The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
In 1969, a book with the name of today’s blog post landed on the shelves of children’s rooms all over the world. The basic premise was that caterpillars have a huge appetite and spend all their waking hours accumulating, digesting, and plumping up until, inexplicably, they spin what looks like their midlife tomb, the chrysalis. And, after a dark, gooey, transformative couple of weeks, they emerge as a colorful flying butterfly.
While this biology lesson is well-known, there are a couple of facts that many people don’t know:
- Before hatching, when a caterpillar is still developing inside its egg, it grows an imaginal disc for each of the adult body parts it will need as a mature butterfly or moth—discs for its eyes, its wings, its legs, and so on. So, within the caterpillar was the DNA of a butterfly.
- The most vulnerable time for a caterpillar is the point at which it has spun the silk button it will hang from as a chrysalis, has embedded its back legs into the silk, and is dangling upside down, trapped by a device of its own making. Wasps and other critters can see the chrysalis as easy prey during this transformational time.
Here are the life lessons that we might take from their epic journey:
- We spend much of our early adulthood in an accumulation mode. We are the hungry caterpillars up until midlife.
- We have the ingredients (our “imaginal discs”) within each of us to create our own transformation.
- The transformation often occurs during midlife, the most vulnerable time for both a butterfly and a human, when we’re in a mysterious, liminal space.
- As the U-curve of Happiness research demonstrates, we leave our midlife chrysalis (not a midlife crisis) feeling liberated, happier, and ready to pollinate.