The Pain of Becoming Something New

Lessons from a Luna Moth

Several months ago I watched a video of a luna moth that was making its rounds on Facebook. This tiny little caterpillar, as small as a pine needle kept growing and changing. Every so often, it would stop and wiggle and jolt and burst its way out of its skin. Then it would eat and eat, and before too long it happened again.

Don’t you think that would hurt? What’s it feel like when the very skin that has housed and protected you becomes too tight and you literally have to crawl out of it.

I get to see glimpses of this transformation every day in my office. People come in unaware that they’ve grown too big for their space. Their ideologies have changed. Their relationships have become stunted. Their jobs provide a pay cheque and very little else. They know something isn’t right and they are in the painful growth process of transformation.

I sometimes think anxiety and depression serve us in this way. They can make us painfully aware that something in our life isn’t working right now. A shift needs to happen.

Pain of Transition

We love the idea of metamorphosis but, being human, I suspect we struggle, more than caterpillars do, with the process. I’m of the belief that part of the problem is our brain. Although it has amazing capabilities, one of its flaws seems to be a tendency to resist change. It would rather you stay safe and small than risk the pain of metamorphosis.

And be sure metamorphosis, we now know, is a painful process. The mystery of what happened inside a cocoon was just that…a complete mystery. Now though, through modern technology, scientists have been able to see what happens in the days and weeks that the caterpillar is holed up in its cocoon.

And it’s gross. It’s not a beautiful rendering of painless growth. It’s not the awe inspiring sprouting and growing of beautiful wings ready to unfurl and lift the caterpillar to new heights.

Nope, that version is not real life.

Science blew the lid off that idyllic picture. Instead our poor little caterpillar, after already undergoing many painful skin shedding episodes, now completely dissolves in its own gastric juices!

There may be Moments You Don’t Recognize Yourself

That’s right. Almost total anhilation of what it was before. If you open the cocoon at the right time (please don’t do this!) you will find our caterpillar friend is nothing but goop. I bet he wouldn’t even recognize himself.

Some of you have been there haven’t you? All of a sudden you no longer recognize what you have become. Where once you enjoyed life, now you feel more like a pointless blob.

To make matters worse, we have audio samples of what it sounds like in the cocoon too! “In a lab at UCLA, scientists use high-tech tactile microscopes to read the vibrations inside the chrysalis. Those vibrations are then transformed to audio…The sounds are like that of an agonizing cry.” (Heuertz, Phileena. Pilgrimage of a Soul. 2010 quoting “The Secret Life of Butterflies,” Studio 360, NPR, KIOS 91.5, Omaha, Nebraska, Dec. 8, 2007).

While we picture a painless, smooth transition, instead our poor little friend is cut off from the world, slowly disintegrating into primordial goop in the dark with no one to reassure him there will be a better day tomorrow.

Now, we all know, it’s only a matter of time before the process completes and the butterfly emerges, unfurls its wings and takes off on a whole new adventure. But, when it was trapped in that painful darkness, did it have a clue what was in store for him or her? Did it know when it felt all alone that there was an entire world eager for its emerging self? Do you know that about yourself?

You Were Created for a Purpose

Scientists also tell us that butterflies have memory of their caterpillar days. Apparently puzzles they learned as a kindergarten caterpillars are able to be solved in their winged state.

I find that fascinating. We too remember the past. We remember what we were. I think perhaps the best gift of the butterfly is a reminder that you really don’t know what you are becoming. Press into it though. Go with what lies ahead. Resist the urge to stop growing. Don’t let your brain or any of your friends convince you to stop changing. Don’t give up because the pain is too much. You are morphing into something new.

Your Wings are in the Making

Have patience. Like the caterpillar, you must shed layer after layer. You may have to spend time in the dark. You may be cut off from previously important people in your life. You may become unrecognizable for a period. Press on. Your wings are in the making, beautiful thing.

Take some time and watch this video as you ponder what is beginning to feel too small in your world. Ask yourself where you are in this process. Remind yourself that your wings are in the making.

Trish White is a counsellor in Kamloops, BC, that has a string of shed skins behind her. Find out more how she can help you shed that skin that isn’t fitting here:

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