A Spirituality Around Springtime and Butterflies

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This last Saturday, the topic at my spiritual community’s service was how Springtime is considered by almost every major religious tradition as a sacred portal to experiencing God and opening one’s self up to deep personal and spiritual growth.  Spring is a time of year that many consider a “thin place” – an opportunity to have the curtains of our hearts and minds pulled back a bit to provide us meaningful glimpses of and encounters with the Sacred.

“Spring naturally makes us see the renewal of life,” writes the Rev. Jerry Hirano whose Buddhist tradition celebrates the festival Ohigan during the spring and fall equinoxes. “It makes us appreciate the circle of life, so to speak. We see that even in the harshest of winter, there is rebirth, renewal. One naturally follows the other.”

I’m especially thankful for this reality.  It reminds me that life has seasons to it – that’s a natural part of life for every living thing.  So when my life feels like it’s in a deep dark winter, where nothing significant seems to be happening, where it doesn’t feel like my life is growing or that I’m making a difference in any tangible or visible ways, spring will come!  The Creator God has structured life to be that way – the cycle includes both times of apparent desolation when things seem to go into hibernation, as well as times of new life, new birth, growth and transformation and productive activity.

One of the profound illustrations of this in nature is the butterfly’s cycle of life.  It’s called metamorphosis.  That’s a Greek compound word, meta – change, plus morph – form, literally meaning change in form or transformation. When you take a look at the butterfly’s metamorphosis, you can’t help but notice not only how intentional but also how important every step of the journey is.  Transformation involves every phase of the cycle.  Here’s a short trip back to your high school biology class (remember those good ‘ole days?  Look how much has “metemorphed” since then – thankfully!).

The butterfly’s metamorphosis involves four stages:

Stage one:  Egg

One thing worth mentioning here is that, female butterflies are very choosy about the plants they would want to lay their eggs on. The reason is that the caterpillar has to survive by munching away the leaves of this plant. For instance, the female Monarch butterfly would prefer to lay eggs only on milkweed plants. This is because the caterpillars of this variety of butterflies can feed only on this plant. Similarly, each variety of butterflies has its preference when it comes to laying it egg. Laying of eggs commences the first phase of butterfly metamorphosis. The underside of the leaves is where you find the butterfly eggs. These are white in color and are very small. It takes almost a week for the eggs to hatch. The larva develops inside the egg and nourishes on the yolk of the egg. Finally, they make a small hole in the egg and emerge on the leaf. Here the second stage begins.

Stage two:  Larva

The larva of the butterfly is called caterpillar. This is the second phase of the metamorphosis. Initially the caterpillars are very small and hardly weigh 0.55milligrams. The length of the caterpillar is merely 0.1 inch. However, the caterpillar grows fast feeding on the leaves. In two weeks they become an adult caterpillar. Now the size of the caterpillar is around 2 inches. This is a very interesting stage. The adult caterpillar has eight pairs of legs. As the caterpillar grows longer it outgrows its skin. It sheds the skin. This process is called as molting. In this stage of butterfly metamorphosis, caterpillar molts its skin around five to six times. The fully-grown adult caterpillar, starts crawling away from the plant it was feeding on and keeps crawling till it finds a safe haven to pupate. Once the caterpillar finds a place to pupate, it makes a silk-like mat on the surface and hangs upside down. The last pair of legs is attached to the silk-like mat. It hangs for one whole day like this and takes the shape of the alphabet “J”. Caterpillar sheds its skin for the last time before it moves into the next stage of butterfly metamorphosis.

Stage three:  Pupa

When the larva enters the third phase, it has already shed its eight pairs of legs and the head capsule, which had housed six eye lenses. The skin of the caterpillar is shed for the final time and the casing takes the color of jade. This casing is called chrysalis. Though initially chrysalis is soft gradually within an hour it hardens to form a protective shell. Within the chrysalis the caterpillar slowly turns into a butterfly. There is a transformation taking place within the pupa. The body parts of the caterpillar disintegrate to form the body parts of the butterfly. The transformation period of chrysalis to butterfly takes around 10 to 15 days.

Stage four:  Adult

The hardened chrysalis cracks and the butterfly emerges from it. The wings of the butterfly are small and wet. It clings onto the shell of the chrysalis. At this juncture, a life-saving fluid known as hemolymph is pumped into the body of the butterfly. Hemolymph spreads slowly throughout the body and the wings. This crucial spreading is assisted by the struggle of the butterfly to emerge from its small cocoon opening.  This helps in enlarging the wings and the body of the butterfly. Remember that the wings are wet and the butterfly is unable to fly. However, within an hour the wings become dry and the butterfly is ready to fly and ultimately to mate and start the cycle all over again.

Some Lessons

Did you notice not only how intentional but also how important every step of the butterfly’s journey is?  Metamorphosis / transformation involves every phase of the cycle not just the final stage of adulthood.  Here are a few lessons:

  • Everything has its place, its reasons and purpose, its timing.
  • Everything is provided for the butterfly in each stage to experience optimum health and growth for that stage – whether from its own DNA code written into its make-up or from external support systems.
  • Nothing is wasted (notice the effective recycling that takes place).
  • In order for growth and transformation to take place, multiple “sheddings” (or molting) have to happen.  It’s amazing how difficult this step is to humans – we have a tough time letting go of something we’ve clung to at certain stages.  But if the caterpillar never molted, it would never continue transforming.  In fact, did you notice that it even drops its 8 pairs of legs and its head capsule with its six eye lens?  Does that mean it will never walk or see again?  No.  Its final body will be for a different purpose – it won’t be crawling anymore, it will be flying.  So it will need 6 legs and 2 wings and 2 antennae.  And eyes?  The adult butterfly has 2 eyes with 6000 eyelets or ommatidia in each eye. An ommatidia is like an eye within an eye. It actually divides the eyes in the shape of a disco ball which helps the butterfly to locate things easier. They work like the pixels of a camera.
  • So with each new stage, new systems and structures are needed for the newly developed form because each form has a new purpose with new needs.  And before the new structures and systems are in place, the old ones have to be shed and let go of.
  • Crisis, difficulty is an inherent part of the transformational cycle.  The emerging butterfly with its new wings has to go through the small opening in order for the hemolymph to get spread to all parts of its body and wings.  Cut the opening wider so the butterfly doesn’t have to work as hard to emerge and it is damaged irreparably, never able to fly, its death hastened.

In my next post, I’ll talk about how this metamorphosis process applies to our spirituality and personal development.  Stay tuned!

A man once asked God for one thing – something to add beauty to his small potted garden. So God presented him with an ugly, prickly cactus plant and a wrinkled up, alien-looking caterpillar. The man was surprised, because he had asked for one thing and God gave him something else. After many days, the cactus bloomed with spectacular flowers and in the place of the caterpillar, there was a beautiful and stunning butterfly.

God seems to know what metamorphosis and genuine transformation are all about.  I’m discovering that the process of life for me is more and more about learning how to trust God’s wisdom for life, and how to trust the process and the journey.  This Spring is a good time to embrace this kind of Life.

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