How often we humans go through endless contortions to escape trials and challenges! We try to run away. We look for someone to rescue us. We pray that God will miraculously cut short the difficulty. But what if a struggle is serving some purpose? I found a surprising story recently, one that stimulated some deep thinking on this very question. See what you think. . . .
Near his home, a man found a cocoon of a butterfly. He took it inside and placed it on the kitchen window sill, where he could keep an eye on it. One day a small opening appeared. Curious, the man sat down at the kitchen table to watch. The cocoon began to move. The insect was beginning to push through the hole. For several hours it struggled to force its body through the tiny opening. Then all progress seemed to stop. It appeared that the butterfly could get no further.
So the man decided to help. With a pair of scissors, he made a slit to enlarge the hole.
Soon the butterfly emerged. Its body was swollen and its wings, small and shriveled.
The man waited, sure that the wings would gradually enlarge and expand to support the body, as the body reduced to normal size.
Neither happened! In fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its life on the window sill, flapping its under-developed wings and dragging its distended body around. It was never able to fly.
In his impatience and ill-founded desire to be kind, the man did not understand that the restriction of the cocoon and the struggle required for the butterfly to get through the tiny opening were God’s way of pressing fluid from the body of the butterfly into its wings. The process was designed to perfect the butterfly’s beauty and prepare it to fly in freedom, as soon as it left the cocoon.
Sometimes struggles are exactly what we need at certain points in life. Without them, we might not develop strength or skills or understanding we need to “fly” in our next stage. To develop the wings that will take us to the heights of our destiny often includes enduring times that feel like a death and rebirth.
I am no stranger to this experience. I went through a period like this not too many years ago. I literally felt as if I was being pressed unbearably in every part of my life. It was often hard to take a deep breath. I was exhausted, afraid I would break down. “How can this be happening to me?” I asked God again and again.
During the crisis I felt stretched almost beyond my human limits. As I silently longed for help in the darkness, a friend played me a comforting song. That song was “Butterfly,” by Jana Stanfield. When I listened to the lyrics, tears of relief began to flow. It was then I realized that my personal struggle was actually a metamorphosis. I came to see that I was being awakened to a broader understanding of myself and to possibilities that I could never have known, apart from this time of intensity. Here is what Jana Stanfield wrote:
“Sitting alone on a hillside, confused about what to do
My choices where all complicated, it was time to think things through.
Spotted a striped caterpillar, stretching her face to the sky
Dragging her cumbersome body an inch at a time
I was feeling the pain of slow progress, when a friend of hers fluttered by.
I leaned close as the caterpillar spoke with a voice as soft as a sigh.
“Butterfly, please tell me again it’s gonna be alright.
I can feel a change is coming
I can feel it in my skin
I can feel myself outgrowing
This life I’ve been living in
And I’m afraid, afraid of change
Butterfly, please tell me again I’m gonna be alright.
“I’m like my friend caterpillar, afraid of that dark cocoon
Wanting to hide in the tall grass, when change is coming soon,
But all of the things we long for are borne on the wings of change
And losses can lead us to blessings that we can’t explain.
Butterflies remind us, there’s magic in every life,
And we can become what we dream of, if fat furry worms can fly.”
As these words flowed into me, so did the beginnings of peace.
I was outgrowing the life I had been used to. But I was scared. I did not know who I was becoming and I did not know what life had in store for me. Once I understood that the process I was undergoing was a natural one, I started to relax and let it take its course. I knew I did not want to be a caterpillar forever.
You see, the caterpillar is slow-moving and heavy bodied. It moves through life hungryuntil it has reached a certain point of growth. Then the caterpillar knows it is time to cocoon and seeks a place of safety. The caterpillar, or larva, becomes a pupa. In the cocoon, the caterpillar’s body is literally broken down by the juices it had used to digest its food. During this time the insect is vulnerable. Also, while this is occurring, one type of special formative cells remains untouched. Interestingly, this tissue has played no part so far in the caterpillar’s life as a larva. These cell groups are protected from the breakdown of this partial death.
Each group of these cells is called an “imaginal bud,” or histoblast. These imaginal buds oversee the building of a new body out of the “soup” that digestive juices have made of the old caterpillar body. As the caterpillar disappears, the butterfly slowly forms. Not until the time is right, will the butterfly begin to push out of the cocoon. As it works its way out, its wings are strengthened so that it is ready to fly.
Now you know the secret: it is not a case of gradually morphing one physical structure into another, it is the developing of a new physical structure altogether, formed by an already present “spare set” of embryonic cells that had been hidden away. In essence, insects that undergo complete metamorphosis are born twice (or, at least, reborn).
The metamorphosis of a caterpillar provides us some striking lessons to support us during our own process of transformation.
1. Seek safety and be patient in your cocoon stage. You may be in a process of transformation for some time. Surround yourself with friends and family members you trust. If you do not have this support, remember that God surrounds you with love and holds you in times of darkness. You are never, never alone. Be kind to yourself through this transition.
2. Remember your cocoon is temporary. The cocoon is a dark space that allows the caterpillar to go through a major transformation. It may be dark and constricting. But you are being transformed from the inside out. Your trials will not last forever. Hold onto the mantra, “This too shall pass.”
3. It is okay to feel as if you are breaking down. See the breakdown as a reconfiguration. In fact, it is essential so that you can be re-formed, trans-formed into your new state of being. The seeds of your new self are in you and are being activated. This is where the “magic” occurs.
4. Let go of the old and allow the new to emerge. This anonymous quote says it all: “’How does one become a butterfly?’ she asked. ‘ You must want to fly so much that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar.’“
5. Don’t sabotage the process by making unwarranted assumptions. The man watching the butterfly in the cocoon thought he was helping, but was he? From our limited human perspective, we cannot see the complete picture. It is tempting to jump to conclusions about what should or should not happen, what something does or does not mean, how long a stage should last or what progress should look like. We can trust that everything is being used for our highest good.
6. Acknowledge your personal progress. Look closely. You are developing, growing, changing. Your wings are forming. Embrace the personal transformation that comes with the challenges, especially those that feel like a time of death and rebirth. In the words of Maya Angelou, “We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”
7.Allow yourself to feel what you feel. Metamorphosis is intense and can be a highly emotional time. Bring your deep, heartfelt emotions up to the surface. Do not ignore them. Own them and honor them. By experiencing them honestly, you learn that you are bigger than these emotions. If you allow them to run their course, they pass, leaving a space into which peace can flow.
Food For Thought
“What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the Master calls the butterfly.”
— Richard Bach
Patricia G. Omoqui 2010, All Rights Reserved
Patricia Omoqui, The Thought Dr.™, is an internationally recognized inspirational speaker, life coach and author of Clarify Your Purpose and Live It. Patricia’s mission in life is to inspire people to move beyond fear so they can reach their full potential.
To share your thoughts about this article, please email Patricia at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her at her website: www.patriciaomoqui.com .