When I look at all the social woes that beset us today, I find solace in the metamorphosis of the caterpillar. Its radical change into a butterfly has a hopeful resemblance to our current human condition. See if you can identify the parallels. . .
A caterpillar starts off innocently enough. A squiggly little worm shape — a start-up if you will — it aims to avoid being eaten by creatures higher up the food chain. But, as anyone who has ever raised tomatoes knows, a caterpillar is essentially an eating machine. It soon gets fat, gorging itself on everything green in its path, rather like the clear-cutting machines of timber companies — or the financial schemes of other capitalists.
Once the bloated caterpillar has eaten all it can, it finds a comfortable niche — and then, it begins to spit out slime. (Sound familiar?) The slime hardens into a protective shell; it’s wrapped up tight and seems unlikely to change.
However, inside the chrysalis, something shifts. The internal structures that supported the caterpillar begin to dissolve. Just as we see the breakdown of social structures — traditional families, religious institutions, secure employment, safe neighborhoods and schools, gender roles, and norms of compassion — the caterpillar’s internal organs disintegrate into their component molecules. They become individual, atomized units swimming around meaninglessly in a sea of goo. (Certainly sounds familiar now, right?)
But within the chrysalis lies a new potential. Small structures called “imaginal cells” — probably strands of DNA — begin to attract molecules within the goo. These imaginal cells remind me of a small co-op grocery, a community garden, a neighborhood “free library” box, farmer’s markets, free clinics, casual carpools, bike-sharing, co-housing — a whole range of new social institutions that are springing up to serve the needs of people ravaged by slime and rapacious behavior.
Within the chrysalis, the imaginal cells collect more and more molecules, pulling them together into new — and much more beautiful! — structures. Ultimately, these new structures grow big and strong and can no longer be contained within the rigid form of the chrysalis. It bursts open and a beautiful new creature emerges, ready to begin its dance through the world.
This is Nature’s model. Can we take hope from it and grow those imaginal cells — bringing forth a future of beautiful butterflies?
© Debbie Mytels, January 16, 2015