It's that time of year again. Renewed vows. Start again. Learn from mistakes. Develop and transform into the best version of YOU. Nature imparts many important lessons to us, especially regarding transformations and metamorphosis. Borrowing examples from this systematic world perhaps brings some order onto the tumultuous and random set of occurrences that make up our life. Arguably, the most relevant natural active process of change is the one of the caterpillar converting into a butterfly.
So how does this process happen and how can we apply some of it's central components to our life?
We all experience metamorphosis during our existence, reshaping our identity several times. Think about the more obvious and methodical ones: We've changed from an infant to a child to an adolescent to an adult. Does it end there? Certainly not -- as social beings, we are constantly interacting with others and therefore being moulded by experiences such as marriage, parenting, divorce, jobs and other beginnings, endings and in-betweens.
As Martha Beck describes, "Any transition serious enough to alter your definition of self will require not just small adjustments in your way of living and thinking but a full-on metamorphosis. I don't know if this is emotionally stressful for caterpillars, but for humans it can be hell on wheels. The best way to minimize trauma is to understand the process."
To begin with, change happens in distinct stages that are all necessary to complete the cycle. We shouldn't try and skip stages nor take short cuts since that may derail us completely. Certain stages will be more painful and challenging than others but if we resist discomfort, how will we effectively be reformed?
Every experience, good and bad that you've had throughout life has prepared you for becoming a butterfly. At times life's thorns may seem unfair and confusing. Believe that explanations about certain matters will follow later for every experience has a function that will be revealed when the time is right.
As caterpillars grow and get prepared for the metamorphosis process, they shed their skin a number of times. We too have to unlearn certain behaviors and shed ourselves of habits and limiting beliefs that have held us back unnecessarily.
Some of this process can be shared with family and friends or even professionals such as psychologists, therapists and coaches. However, know that it's through self-determination, diligence, and will power that achievements are realized. No one can do it for you. This will require self-reflection and awareness as well as perhaps a period of solitude as you focus on who you are, who you want to be and what practical steps you're going to take to get there.
Butterflies and caterpillars don't just look different; they actually behave differently too. Perhaps that's why we never see a butterfly befriending a caterpillar. They have moved on and advanced and therefore at a different evolutionary stage. In the same way, people progress and grow at different stages. Sometimes we teach and lift in relationships, other times we learn and take but the most fulfilling association is where there is a degree of equity in psychological evolution.
What does that look like?
- Ease of communication and interaction
- Similar values and principles
- Unspoken mutual norms
- Mutual interest is shown
- Collaboration rather than competition
- Space to breath and grow
- Understood and not judged
- Not told to change but encouraged to develop
- Mutual support
- Copes effectively through difficulties
- Empathy is shown
- Conflicts are resolved
- Discuss rather than assume
- Realistic expectations
The metaphor of a butterfly interacting with a caterpillar represents a situation of regression, which can be emotionally exhausting and damaging, and so we should strive forward by surrounding ourselves with people who have gone through a certain degree of metamorphosis and transformation so neither feel alien to the other.
Even though the butterfly symbolism may shed some light on the importance of understanding our psychological evolutionary process, the complexity of human beings with our diverse personalities, cultures, values and perceptions remind us that there is no uniform process or universal standard that can capture our essence entirely. So learn from other, but value and comprehend the uniqueness of your own reality. Still, one thing remains true for all as explained by Richard Back as he said, "What the caterpillar calls the end of the world the master calls a butterfly."
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