Editor's Note: Although I rarely publish a guest article in Rainbow Reflections, my good friend Sandi Wright's article about butterflies and transformation, first published in her own quarterly newsletter Gossamer Gazette, so impressed me that I requested permission to reprint it. Information about Sandi and her newsletter follows the article.
There is one magical memory from my childhood that stands out above all others. It was one which was shared, I'm sure, by all northern California youngsters - the miracle of the Monarch.
Discovering a light-green cocoon dangling against a backdrop of redwood fencing, although not uncommon, was always considered an extraordinary treasure.
Upon close inspection, a curious child could see several glittery gold spots near the top of the pretty encasement, and these seemed to be no more, but no less than nature's jewels around the neck of a precious life form.
My mother, who was frequently in her garden tending her camelias and gardenias, took time out to explain to me and my sisters that if we were patient and watched every day, we would soon see a miracle. More often than not, these miracles occurred while we were in school; we would come home to find the cocoon torn and empty.
But one day, as Mother had promised, our patience was rewarded. For several days prior to the miracle, we noticed that the skin of the chrysallis had thinned; it was somewhat transparent. We could see beautiful orange and black colors inside and the whole thing wiggled from its tiny stem attached beneath the fence's two-by-fours.
Then it happened. The paper-thin shell began to tear, and as we watched in wonder, a huge Monarch began to emerge. I wanted to help it, but Mother said we needed to let nature take its course. So, we watched. We watched as it tirelessly broke free. We watched as it warmed itself in the sun, flapping its delicate wings to dry them and gain its strength. Then we watched it flutter off on its own.
A very sensitive grade school teacher also imprinted this miracle onto my mind one year through a wonderful science project. We were privileged to watch the entire life cycle of a Monarch from tiny yellow egg to glorious butterfly.
It is obvious why this little creature has throughout the ages, and across cultures, been a symbol of transformation. (For myself, it was even more intriguing as an adult to learn that the butterfly is one of my Gemini totem animals.)
And so, once again, we learn from nature about our human nature and the cycles of change or transformation. Think for a moment about a time in your life when profound change occurred. Perhaps you quit smoking, moved to a new town, changed jobs, got a divorce, became spiritually enlightened. My favorite metaphor for the transitional process is pregnancy, but you can also compare it to life - from infancy to adulthood.
You might instead want to focus on a transition of which you are in the midst or an aspect of your life that you would like to change. Use your imagination! The important thing is to see the correlation between human transformation and the life cycle of the butterfly.
Before we begin our journey of transformation, though, it's interesting to note that Monarchs are migratory butterflies. Heading south in great swarms from all over North America every autumn, they fly by day and roost in trees at night. They settle in Florida, southern California, Mexico and other seasonally temperate regions where they pass the winter in a state of comfortable semi-hibernation.
For me, this symbolizes the survival instinct within each of us - knowing when to try and when to fly. It represents the willingness. The willingness to survive. I once asked a friend of mine how she managed to quit smoking; her answer was profound. She said, *I prayed for the willingness.* And it didn't come overnight for her...it took months. The willingness to make a long, unknown migration can often mean the difference between spiritual or physical death and renewal of body, mind and soul.
In the spring, Monarchs fly northward, all over the United States and into Canada. The northern migration is a solitary one, though; each flies alone, making frequent stops along the way. The female lays her eggs as she journeys.
The egg is a seed of sorts. Every spring eggs are laid and seeds sprout. An idea is a change in the form of a thought. A thought might first begin as a stir from within, a longing, a lightbulb, a knowing. This might result from unhappiness or from dissatisfaction with a particular situation like a job or a relationship, or it simply might be a glimpse of potential. It is always, however, the beginning. The splendor of the butterfly's life cycle and its incredible beauty are genetically encoded within its tiny egg. Within each of us lie the seeds of divinity and the power to create.
From the egg of a butterfly hatches a minute larva or caterpillar which immediately begins to feed, often making its first meal of its own eggshell, and then turning to the foliage among which it finds itself.
Once an idea hatches, we begin feeding it. We might feed ourselves consciously or unconsciously, but usually it's a simultaneous feast. On a conscious level, we read, we pray, we observe, we listen, we discuss our thoughts with a trusted friend, we hunt for and gather information - we become aware. Subconsciously, we might begin to notice coincidences, serendipities. All of these things indicate that the divine is at work in our lives, feeding us knowledge and information relevant to our growth. Already the seed has sprouted; already the metamorphosis has begun.
The caterpillar feeds voraciously and grows rapidly, undergoing about five skin changes in the course of its growth.
Five skin changes!? You mean the little guy doesn't just gulp down a glass of milkweed and crawl into the sack to wait for the magic to begin? Well, I'll be darned! No wonder people don't change as fast as I think they should! If a tiny caterpillar has to shed five skins before he's ready to take the primordial plunge, I guess we can learn to be a little more patient with ourselves when change doesn't occur overnight. What do we need to rid ourselves of before we commit to change? Discouragement? Dependency? Doubt? Derision? Delusion? There's a start for ya! Most of us need to shed all five of these skins in the course of our growth.
When these growth changes are complete, the caterpillar hangs itself up in some way by silken threads and spins a protective cocoon around itself, becoming completely immobile.
Once we've outgrown our useless skins, we can be sure that the time for creating something new has arrived. We will seek a safe place and then attach ourselves to it using a tiny, but incredibly resilient, silken thread - a thread of hope. The person with an unsatisfying job might have saved up a month's wages at this point and given their two week's notice. Someone in an unhappy relationship might might have made arrangements to live with a friend or relative for a month and summoned up the courage to tell their partner of their intentions to leave. How much easier might it seem to just continue crawling and grazing through life than to hang our entire life on a single thread of hope and spin ourselves into a tight little vulnerable cocoon, never to return to the same person we once were? This is perhaps the most difficult stage of all, and takes extraordinary courage, because it must be done consciously - the leap of faith, if you will. The immobility of the cocoon represents the futility of struggling against what has ended and gracefully accepting what will be created. It is the stillness within, faith unfettered.
At this point, the caterpillar's internal tissues and organs mostly break down into a sort of living soup and their substance reorganizes itself into the form of a butterfly. The wings are crumpled and folded, and the legs are packed tightly against the body. Only then is the last larval skin shed and the chrysalis revealed.
A living soup! What a splendid description! Imagine ... all that you once were dissolves into a living soup and reassembles itself into a new you. Because your little cocoon becomes transparent at this point, a chrysalis, people begin to glimpse the new beauty, the new you inside. Although you are developing spiritually at a rapid rate, you might remain thus constricted for quite some time. No one can force you out or talk you into becoming confident. One of Anais Ninn's most powerful writings says: And the day came when the pain of remaining tight in a bud was greater than the pain that it took to grow.
The insect may remain in this stage, without the power to feed or move about for two or three weeks, sometimes even longer. At the end of this time, the shell of the chrysalis splits at the front end, and the butterfly wriggles out onto some kind of support from which it can hang while its wings expand and dry.
Most people who have undergone a profound change in their life probably aren't able to look back on one specific day of emergence because for us, complex human beings that we are, transformation is a process, not an event. The time we spend clinging to our support system also varies from person to person, as does the amount of time we devote to drying and stretching. Only when we feel strong and confident do we spread our wings to fly, and even then, we might flutter to the ground a time or two before we're good at it.
And so the butterfly soon finds herself gliding effortlessly through the air on delicate gossamer wings, her rite of passage complete. A kaleidoscope of color surrounds her, a profusion of flowery fragrance delights her, and the nectar of bud and blossom nourishes her. The gardens of the earth - the meadows and the mountains - belong to her. They are her banquet, her playground, her stage, her sanctuary.
However brief her season in the sun may seem to us, she is free to experience new joys and opportunities as she shares her beauty with the world in a magnificent dance of life. And if she should happen to catch a glimpse of her reflection in a pond or a cottage garden's gazing ball, she would truly be amazed!
(Note: Information about the life cycle of the butterfly was taken from the book, Color Treasury of Butterflies & Moths, published by Crescent Books, a Division of Crown Publishers Inc.)
Sandi Wright is a newspaper journalist living in Nevada and the mother of four grown daughters. She publishes a
quarterly online newsletter, the Gossamer Gazette, and sends out daily online quotes/affirmations, called Morning
Muffins. She can be reached by email at: GossamerMt@aol.com.