When people think about change, they often are filled with a variety of different emotions. There is often a queasy blend of trepidation and excitement, anxiety and anticipation. Whether getting ready for the next big adventure, or just needing a change of scene or living room furniture, one thing is true. Change is the most constant thing in the universe.
Everything is always changing, from the seasons to the endless rolling out of time. Why, then, if change is so constant, is it so difficult?
The idea of change can bring a lot of images to mind. If I had a nickel for every time I heard a metaphor about caterpillars and butterflies when talking about change with someone! It’s a clear example of how one thing can transform into something new and “better” than what it was before. We often use this metaphor to help others through difficult times or to celebrate when someone blossoms in an important area of their life. But look a little closer, and that self-same metaphor becomes a little more complicated.
As a child, I remember learning that caterpillars go into their cocoons, grow wings, and become butterflies, but the process is actually a lot messier than that. In the cocoon, caterpillars actually dissolve into a kind of sticky goo. The caterpillar literally releases enzymes and digests itself. In this state, it is neither the caterpillar nor the butterfly. The only thing that remains are special cells called imaginal cells, that are the blueprint for becoming the butterfly. The caterpillar carries these cells from the moment of its hatching. Once goo, the cells become activated and the caterpillar then divides cells to match the blueprint. By following the blueprint, the caterpillar becomes the butterfly. (See, kids, science is cool!)
There’s a lot to be said in this transformation; For example, in order to become something new (the butterfly), the caterpillar must first literally die as a caterpillar. It speaks to the natural process of letting go that comes with change. The state between where we have been and where we are going can feel unsettling. However, like the thin spaces of Celtic spirituality, these liminal spaces have a power all their own. In these spaces, we have the chance to grow, even in unexpected ways.
There’s another lesson hiding in the story of the caterpillar. Remember those imaginal cells? The caterpillar was born with those cells. This means that the caterpillar was already the butterfly. From the moment of its birth, the caterpillar carries the blueprint for its own transformation, only becoming the butterfly when it is ready to do so. The caterpillar already has what it needs to become who it can be. Like the caterpillar, when we fear change, we forget that often times we already have what we need to become the butterfly of our imaginings. We just have to remember who we are.
Change comes to all of us in its own time, but only when we are ready to experience it. When it feels a little crazy, or scary, or new, remember this:
Little caterpillar, the butterfly is already within you.