Mighty Change

Life Lessons from a Monarch Butterfly

Photo by Itsel Bustamante on Unsplash

For the second year in a row, I am attempting to care for monarch caterpillars — in the hope that some will be able to complete the very long journey of becoming brilliant butterflies.

The more I read up on the monarchs, the more awestruck I am. We are talking about massive transformation here. While birthing babies of all persuasions is amazing, butterflies take it a step further, literally transforming from an egg to a caterpillar to a pile of goo in a chrysalis to a winged creature. Just imagine if we humans could eat nonstop for several weeks, then curl into the shape of a J and weave a shell around ourselves, then come out as a completely different being. That’s pretty hard to imagine.

Sadly for the monarchs — and other similar creatures — they have many predators. How so many make it through all of their transitions in order to fulfill their destiny of producing eggs to assure the continuation of the species is simply unbelievable. To make matters worse, they are very picky eaters. Unlike many other butterflies and moths, monarchs prefer to munch on milkweed; it’s where they prefer to lay their eggs as well. Not surprisingly, milkweed doesn’t grow on every corner.

It is an honor and a joy to help the process along by growing milkweed and collecting eggs and tiny baby caterpillars, keeping them safe in a netted enclosure and hoping like all get-out that they become the butterflies they are meant to be.

As I wander my milkweed patch, I think about this process of change and transformation. Interestingly, noted author Martha Beck has created a model of metamorphosis for humans based on butterflies. Read more about that here: https://marthabeck.com/2003/01/growing-wings-the-power-of-change/.

She, too, seems awestruck by what butterflies accomplish and her model proposes that when going through a change of any sort, a person transitions through four phases: Dissolving, imagining, reforming and full flight. The concept is similar to William Bridges’ transition model, where the process starts with the end of something and concludes with a new beginning. He identifies the very natural emotions that generally occur in each phase. The point is that many of us humans aren’t very adept at successfully managing change. It can be scary. We can feel quite vulnerable. We can lose confidence. But there’s a strategic way to go about it that will make it go as well as it can.

Of course, the cornerstone is awareness — the key to so many of life’s challenges and opportunities. If we hide under the covers and pretend a change isn’t occurring, we probably won’t deal with it very well. If we shut our eyes and plug our ears and yell “LA LA LA LA LA” as loud as we can, I’m sorry to say it won’t stop the change from occurring. A better approach is to understand that a change is coming, prepare for it, recognize the emotions that arise, then brainstorm the best approach and implement it.

I go back to the butterflies. Those caterpillars just plug along, eating massive quantities of milkweed, growing by leaps and bounds. That first transformation looks unbelievable, as they grow from less than a 10th of an inch to several inches in a matter of weeks. That’s the easiest of the changes they go through. I simply can’t believe what it must be like to form a chrysalis and transform into a butterfly. If they can manage all that change, just imagine what we can do with some of the changes we face.

To sum up: A change is about to occur. We proactively note that, and ponder what is ending, what is dissolving, what change is required. We also allow ourselves to feel emotion about those changes. We then imagine the options and possibilities. We start to form a plan of how we are going to move forward. And then we take flight and start anew.

Sadly, most of my butterflies didn’t make it last year. It was crushing to say the least. I’ve read a great deal over the winter on helping monarchs and decided to begin again. I have new strategies to help them survive and thrive. And If I’m lucky, I’ll see transformations of epic proportions and help release more monarchs out into the world — so they can achieve their life destiny.

We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty. — Maya Angelou

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Betsy Hayhow Hemming

Betsy Hayhow Hemming

Betsy Hayhow Hemming is an author and leadership coach. She writes fiction and creative nonfiction. www.betsyhemming.com.