(Part 1, 2 and 3)
“What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly.” -Richard Bach
If it’s true that life really is all about change, one might ask the question; Why is it necessary and what’s it all about anyway? Well, maybe life itself is intended to change us. Maybe it intends to change us for the better by taking us on a spiritual journey of learning and growth, even when we don’t think we need it.
Let’s look at the journey of the frog and the butterfly and compare them to changes that we humans go through. The metamorphosis of the frog is gradual. The metamorphosis of the butterfly is radical.
The tadpole (at home in the water) slowly begins growing legs, losing its tail and learning to breath in air. Over time an amazing change occurs and a seemingly new creature appears. The tadpole’s changes proceed gradually and the tadpole may change without any awareness of the process. As humans, we tend to like this sort of change; slow, and unaware without much effort. However, the experience of the caterpillar is a more radical metamorphosis. Most humans don’t like ‘radical changes’ – they usually cause us a lot of stress. So the caterpillar retreats into the darkness of a cocoon, where through a hidden and mysterious process, it eventually reemerges as a butterfly. But, while in the cocoon, there is a private, radical (maybe even painful) transformation also taking place. Much of the time, we humans also face a radical transformation when we find ourselves thrown into a crises situation. I think this experience of crisis is much like being in the midst of the darkness and isolation of our own private, painful cocoon of metamorphosis- a radical transformation, if you will.
A young school child, upon observing a cocoon, asked the teacher, “Does the caterpillar know that it will become a butterfly?” The answer is, “No”. Entering such a radical change is always a risk taken in ignorance of the outcome. This is the risk of transformation. We, as humans, also face the risk of radical transformation in times of (what we perceive as) crisis. This fundamental metamorphosis is in the moving from a limited view of who we are to a broader vision of our possible potential. It can be scary and the journey is often resisted. But maybe the journey is needed and maybe it’s part of our necessary metamorphosis, as a human being.
Our resistance occurs because these major, life-altering changes often seem like a death; and it is a kind of death. It’s a dying to what was and an opening to what can be. Life intends to change us. That’s a fact. It will change us with an awakening to what may appear as a frightening possibility- the possibility of realizing our potential. The possibility for realizing our potential can be resisted or embraced. But the metamorphosis process (no matter what our age) can’t be halted once the universe decides for it to begin. Resist it or embrace it, the choice is ours.
Changes don’t stop happening just because we’re 50 or 62 or 75 or even 80 years old. I personally think that changes are more difficult the older we get, but that doesn’t mean that they stop. It just means that we need new and better coping skills to deal with them. We always have choices in how we think of situations that happen. One of the worst things we can do is to beat ourselves up with statements or thoughts of, “If only I had……….” or “I should have… ”. Blame and self-condemnation never serve to further our metamorphosis.
As you contemplate your choices, it may be helpful to recall the caterpillar and to remember that what the caterpillar calls death, is really a beautiful butterfly. You could choose to open yourself to your own personal metamorphosis- having faith that you will emerge stronger, more loving and more beautiful as a result of this journey. Please enjoy your transformation and see where it leads you.
METAMORPHOSIS Part 2
Here we are in the middle of another dreary, cloudy Pennsylvania winter. In case you’re feeling a little ‘blah’ these days, I have a suggestion that might help lift your spirits. It always works for me and I want to pass it along.
As I leaf through the new seed catalogs, I like to reminisce about summer and all the colors of nature. The blue sky, green grass and trees, the reds, yellows, purple and oranges of flowers and yes the kaleidoscope of butterflies. Have you ever watched a butterfly? They flit from flower to flower, gathering nectar and pollinating as they go. To me, there seems to be something mystical and even spiritual about them.
Carl Sagan, astronomer, educator, author (Cosmos, 1980) and cofounder of The Planetary Society once said, “We are like butterflies who flutter for a day and think it is forever.”
Chinese philosopher, Chuang Tzu is quoted as saying, “Once upon a time I dreamt I was a butterfly, flittering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly ….. .suddenly I awoke. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly dreaming I am a man.”
Chuang Tzu believed that all of life is transitory and the pursuit of wealth is a folly, which detracts us from seeing (understanding) the world and contemplating its full meaning. He strove to see nature through new eyes.
Down through the ages numerous civilizations believed that butterflies were manifestations of the human soul; The Aztecs believed that the happy dead, in the form of butterflies, would visit their relatives to assure them that all was well. The Irish believe that butterflies are the souls of the dead waiting to pass through purgatory. The Greeks believed that a new human soul was born each time an adult butterfly emerged from its cocoon.
Whether or not you think butterflies represent something spiritual, if you love to spend time in the garden as I do, I’m sure you’ve enjoyed watching them flit about.
The Monarch or milkweed is the most common butterfly in North America. They get their common name because the larvae feed on milkweed plants. The Monarch has orange/red/ brown wings with black veins and a black boarder with 2 rows of white dots on it. Their wingspan can be as large as 4-inches across.
If you want to attract more butterflies to your garden, try planting milkweed for mama Monarch to lay her eggs on. Once she lays the eggs, it won’t be long until (after consuming the egg shell) they turn into a larva or caterpillar. Caterpillars have little chewing mouth parts, which they use to ‘skeletonize’ the leaves of the milkweed plant. They spend most of their time eating and growing. Since their skin can’t stretch or grow, they must shed this outer covering several times as they get bigger. This process is called molting.
When they’re finished growing, they form into a pupa or chrysalises. You will most often see this chrysalises hanging from a leaf or stem. Although it appears to be resting quietly, inside the chrysalises every part of the caterpillar is changing. During this metamorphosis its organs and other body parts ‘dissolve’ and ‘re-form’ into the organs, tissue, limbs and wings of the adult butterfly. When this transformation is finished, the chrysalises will molt one last time before emerging as an adult butterfly. Since its wings at this point are folded up against its body, the butterfly has to pump blood into them in order fly.
There are 3 milkweed species that do well in this area and will thrive for you: Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), Butterfly Milkweed or Pleurisy root (Asclepias tuberosa) and Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata). They all need full sun and shelter from the wind. You’ll find these plants growing naturally in fields, meadows and along roadsides and creeks. The flowers range from pink to lavender and orange and range in height from 2 – 6 feet tall.
METAMORPHOSIS Part 3
When planning your ‘butterfly garden’ for next summer, you’ll want to consider the height of the flowers for the area your planting. Since butterflies are near-sighted, plant a ‘stand’ of milkweed and other flowers to attract them to your garden. It’s also a good idea to have several open areas for them to sun themselves in, as well as partly shady areas like trees or shrubs, so they can hide out on extremely hot summer days. They also like ‘puddles’, ponds or birdbaths for a water source.
Once the butterflies have hatched, they’ll be looking for flowers to get nectar from for their food. You should have a variety of flowering plants for them to feed on such as; Black-eyed Susan, Echinacea (purple coneflower), Yarrow, Hollyhock, Bee Balm (Monarda), Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii) and Zinnias. These are all fairly easy to grow and most of them are perennial. The local garden shops will soon be getting their seeds in for spring, but if you want to get a jump-start, order them now on-line. Then start planning for your indoor ‘nursery’.
February is the time to start your seeds inside in containers and under lights. I can’t think of anything more exciting than seeing those tiny sprouts peek through the soil. If you’ve never tried to start seeds inside, this would be a great adventure for you- a sign of life in the dead of winter. Anyone can do it. Then as they grow, start making plans for your butterfly garden in the yard. You’re sure to attract several different species of butterflies and you can take pride in the fact that you have helped to preserve one of the world’s most beloved creatures; the butterfly.
A butterfly lights down,
and for a moment
its splendor belongs to me.
But it flits off again-
and although I am sad,
my soul remains extremely
rich from the experience.
– Granny Earth