Can We Transform Like Butterflies?

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

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Goslings at the Park

There are many patterns in the natural world that have parallels in our human behavior. This blog will highlight some of them and aim to elucidate how we humans might benefit from observing these patterns and consciously replicating them. The patterns in the natural world have, after all, evolved over many millions of years — and there’s often a lot of wisdom in discovering what one can learn from one’s elders.

As an example, see if you recognize a pattern I saw one day while walking at Mountain View’s Shoreline Park.

Shoreline is a large open space park designed on the site of a former garbage dump located adjacent to the wetlands of south San Francisco Bay. The waters that once lapped against the Bay shore have now been converted into a semi-natural lake for windsurfers and paddle boats, while across the grass covered mounds of garbage the Bay itself has been tamed into diked salt ponds. The landscape architects who sculpted this place have done a good enough job so that the area not only attracts daily joggers, rollerbladers and parents pushing strollers, but it also supports a fairly large population of shore birds — particularly Canadian geese.

These geese are big — at least 3 feet tall — and so fat and plump that it’s a clear testament to the affluence of our community here in Silicon Valley that they are not shot and brought home for dinner. Maybe the geese know that they would become people food in another place and so choose to stay — and multiply! — here in sunny California? Whatever their reasoning, the flock seems to be growing every year, and every spring I’ve come to enjoy watching the downy chicks paddling in a line after their mothers in the cement lined creeks that feed into the lake at Shoreline. The little fluff balls get bigger as the spring goes on, but it’s still easy to differentiate between the proud and strutting parents and the somewhat scruffy juveniles.

So one day in late spring as I was walking on a path between the lake and the grassy knolls, a large flock of adults — maybe 50 or 60 of them — were spread out all over the lawn area, sunning themselves on the grass. And them I looked to the right, near some trees and slightly behind a hillock. Totally separated from the others by about 50 yards, four or five large adults were standing watch over a bunched mass of maybe 30 or 40 juveniles. It was Goose Day Care!

The goslings were pecking at each other and the grass, while their “teachers” strutted around them. All of a sudden, about a third of the young ones separated out, herded by a few honks from one of the adults. She (of course, I assumed it was a “she”) nudged and cajoled them and waddled behind the batch of youngsters as they headed off towards the water. “Ah, a field trip!” I thought.

I looked back over at the lawn full of adults, sitting there unperturbed. Did the caretaker adults have that role permanently — or did they rotate this role, too, as geese supposedly do when trading the lead while flying in V-formation?

How ever the geese adopt these roles, it was clearly a familiar — and delightful — pattern.

— Debbie Mytels, January 9, 2015

Seasons of Change

Transition Palo Alto

by Debbie Mytels, September 25, 2014

As the Earth’s cycle turns to autumn, many cultures – and our educational systems – consider it the beginning of a “new year.” So as the leaves turn brown and fall, it’s an important time to reflect on what’s been accomplished during the past and what can be done differently in the time to come.  So a dozen enthusiastic members of the Transition Palo Alto/Silicon Valley Steering Committee — along with reps from Heart Beat Earth, Sunnyvale Cool, Move to Amend, the Fools Mission and the Palo Alto Unitarian Church Green Sanctuary Committee — organized an evening workshop on “Seasons of Change” on September 10 led by Menlo Park author and career counselor Carol McClelland, Ph.D.

Carol developed the workshop from ideas in her 1998 book, “Seasons of Change: Using Nature’s Wisdom to Grow Through Life’s Inevitable Ups and Downs.”  This inspiring…

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