Transformation and growth. How does one become a butterfly?
“Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly”.
If one of your New Year resolutions is to pursue transformation and growth in order to become the best version of yourself, I invite you to study the life of a butterfly and learn from it. But how does one become a butterfly?
The butterfly has one of the most fascinating life cycles of all creatures. It starts its life as an egg perched on a leaf. When the egg finally hatches, a caterpillar emerges from the egg. The whole raison d’être of the caterpillar is to eat as much as possible in order to reach its desired growth. During this stage, the caterpillar will outgrow and shed its skin as many as four or five times.
As soon as the caterpillar is done growing and it has reached its full length and weight, it takes refuge into a cocoon, also known as the chrysalis, where it can safely rest and digest all the food that has been consumed in the previous stage. Though the chrysalis appears unchanged from the outside, there is a dramatic transformation taking place inside, this process is called metamorphosis, whereby the body of the caterpillar is slowly dissolving to create a brand-new being.
At last, in the final stage of its metamorphosis, the fully developed butterfly is ready to emerge from the chrysalis. The butterfly breaks free from its cocoon with wings that are folded and wet, so more rest time is necessary to allow blood to flow into the wings. Finally, when the wings are fully dry, the butterfly is ready to take flight and share its beauty with the world.
If we look closely at the process of the butterfly transformation from one state to another state, we see it is not an easy process. It takes time and each phase is necessary before the next stage can take place. If your New Year resolution is to transform yourself into the best individual you can possibly be, I invite you to emulate the transformation process of the butterfly when you are working on your own transformation and growth.
The caterpillar stage
In this stage of the butterfly’s life (which follows right after the hatching from an egg) the main task is consumption. For us, we can assimilate this stage with the stage of growth when we are consuming as much knowledge and training as we can about something new that we want to understand and master.
This is the stage when we learn how to master our craft, and it is also the occasion for us to keep an open-mind about how things are done and ‘shed’ old ideas, concepts and habits that don’t work anymore. Sometimes we have to unlearn the things we learned and take the path less traveled by. This is often a stage of great excitement and energy as we enjoy the flow of creativity and inspiration it brings; but the learning process can also bring with it its fair share of hard work and loneliness.
It is important that we do not rush through this stage and have patience to go through the not-so-glamourous part of the learning process. A house built on sand won’t last very long. In the olden days, if you wanted to enter a profession you had to find a master who will be willing to take you under his wings and enter into an apprenticeship to learn the craft. The normal length of an apprenticeship was 10 years; learning the craft required patience, discipline and dedication. The modern concept of this is the 10, 000 hours required to master a skill as described by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers.
Robert Greene calls this Mastery. He wrote a whole book about it.
“Anyone who would spend ten years absorbing the techniques and conventions of their field, trying them out, mastering them, exploring and personalizing them, would inevitably find their authentic voice and give birth to something unique and expressive. Embrace slowness as a virtue in itself”.Robert Greene
We have a tendency to want to take the quickest, easiest path to our goals, we are impatient and want to see results quickly, but remember “there is no elevator to success. You have to take the stairs.” The best way to cultivate our natural impatience is to cultivate a kind of pleasure in pain – like an athlete, you come to enjoy rigorous practice, pushing past your limits, and resisting the easy way out.
For more on this subject, you can read my article Want Good things to happen to you? Try Patience.
The chrysalis stage
In this stage the caterpillar takes refuge in a protective cocoon where it can safely rest and conduct its metamorphosis quietly and privately.
Human beings tend to skip that stage or confuse it with a period of a downturn or treat it as a failure. In fact, this stage is a necessary stage where you should learn the art of being still. What does stillness mean? Stillness means to be steady while the world spins around you. Socrates tells us that philosophy begins with wonder, and wonder is rooted in stillness. Other philosophers from various schools of thought have come to a similar conclusion, namely that the ultimate destination in our life journey is to master the stillness that is required to become master of our own life.
Ryan Holiday’s book Stillness is the Key, describes the philosophy of stillness, or the art of being still and how important stillness is for self-mastery, discipline and focus in our modern noisy world. Stillness is an attainable path to enlightenment, excellence, greatness, and happiness, it can inspire new ideas, sharpens perspective and illuminate the mind. Stillness slows the ball down so we can hit it, it generates a vision, helps us resist the passion of the mob, and makes space for gratitude and wonder. Stillness allows us to persevere, to succeed, a key to unlock the insights of genius. Stillness is not some soft, new-age nonsense or the domain of monks or sages but in fact an essential component to peak performance in every domain of life.
A paradox of stillness is that it requires you to think very deeply, but also clear your mind. In fact, this is not a paradox as once our mind is cleared and emptied insights and breakthroughs can occur.
“Muddy waters clear themselves through stillness; if we let them settle the truth will be revealed to us.”
Another paradox is that stillness does not require that you stop moving or even to be somewhere quiet, stillness can be cultivated while chaos swirls around you. Those moments, in a busy shopping mall or airport, when somehow all the external noise is filtered out and you feel a sense of calm and can focus on what is in your control, that, is stillness.
The ability to intentionally find stillness, in a busy environment or just by shutting your eyes and focusing your thoughts and attention on one thing, is important because we have to move and live our lives; intentional stillness takes effort. Active stillness is effective because we can’t simply think our way to peace or pray our body into better condition.
Stillness is an important tool on your journey to find clarity. The ability to see clearly, not only when you are meditating, but in the midst of conflict when you are frustrated, angry or scared, will help you find a more logical, less emotional response, and give you choices to do things differently, or do nothing at all.
For more on this subject , please read my article The Art of Being Still.
Transformation and growth – How does one become a butterfly?
At last, in the final stage, the fully developed butterfly is ready to emerge from the chrysalis sharing its beauty with the world. The butterfly is considered a wonder of nature, it symbolizes personal transformation, changes, rebirth and the lightness of being. The butterfly as a spirit animal will remind you that life is a dance. You should not take things so seriously. Transformation and changes don’t have to be traumatic. They can be sweet and gentle, so you can accept them with grace and joy.
When you are ready to display your new you to the world, move forward with courage, while recognizing the fragility of your ‘new wings’, and when things don’t work out the way you expected, best to let go of your expectations. It is natural for human beings to seek validation; we thrive on being seen and being appreciated for our work and effort. We all want to become a beautiful Monarch butterfly admired by the people around us and for the most ambitious admired by the whole world. But the reality is many of our endeavors will turn into tiny moths instead, and that’s Ok. We have to resist the temptation to be only driven by the desire to create something grandiose and earth-shattering; it is Ok to shoot for the stars but if you don’t get there, it is also Ok to be fully satisfied with whatever emerges from the chrysalis, for nature has a need for moths as well as beautiful butterflies.
Advice from a Butterfly from Ilan Shamir
- Let your true colors show
- Take yourself lightly
- Look for the sweetness in life
- Take time to smell the flowers
- Catch a breeze
- Treat yourself like a Monarch
- And this my dear friend, is your Quest.
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