Friday a friend said an interesting thing to me. I sat on her couch tracing the designs of a throw pillow as I shared the frustration I felt in re-evaluating my life and the rules I allow to govern it. I couldn’t seem to reconcile my childhood rules with the choices and beliefs I wanted to have as an adult. The dissonance overwhelmed me.
“Have I told you about butterflies?” she asked.
I shook my head.
“Essentially caterpillars melt into a gooey substance before they become butterflies. An in between stage, if you will, when they are no longer a caterpillar and not yet a butterfly.”
Come again? That’s right. A caterpillar wraps itself in a cocoon and then releases enzymes that digest its whole body leaving behind a soupy substance and several imaginal discs (real scientific term, btw) or cells clusters that shift around until they eventually become eyes, antennae, wings, etc. The caterpillar carries these discs with them their whole life, but the cells cannot transform into anything greater until the old body is broken down and destroyed. (So much meaning, so little time, but I’m sure you can connect the dots).
I am butterfly soup.
I am no longer the old me and not yet the new me. Instead I am a fluid in between mixture with clusters of thought that will eventually form into my new self, even if I don’t know what that is yet. It’s a painful place to be. The soup phase requires flexibility, patience and a lot of letting go.
If we’ve experienced any type of change or transformation we’ve experienced butterfly soup. I wonder if the caterpillar shares the same doubts we do. I wonder if, as enzymes are eating away its flesh, if the bug wonders, “What the hell have I done? Nothing can be worth this.” Is he okay with the process being so fluid and undefined? Does he wish he could just grow wings without becoming nothing first? Does he ever ask “Why?”
And because I’m a writer this made me think of writing too. How our stories begin as one thing (an idea, a character, a setting) and then morph into something amazing (a finished novel). I keep wanting the in between process to be more structured, but it’s not. Just like a life transformation, writing a novel is a fluid process that requires flexibility, patience and, yes, letting go.
Life, writing and butterfly making are not clean and clinical; they’re a messy, crazy process of wading through goop. People, characters and caterpillars may seem to move from point A to point B all the way to point Z as if following a single Candy Land path to the enchanted castle, but what we don’t see in others is the mess hidden beneath the cocoon.
And sometimes you just have to give in to the mess. I’m no longer a caterpillar and I’m not yet a butterfly. I have to be okay with being butterfly soup. (And so does my novel! Hehe)
How about you? Have you ever experienced this phenomenon in life or your career? How did you stay flexible? Were you able to enjoy the process even if it was difficult? Any tips for those of us still squirming in our cocoons?
I love hearing from you! I don’t have all the answers (of even some of them), but together we can get really close.
Have a happy Monday! And if you’re feeling like butterfly soup, remember… 1) you’re not alone and 2) when it’s over you’re going to fly!