fighting metamorphosis...

(originally published on MySpace)

I don't like bugs. Or spiders. (Especially spiders!) The move Arachnophobia scared the living daylights outta me. It's been what...fifteen, twenty years? Yet to this day, I still have to eyeball lightbulbs before I reach my hand up under a lampshade, just to make sure there isn't a furry, eight-legged critter waiting to plunge its blood-thirsty fangs into my flesh.

Butterflies are a different matter. Their gentle grace and beauty are amazing. Maybe the technicolor haze of my past is to blame, but watching a colorful, winged creature flit about with nary a care - and no teeth - is quite peaceful. The no teeth thing is a huge plus...

Tonight this thought grabbed me & refused to let go: I could learn a lesson from butterflies. I heard a story once about a butterfly that was prematurely removed from its larval cocoon because the human watching it grow became impatient and wanted to set it free. Big mistake. The butterfly hatched but never flew. Weak and powerless, it soon died.

The beauty of the science (pardon the entomology lesson, folks, but there's a reason for these facts) is this:

  1. caterpillars grow in silk cocoons ("chrysalis" to be precise) in stages ("instars")
  2. they often experience 4 or more of these instars as they slowly grow into maturity
  3. each time they outgrow their chrysalis, they break through it and are left exposed; they must then grow into a larger cocoon
  4. finally, once metamorphosis completes, a butterfly emerges, fully formed with beautiful wings, but
  5. the newly hatched butterfly must hang upside down for ~30 minutes to allow their wings to harden

Apparently the wings are soft, wet, and weak from being wrapped around the larval body inside the cocoon. So when it breaks free for the last time, it has what it needs to fly - wings - but the transformation process is not yet complete. The wings need time to mature and become useful. If at any point in this process the steps are not followed, the butterfly will be permanently damaged. The wings will never work. And without functioning wings, the insect has no defense mechanisms.

People go through life phases like this: we outgrow our clothes, jobs, homes, cars, even relationships. When something doesn't fit us anymore, we move into something that does fit. We don't always recognize that phase until much later - because often growth is visible only with 20/20 hindsight. That's when the "Oh wow, I really learned something from that" moment occurs. We identify our newfound maturity. We leave our old cocoons behind and move on. Sometimes.

With each transition phase, we should mature a bit more. We should be one step closer to becoming a mature butterfly, poised for flight. So why do we try to climb back into our old cocoons? Why would any butterfly-in-progress choose to delay fulfilling their inevitable destiny by crawling back inside the broken, cramped cocoon from which they just escaped? They don't. But people do.

We revert back to old habits, old behaviors, old tendencies that no longer fit. This prolongs our growth phase and delays flight.

I'm guilty: I've tried to crawl back into a former shell because it's comfortable, knowing full well that I've outgrown it. (Going back to an unhealthy relationship or picking up a bad habit long-ago dropped are but two examples.) I've also tried to force premature cocoon changes because I'm impatient. (This is not unlike buying a bikini that is 3 sizes smaller than I currently am, simply because that smaller size is my goal size - sure, it's great to have goals, but seeing the product of a goal without actually doing the work means I have a bikini I can't squeeze into. Talk about an exercise in futility!) I can see where I want to be, visualize my goals - but can I patiently allow gradual development? Nooooo, I revert to my bone-headed, "delayed gratification is for wimps" control freak tendencies and stupidly try to manipulate the outcome to my own liking. I want my way, my timing, now. Oh yes: classic "only child" traits. It ain't pretty. But so few aspects of human nature are...

It's a painful thing to be an impatient control freak experiencing a metamorphosis for the umpteenth time. I want to fast-forward to the flying stage where all my dreams are realized versus anticipated but that's not possible with weak wings. Maturity occurs with time, not will-power.

The logical thing to do is to allow change to occur naturally. Anything else simply undermines the beautiful potential of future realities. If I choose impatience, I sell myself short. Why cling to my old life full of unfulfilling habits, associations and routines when a new path is more rewarding, more liberating, and ultimately, the destiny I was meant to know?

I am learning patience from butterflies.