I have never been one of those butterflies and rainbows kind of girls.
But, I recently heard a podcast about butterflies that has had me thinking about it ever since. It was an episode of Radiolab called Black Box wherein they explore three different black boxes – “those peculiar spaces where it’s clear what’s going in, we know what’s coming out, but what happens in-between is a mystery.” One of these black boxes was what happens during metamorphosis, from when the caterpillar becomes a pupa, a.k.a. a chrysalis, until it emerges as a butterfly.
In the Radiolab podcast we learn that the caterpillar, after only one day in the chrysalis, turns into a pale white/yellow goo. The caterpillar liquifies, organs dissolve, muscles melt, some cells rupture. It becomes a soup of cells. And this soup is what is “magically” transformed into a butterfly.
Starting in the 1600s and continuing for a long time thereafter, it was believed that the caterpillar entered the chrysalis, died, and then out of the dead caterpillar, a butterfly was born. It was a story of death and resurrection.
Now we know differently.
It has been proved that memories of the caterpillars carry through to the butterfly stage. For example, one scientist put caterpillars in a box and gassed them with a nasty smell. Once they could smell it, they were zapped repeatedly for 10 seconds at a time. Consequently, the caterpillars hated that particular smell. The moths that emerged from the chrysali of these caterpillars also hated the smell. Somehow a spec of brain made it through the goo stage and within that spec of brain was nestled this one memory about the nasty smell.
Another scientist sliced a caterpillar lengthwise and showed that some of the structures of the butterfly were already formed inside, including the wings, antennae, and legs. The caterpillar starts to grow little adult parts that are tiny and transparent. It then keeps them tightly rolled up and hidden up against the edges of the chrysalis. They don’t go thru the goo or become the goo.
What can we learn from this? That the process of metamorphosis is not about death, it is about transformation!
And what, you may well ask, does this have to do with yoga?
Well, yoga is a transformative practice. When you practice yoga consistently, dilligently, your life will be transformed. The transformation is not the same for everyone, but to transform is part of the practice.
When I first started practicing yoga, I thought that there were parts of it that were a bit hokey. There was “weird” chanting and “funky” breathing and even having to lay still for any period of time was challenging. My sister worried that I was getting involved in some sort of yoga cult. I was afraid that devoting myself to a practice that felt so good and one that I could see and feel the positive changes from, was going to lead me to becoming a person I didn’t know and one that I wasn’t sure I would like because of the parts of the practice that I didn’t understand or connect with at that time.
Hearing this story about metamorphosis and transformation reminded me of my yogic journey and how much my life has changed because of this amazing practice. But, more importantly, it reminded me that throughout the transformation I have been and always will be me. What this story about butterflies highlights is that no matter what kinds of transformations we go through in our lives, we will always, at our core be the same great people. Our morals and core beliefs don’t have to shift, unless greater education leads you to realize that they need to. The process of transformation is a dialogue, not a monologue. You can take what you need from it and leave the rest. Be yourself. Love yourself. And be open to transformation, knowing that even as you shift and change, you will remain true to those parts of you that are the most essential and true. The wings that you need to fly are already inside of you.
If you’re interested to hear the story that inspired this blog post:
The butterfly portion begins at 50:00.