sheddings that each span between two weeks and a month in duration, and each time, immediately upon shedding the old skin, the larva fills with air, allowing the new skin to take on a new size and giving the caterpillar as much room as possible to grow into this new size. With each transformation it is possible that the caterpillar will appear totally different!
With the final shedding in the caterpillar’s journey, the often camouflaged pupa, or chrysalis, emerges. Using different types of support, and its own unique methods for creating a support system around itself, the chrysalis starts out soft and skin-like, and gradually hardens to form a protective shell, around which the cocoon is then formed.
The humming of the life cycle continues.
With a complete disassembly of the cells and then their reconfiguration, a new form is being created inside the cocoon. Inside the chrysalis itself, most of the body breaks itself down into a pool of undifferentiated cells in a process called histolysis, whereby the caterpillar almost entirely dissolves by it’s own digestive juices, before it can come back together to form a new shape. For this change from caterpillar to butterfly to occur, in other words this dying must take place. For rebirth, then, a tissue that has been in the creature all along, but unused until now, supervises the building of its new body. Histogenesis: the creation of new tissues, new limbs, new wings with which to fly. There is no escaping growth at this point; the only choice is to surrender to the process and that is why caterpillars must choose safe places to hide within nature to go through this process.
The process of a complete transformation has a name: holometabolism. This change can occur in a matter of weeks or months, resulting ultimately in the emergence of a butterfly. The newly formed body pumps fluid into the shriveled wings, and within a short amount of time, the wings are full, dried, and capable of flight.
If you have made it this far- my discourse……..
Holy transformation! I can think about my own life (can’t we all) and recognize some of my “sheddings” in which prana has seeped into my being and, given me more room to grow, to reveal my many incarnations. Like the caterpillar, we must shed our skin to become who we were meant to be, and like the caterpillar, there is so much help for us within the process.
It is only because at present I am tucked safe within the cocoon, that I am even contemplating all of these teachings. I may be “safe” within the hard outer casing, but as we have just read, there is no escaping! The vulnerable process of turning inside out, of breaking down what was to reveal what will be, is a big deal! A new shape is forming from the blueprints that were there all along held within my karma, my cosmic blessings, and my ancestors. However the new “shape” is not known!
Remembering the wisdom of all that is bigger than we are, and this incredible adventure that began long ago and perhaps has occurred several times over; and then applying it, living through it, is an emergence! And even then, we still must pump our own nectar from within to fill our own wings. Did the humming of the cycle ever cease? Did we forget to listen to it? Are we afraid of it? Have we begun to discover that our process is the nature of all things! A cycle in which the humming never does stop, a birth, a death and a rebirth.
In the discomfort of the cocoon, of the total tenderness, can we remember the life cycle of one breath? Of one wave? Of the inevitable earlier sheddings that we have made it through? And can we remember with equanimity?
I know for me, this is all a practice. From noticing my attachments, my likes (the colorful, fuzzy caterpillars) versus my dislikes (the black and white spiky ones in my orange tree), which really stem from my conditioning, and my patterns, and my fears, I am emerging. I am recognizing that that tenderness, that going deep within, and that vulnerability in allowing what is hard to literally dissolve back into our primary source of water, are essential in the process of being gifted wings.
Just as the butterfly is fragile, and beautiful, and unique and impermanent, so are we. With the seamless continual hum of all nature, we too can be versed in the letting go, and the allowance of miracles and the recognition that we are really not so different from the butterfly and so many of God’s other creatures.