A chrysalis is the shell, or bag – the container – in which a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. The idea of a caterpillar becoming a butterfly is amazing and inspiring to any elementary school student, but sadly, many adults never look at this metamorphosis from a more mature perspective.
A Butterfly undergoes its metamorphosis in a chrysalis. A moth does the same in a cocoon. A phoenix does something similar in its own ashes.
Here’s the cool part: for all of a caterpillar’s life it carries around “imaginal cells” in its body. These cells are the essence of the butterfly it will someday be. As long as it is a caterpillar, the body fights these imaginal cells off, like ours would a dangerous bacteria, and the healthy caterpillar mostly wins that fight against what seems to be the nonconforming cells, but they keep growing back. They are like an urge or a craving you just can’t fully kick.
At a certain point in the life of the caterpillar, it begins to go into hiding, wrapping itself up into its own little world and shutting off communication with everyone and everything. As I said above, the caterpillars that will become moths make cocoons, the ones destined to be butterflies build chrysaliseseses, and of course the phoenix goes out in a spectacular show of smoke and flame. I don’t know what I most resemble, but I went through something similar recently.
The imaginal cells were eating me up. I could hardly stand to be what I was, and yet I was resisting the metamorphosis. There is so much security in being the caterpillar, after all. You’re safe on the ground, you can crawl into a hole or a crack when you need to – so you fight off the urges to do something bigger – to fly. But after some time, the fight against the imaginal cells wears the poor worm out. The stress of not being what he was meant to be is too much. So he goes into his self-made solitude.
When I was a child I would sometimes find cocoons and crush them. I feel a little guilty about that now, knowing what I do. I wasn’t the only one though. The failure to recognize what something will be, based on what it is presently, is pretty common actually. The further act of abandoning the thing in its metamorphosis, instead of waiting it out or even protecting it, is understandable, as such acts (or non-acts) are simply rooted in a lack of awareness. At the same time, it is enlightening to see who does not do these things – those who support and wait – true friends.
Inside the chrysalis, the tide is turning in the war between the caterpillar cells and the imaginal cells. The body is being torn down like Atlanta on the heels of Sherman, and all that survives is those pesky, annoying imaginal cells. The same ones the body has been waging war against all its life – they now have a clean slate on which to build, and nothing standing in the way.
So one becomes two, and two become four, and four become eight. They grow exponentially – faster than you might have predicted. But still hidden in the chrysalis, or the ash, or solitude. Growing. Changing. Becoming.
After some time (5 to 21 days), the imaginal cells have won the day. they have built themselves into a new being. This is not a caterpillar with wings, by the way. The caterpillar was self-digested. All that was left was a few imaginal cells. No, this is a new being altogether. This is what those few cells always wanted to build when they were being shoved down by the “worm.” The first thing to emerge is often a wing. It will be wrapped up against the body though. After it is all the way out, it will slowly spread its wings, pump blood into them, and then . . . fly.
In the mythical world of the phoenix, this is when the ashes come together to form the new bird, in another showy display of magic.
In humans, the whole thing is a little kafka-esque sometimes, in the sense that we don’t always know what is happening when the metamorphosis begins. We recognize a sickness, or incredible stress, or an unrelenting desire for change. But we don’t know enough to call it a good thing.
But it is a good thing, as long as you have patient people around you, and not ignorant people who will simply crush the chrysalis for their own entertainment or other purposes. It is like the arrow being pulled back several inches before being shot forward by the bow. You feel like you’re going backward and resist (fight those imaginal cells!). But its all about living up to your potential after the regression.
Anyway, enough said. I’m ready to fly. I hope you are too, if you find yourself in regression, or depression, or even oppression. But, its just a suggestion.