I heard that quote a year or two ago on a recording of a presentation by spoken word poet Sekou Andrews, and it struck me deeply. Not only because my little family had just begun the exciting process of adopting Monarch caterpillars and raising them indoors.
What struck me was the idea that growth requires giving things up. So often we think about our lives as a process of adding on and accumulating. We add more knowledge, skills, experiences, and habits. We may also add on more tasks, responsibilities, and material possessions.
Yet in order to truly grow, we must also shed. We shed clothing as it wears out, ceases to fit us properly, or goes out of fashion. We may shed furnishings and household items to make way for the new (particularly when and if we move to a new home.) And most importantly, we must shed beliefs and habits which no longer serve us.
In the span of approximately one month, the creature that ultimately becomes a Monarch goes from tiny egg to giant caterpillar to mysterious chrysalis to incredible butterfly. These are fundamental and astonishing physical changes in such a short time.
Admittedly, I have no idea what it feels like to be a Monarch, going through these stages. Yet if I were to imagine, I would expect that the birth and growth stage would involves some seriously hard work. The business of eating is punctuated only by four short periods of rest (in between the five stages called instars) during which the caterpillar sheds its skin to accommodate its growing bulk. At the end of the fifth instar, the caterpillar is ready to pupate, or go into its chrysalis, where it will ultimately metamorphose into its final physical state.
Have you become attached to your caterpillar-ness?
While we may not shed our skin in the same way as the Monarch caterpillar, we also have opportunities to shed the parts of ourselves and our lives that are not longer serving our growth. Sometimes this happens without us paying attention, and other times we must consciously make it happen in order to move forward. It is in these times (the ones that we need to make happen) that it is useful to think of Andrews’ words. Because our challenge can be that we have become attached to our caterpillar-ness. We are comfortable with the skin of our lives which is familiar, and even though we may be stressing at its seams, we fear what comes next, when we release it.
Everyone has these times. We cling to the familiar because it’s safer that the unknown future. We may tell ourselves that we want to become a butterfly, yet we don’t exactly know how that feels, nor do we have certainty that the path to get there will be as comfortable as where we are now (spoiler: it won’t be.)
Therefore we must have a desire – a deep and burning drive – to grow the wings that await at the end of that period of change. Our desire must be so strong that we are willing to say goodbye to the person we are today – the caterpillar.
How deep is your desire to have wings?