On Becoming a New Creature

I had cabin fever. Again. Bad. I was feeling down in the dumps, frustrated with my never-ending creative projects, my aloneness, my newly evolving life as an author and online coach. I needed to get out. Itching for action of any kind, I drove to Asheville to buy some elegant, old-fashioned bottles at the big-box kitchen store. (I wanted to make some blueberry and peach infused spirits with tall sprigs of mint again as Christmas gifts and that’s where I bought the supplies last year.)

Pulling up in front of the store, I parked in the shade. (It was hot out! It’s August! Did you know that? How did that happen? I think it was June the last time I went out.) The lot looked quasi-empty but I didn’t think much of it, there is a pandemic going on after all.

Focused on my project of the day, I slid my leopard print mask up over my face and headed across the parking lot. But when I got to the door, there was a big lock on it (like the kind realtor’s and the IRS use). I glanced in the window and the store was empty. Completely empty. It was like the kitchen products had vanished in the middle of the night, or left in June, who knows which? I couldn’t get my bottles; I couldn’t make infused spirits without them. I laughed to myself that it was probably a holy sign that I should take up needlepoint instead.

And that’s when I saw her. The most enormous butterfly I have ever seen in real life. This huge, gorgeous yellow swallowtail was pressed up against the curb outside the store. I knelt to look more closely and lightly touched her wing. She fluttered but couldn’t seem to fly. The heat was radiating from the pavement and my heart melted for her. Something that beautiful shouldn’t be baked alive.

So I took off my mask and offered it to her as a magic carpet and she climbed slowly onboard. She pressed her wings flat against it as I carried her to the shade. I offered her a chance to move into the tall grass but she refused it. She was a gift that couldn’t be given away. On the drive home we listened to solo violin music. I’m pretty sure she liked it as much as I did.

I Goggled wounded butterfly and learned she would savor the same nectar I’d made that morning for my hummingbirds, and to put it on a sponge so she could use her feet to find it. I followed the directions and, clearly delighted, she unfurled her tightly curled proboscis to take a long drink. It turns out my new friend is a female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail who is probably exhausted from laying her eggs.

Looking into the rows of eyes on her wings I was transported to an internal sanctuary. To gaze upon her is to see holiness. It had been an exhausting week, stuffed full of new ways of being, new possibility, and, correspondingly, a hundred ways to fail. It was another one of those weeks when you’re either in a cave shaking, or cliff-walking with nothing but hutzpah to keep you from falling to your death. This year seems to have brought a lot of those to a lot of us.

I needed to hit pause; to stop my monkey brain from bouncing around on my neural networks as it pondered new ways of being. I needed to find some meaning in all of it.

And as I looked at her, so wounded and beautiful, strong and soft, fragile yet alive, I began to cry. Like me, she had suffered through a true metamorphosis to become a butterfly. As a caterpillar, she had to survive five instars, sheddings of her exoskeleton. During her last instar, she transformed the skin of her soft, tubular body into a hard chrysalis, after securing herself to a branch, so that the unthinkable could happen. Inside her chrysalis she first digested herself and became liquid so that she could restructure her cells and become an entirely new creature, in a process known as histogenesis. Her ancient process is the foundation of modern-day stem cell research, how fascinating is that?

More tears flowed as I thought about my own instars in a way I never had before. Learning more about her journey helped me understand my own. What I had seen as failures or do-overs were actually a process deeply necessary to my own metamorphosis. I had to shed my no-longer-useful exoskeletons.

Without shedding and cocooning, we cannot be made new.  She’s slowly fluttering her wings as I write, drinking her fill from a sponge on a plate. She is safe for now and so am I. The small deaths in my life, my journey back from widowhood, these are not things to be pitied or mourned. I’ve been undergoing histogenesis. No wonder I’ve felt semi-solid this year. My metamorphosis is almost complete. Soon I will dry my wings in the sun, and then, I’ll take flight.

Now I understand the message I was sent when I saw her pressed up against the hot pavement in a parking lot. If we can survive the threats of life long enough, stop clinging to our old skin and the baggage that comes with it; if we can digest the hard places within us, then one day we can emerge. When we let go of the old selves that no longer serve us, we become a new creature, in an ancient act of unspeakable freedom and beauty.

This is a difficult time to be a butterfly. Take a few moments to use this healing meditation to gain strength for the freedom that awaits YOU.

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