How to Change

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A New Year: 5 Lessons We can Learn from a Butterfly

The movement process of a transition

As the year 2013 came to a close and we have now stepped into 2014, the tradition continues. Start fresh. Start new. Start again.  Do something different.  Change.  With any new start we inevitably must undergo a transition. Transition is defined as “a movement, development, or evolution from one form, stage, or style to another.” The important word to highlight here is movement.

I like to think that we can learn a lot of lessons from nature about this active process as we examine the movements that a caterpillar undergoes during its transition into a butterfly.

Lesson One:  If nothing changes, nothing changes. In order to come into form, a butterfly develops through a process called metamorphosis that has four stages; each stage is fully dependent on the other. While change can at times feel painful, if we don’t allow ourselves to go through the all stages of change, nothing will ultimately change.  We will stay in the same form. This inhibits us from flying.

Lesson Two: Everything we are taking in will be fuel and nourishment for our new form. During the first stage, the “feeding stage,” the caterpillar’s job is to eat and eat and eat.  It fills itself with nourishment as the food eaten at this time is stored and used later as an adult.  Trust that the process of nourishing yourself with experiences is ultimately feeding your future form—even if the experiences are particularly challenging.

Lesson Three: Shedding of old patterns are necessary. As the caterpillar grows, it “splits its skin” and sheds its skin 4 or 5 times. How valuable to look at this movement as a mandatory process of shedding, expansion, and that this must occur not once but over and over.

Lesson Four: Solitude provides space and time for internalization. When the caterpillar is full-grown and stops eating, it becomes a chrysalis.  Depending on the species, the caterpillar may suspend itself under a branch, hide in the leaves or bury itself underground. During times of transition, we too may need to go “underground” to hibernate and give our body and mind the space to go internal. What is significant about this stage and important for our own emotional and personal transition is that while visually it may look like nothing is going on, instead, big changes are happening inside. Special cells that were present in the caterpillar are now growing rapidly. They will become the legs, wings, eyes, and other parts of the adult butterfly.  This stage can last from a few weeks, a month, or even longer. 

Lesson Five: Sometimes a “breaking down” must occur in order for restructuring to begin.  During this phase of rapid internal growth, the caterpillar actually has to “break down its parts” or “liquefy” in order to come into another form.  If we relate this process to some of life’s transitions, it actually means that our body requires a giving in or a metaphorical “melting” into the process.  However, this movement process of letting go of something in order to grab onto something else actually means that for a period of time we may feel like we are holding on to nothing. We may not consciously identify what is happening to us during times of uncertainty, but our body can sense the change and can have a range of emotional reactions.  By examining the caterpillar’s physical breaking down of form in order for restructuring to happen as a metaphor, it may provide some guidance during these uncertain feelings, normalizing this part as an important stage in the transition.

Be kind to yourself during times of transition. Your body is undergoing a new sensory experience.  By reflecting on these five lessons, we can continue to learn from the movements of metamorphosis that may to lead us to satisfying transformation into new “forms” for this New Year.

© Christina Devereaux, PhD, LCAT, LMHC, BC-DMT

How to Change