The biology of the caterpillar’s transformation into a butterfly is to me, among nature’s most poetic and incredible works of art.
It draws the most eloquent metaphor for both individual and societal transformation. A metaphor that has been very useful and somehow reassuring to me during times of personal and collective redefinition. A metaphor I share with my clients when they are in the midst of a persona “deconstruction”.
The caterpillar metamorphosis:
Once committed to the transformation, the caterpillar builds a safe place, the silky cocoon, to undergo his metamorphosis. In the cocoon, the caterpillar cells digest themselves, until they are no longer caterpillar, nor butterfly, and melt into a formless soup. A few remaining un-digestible and previously dormant cells (called imaginal cells), now somehow aware of the potential of the transformation start to use that protein-rich soup to divide and multiply. The caterpillar’s old immune system senses the threat of disappearance of the old way of being and attacks those cells. The battle between the old cells and the new ones eventually ends when the imaginal cells manage, through resilience, union and strength to form into a new version of themselves: the butterfly.
A metaphor of human development:
When you don’t understand what is truly happening in the biology of the butterfly metamorphosis, the analogy with human development might sound a bit cheesy. However, when you understand the detail of it, the similarities and messages from this transformation are very helpful.
The soup period:
I have been in that soup a few times throughout my developmental journey.
Sometimes the deconstruction is triggered by a traumatic event like the death of a loved-one or a global pandemic, sometimes triggered by a personal or spiritual development training or retreat a person attends.
The discomfort of being in that formless soup is real. Painful honesty and realisation of the imperfections and paradoxes of the fragile persona created a long time ago. A persona that the self tried so hard to project onto the world as who that person was, so well that it managed to fool that person as well. All this past identity is ready to collapse.
In those occasions, as I observed the masterpiece of my persona showing up, creating coping mechanisms, believing so many limiting thoughts, denying so many shadows and full of judgment, of myself and others, I felt the urge to vomit… vomit all this created complex inauthentic unhappy persona.
The old self is so attached to his old way, battling just like the old caterpillar cells in the cocoon to get back to the old comfortable way. While the new self knows that there is no coming back…
How to get out of the soup?
To get out of the soup as a butterfly, it takes a good cup of awareness, an ounce of willpower, a hand full of “permission to feel”, half a cup of knowing or trusting, and a mix of self-inquiry and decision making.
First bring awareness to the fact that you are in for some formless deconstruction as your persona is digesting itself. Accept that this is what is happening right now. This is not going to be comfortable; this is going to take lots of breath and tears. Above all, this moment requires radical honesty …. maybe a bit of humour as you discover some of your persona traits, take it with lightness.
Second you need willpower to stop the urge to numb the uncomfortable feelings that will arise (and humans love to numb… with TV binging, Social Media scrolling, drug, alcohol, work…). So refrain from numbing, if you numb the pain will come back to bite you harder next time.
Permission to feel:
Give yourself permission to feel.
Breathe, and feel the energy in motion in your body. Where is it located? What texture does it have? What does it look like? Does it have a message for you? What are you feeling? Can you feel the internal battle from the old to the new? Dig deep, feel deeper.
Shed tears, loads of tears if needed, as you grieve your old self.
Know that “This too shall pass”. It will. Like everything else does. The cocoon stage lasts for a limited time and if you give yourself permission to feel, the butterfly always emerges.
Be patient and loving to yourself in that stage. Trust that you will reconstruct. That the deconstruction was necessary at that stage in your life. Something inside you (or maybe the universe too) was ready for an “upgrade”, a shift, a change, a butterfly /a new version of yourself. A more mature, more real, authentic one. Not perfect but more OK in its imperfection.
Look at your old persona with as much radical honesty as you can…. What limiting beliefs are you holding that are no longer serving you? What judgment of self or others are you currently holding? Is that serving you? How much worse case scenario-ing your mind is going into? How true have you been to yourself and others? What is your self-worth linked to? Is it linked to something external? Is that serving you?
Choose who you want to be:
Only when you are ready, maybe with some support… Put together the new pieces of the puzzle representing the newest version of yourself. What are the new beliefs you are going to hold and that are serving you better at this stage of your life? How are you going to show up to the world? How do you now want to feel? Who do you want to be in situations that used to trigger you. From the resilience and rawness it took you to feel and be authentic with yourself, build and use your new toolbox of resourceful states. Choose who you will be from now on.
Enjoy being a butterfly for a while …
…until the next soup. 🙂
Being a formless soup becomes a bit more comfortable and shorter as you go through it a few times. At least it has in my experience. It still does not feel great to be in that transitional stage, but with acceptance and knowing that it will pass, there is a softening.
The support of a developmental coach is of great help to surrender to it, release the old way and embrace the new one.
With love and gratitude.