Butterflies Do It

A symbol I have in mind for this movement is the butterfly. I have long been enchanted with this creature; bugs in general, not so much. . . but butterflies, absolutely! These are the creatures that begin in the form of a tiny, waxy egg laid by female butterflies onto plant leaves. The eggs will be fertilized by male butterflies via tiny, funnel shaped openings. When fertilized, they will gestate for a few weeks and then emerge as caterpillars or larvae.

In the larvae stage of life, their main activity is eating. They do it almost constantly. Most are plant eaters, some feed on insects. These charming, slow moving creatures will go through several cycles of shedding or moulting their outer epidermis in between meals. They have to be on the lookout for predators, but they are brilliant at survival. Some can puff up their heads and eyes so they appear snake-like to predators. Some will emit smelly chemicals in self defense, and still others will ingest toxic plant materials that make them unpalatable to insects and birds. This comes in handy when hanging upside down in the pupa stage!

During the pupa or chrysalis stage the creature attaches itself to something (usually leaves or small twigs) and moults for the last time; forming a protective place for metamorphosis to occur. Once this happens, they become very quiet and still so as not to attract attention from predators. An alchemical process transforms the caterpillar into the butterfly. Tiny wing disks grow dramatically as the larvae undergoes a rapid hormonal change. It will use its own body as nutrients for its re-creation. Once our butterfly has broken free of its old shell, it can take up to three hours for its wings to dry for that first flight. And fly it will, sometimes migrating hundreds of miles against all odds.

So the larvae is dying to fly; born into this world in a form that will require repeated shedding of that which it inevitably becomes. It will then, by nature’s own hand enter a deeply internal process that changes all the rules, completely transforming its world. It is amazing! In this new state the butterfly takes flight and at some point he or she will again shed the form taken. Yes, even the butterfly will experience what we call death. It will cease to breathe and fly, no longer animated by a life force that is beyond our comprehension or description. Perhaps this is an even more amazing transformation; for the butterfly that was, no longer is. Science, however, tells us that it is still somewhere because energy does not cease to exist but “simply” changes form. So, has it “simply” moved across time and space into a “butterfly dimension”?

I can see some interesting similarities between this creature and us. We come into this world in a particular form; we have experiences, change and grow.  Dr. Deepak Chopra tells us that we literally regenerate organs:  liver cells in six weeks, stomach lining in three days, eye cells in 48 hours and so on. Of our own volition and sometimes at the insistence of those we love, we repeatedly shed our outmoded selves to become something else. We may live out many chapters of life in our current bodies, but one day the biological form will cease to breathe; the animating force will no longer fuel our activity in this world.

Life is so precious to me here on Earth, that I would like to stay here forever; the beauty, the food, the laughter, the LOVE! But because everything here does seem to be impermanent, I have looked to the natural world for guidance. What is that animating force? Where does it go once it leaves the butterfly being or the human being? Where was that force before the butterfly or the human came into being? Why can’t that animating force be controlled, so we can avoid the state that we commonly refer to as “death?”

These questions are deep and wide; they bear our reflection and mindfulness.  The caterpillar as well as the butterfly provides an archetypal imprint that, for me, reflects a continual state of transformation. If we, like the caterpillar, practice shedding old skin time and again, we may be more prepared for the ultimate transformation when the time comes. If we, like the butterfly, can take to the wind knowing that at any moment we may enter the “butterfly dimension,” we may begin to see death as a profoundly amazing transformation.  We may be able to look upon it with less fear and more joy. We may become willing to live life here and now more joyfully; we may become willing fly.

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