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  • michelle m. davis

When a Caterpillar Meets a Butterfly

When a caterpillar meets a butterfly, does it know?”—Denis Morton

Does it? But how could a wiggly, young wormlike creature realize it’s destined to transform into a magnificent, winged insect capable of migrating up to 3,000 miles? There’s absolutely no way a common caterpillar possesses the ability to see its future self as a beautiful butterfly.

But what about us? Did the children we once were envision the adults we have become? Let’s take this concept one step further … did we know in our twenties, our thirties? But of course not. After all, how could we predict what life would throw at us, the future experiences designed to shape who we are today?

Think back to when you were a little boy or girl. Perhaps you dreamed of becoming an astronaut, a doctor, a fireman, a nurse. Or maybe you felt destined to dance on stage, play for the NBA, or climb to the top of Mt. Everest. While most of us never met those childhood aspirations, we did change from our child selves to who we are now through our own "cocoon." Some of us stepped off life’s predictable path—taking a time-out of our own—to complete this metamorphosis. Others followed a more traditional route, allowing minor deviations from time to time to “figure it all out.” Regardless of the journey, we’ve all shape-shifted in some way during our time on earth.

Everybody knows what a caterpillar is,

and it doesn't look anything like a butterfly.”—Lynn Margulis

Of course, these changes go far beyond the physical. In fact, the internal shifts may be the most fascinating. Perhaps we’ve altered political views, values, or philosophies. Or we may have gone deeper in examining who we are. Few evade this process. After all, it’s why we’re here … to grow, to elevate. And while our metamorphosis may not be as physically visible as the transition from the caterpillar to the butterfly, sometimes these inner conversions rock our world, causing us to not only question our belief systems, but to also wonder if our foundation has any footing at all.

Timing for our transformation varies. For some, it occurs early on. Whether by choice or a prerequisite for survival, kids and teens can face life-altering scenarios forcing them to make significant decisions. However, for most, I suppose this occurs as a mid-life "fork in the road." Maybe it’s triggered by a divorce, a diagnosis, or a discovery. I’ve shared this frequently, but my big “aha” came when I went through breast cancer. Shaken, I questioned who I was, why I was here, and what mattered most. With time, I saw the beauty of how something so terrible led me in a new direction, one through which I’m continuing to learn and evolve. But first, I needed to build my own cocoon so I could retreat and pause to see where I needed to go. Sound familiar? I suspect we’ve all been there.

Eventually the unfolding takes place. Slowly, we chew out of our protective covering, gaining the courage to reenter the world as an entirely new being. Frail at first, we acquire the strength and fortitude to take our first steps, shedding our comfort zone to test out the unknown. While sometimes scary, we begin to trust our wings. And while we may not always know where we are headed, intuitively, we sense our new direction.

How this occurs is unique to each person. Sometimes, it’s a simple transition, requiring little effort. Yet often this evolutionary process taxes the mind, body, and spirit in unimaginable ways. We may question everything we’ve known, doubt our judgment, or dread tomorrow. However, with time, we soften, become comfortable with uncertainty, and learn to allow instead of trying to control.

Maybe the most significant shift the butterfly experiences that the caterpillar cannot fathom is freedom. For when we are no longer trapped in an uncomfortable, limiting body filled with fear about the future or regrets about the past, we open to love and what can be. This creates the courage to blindly take off, trust what we do not understand, and soar through the world. While safe landings are never guaranteed, we now possess faith that there are many branches ahead for us to rest.

What shifts remain in your transformation? Are you ready to spread your wings and fly?

What the caterpillar calls the end of the world the master calls a butterfly.”—Richard Bach


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