Consider The Caterpillar
The Butterfly Cycle
“When nothing is done, nothing is left undone.” - Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
We are all familiar with a butterfly. We can easily see their elegance and beauty when they fill a field of flowers. They float about effortlessly. When they sit on a flower or a blade of grass, they barely even move it because they are so light. With a few flaps of their wings, they are then again airborne and on a drunkards path to the next flower. Their aim seems erratic at best. Their point of existence is to in and of itself, exist. They fly from flower to flower gathering the sweet nectar that provides them life. Above and beyond that, they only seek to reproduce.
What had to happen to have a butterfly in such a field? Do butterflies worry about reproducing? Alternatively, does it just happen? Do they worry about how much nectar there is, or do they only take what they need?
The journey of the butterfly starts as an egg. The egg sits on a leaf. As the egg matures and hatches, the larva is born. We as humans also start as eggs. Many animals do. Symbolically, this starting point is the stage in our life where we know nothing about a given subject matter. This stage occurs time and again through our lives. When we pursue a new hobby or become educated in a new subject, we again return to the status of the egg. Once we have learned a little bit and grown, we become the larva.
The next stage of a butterflies development is the larva or caterpillar. This next step is where the first exploration occurs. This state of quasi-maturation is when we as humans know enough to be dangerous but not enough to see our blind spots. We wander around in this new physical or mental space bumping into the walls. We spend much of our time, as caterpillars do, consuming. The larva consumes leaves to grow, becoming larger and stronger. We can consume food, experiences or knowledge to become either physically or mentally larger or stronger.
Once the caterpillar has consumed and grown large enough, it is time to spin a cocoon. We as humans should be doing the same thing. Once we have ingested enough food, knowledge or experience, it is essential to create a cocoon. This step is an incubation period. This dwell time is when all of the work becomes solidified. This experience can be in the form of a rest week from a workout, a real vacation from work, or just some time alone. We must sleep on our thoughts and work to begin to integrate and solidify what it is that we have acquired. If we do not take this dwell time, we risk overwriting this new knowledge and experience. Once the caterpillar has taken enough time, it will be reborn into the next stage.
After incubating and growing within the confines of the cocoon, the caterpillar emerges as a fully formed butterfly. The same can be said for ourselves. If we take on a new endeavor, consume as much high-quality material as we can and then proceed to integrate it into our psyche, we will grow. This development potential is one aspect that we as humans have above all other creatures. We seek to better ourselves. We are lucky because we can develop into a butterfly, enjoy life for some time and then choose to return to the egg stage. We can pick an entirely new and different thing in life that will freshly challenge us. It will continue to sharpen our mental and physical sword. This sharpening of the knife edge is a never-ending cycle for humans. For butterflies, they will again lay eggs, and the cycle repeats, but now the butterflies are in some way different.
These types of cycles are present nearly everywhere. The sequence of the butterfly illustrates the cycle of birth, life, and death itself. There are things such as the water cycle which move water from the oceans to the sky. The water then condenses into rain, falling and flowing from the mountain streams back to the sea. There are heat treating processes applied to metals that change their physical properties. These processes are cyclical in nature, often heating and cooling the steel in various combinations and time frames.
Humans also have certain unconscious behaviors that arise and give way to cycles. The Hero’s Journey is a classic example. The Hero Archetype is acted out by entering the unknown to gather information and bring it back to the known world. This journey can be carried out in the physical or mental sense. Embedded within the Hero’s Journey are other aspects of life such as Yin and Yang (Chaos and Disorder) that continually fluctuate back and forth. The primary goal of the Hero is to transform chaos into order. These cycles are all possible because we live in a reality that is more connected and interdependent than we are often willing to admit.
“The road you can talk about is not the road you can walk on” - Lao-Tse, Tao Te Ching
On a more philosophical note, we should understand the nature of these cycles. We went in the perceived order that we see in the butterfly circuit. That is to say, egg, caterpillar, cocoon, and finally a butterfly. It is essential to see that the notion of a butterfly inherently implies cocoon, caterpillar, and egg (each step implies the other in an omnidirectional sense). It also indicates the butterflies, cocoons, and eggs before this current cycle. That is to say, all of the butterfly relatives of times past.
This interdependent aspect across space and time is the nature of the reality within which we live. Whatever experience that is happening right now, is happening because many countless events have come before it. That is to say; we have a butterfly because many butterfly cycles have come before it. So, whatever situation we are currently in with our lives, we are there because many things have occurred before this time to guide us along the path that we have traveled. We have come to our own unique, destination because of this complex set of experiences that we have had before this very moment in time. Even though we are on a path heavily guided by past experiences, many of which were and are out of our control, we tend to have a bad habit of worrying. Worry manifests when we want a specific outcome, are unsure if it will happen, and then sit and think about it.
Resistance and Grasping
“If you realize that all things change, there is nothing you will try to hold on to. If you are not afraid of dying, there is nothing you cannot achieve.” - Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
We should now return to the initial questions about butterflies. Do butterflies worry about reproducing? Alternatively, does it just happen? Do they worry about how much nectar there is, or do they only take what they need?
The butterfly does not worry whether other butterflies like him or her. The butterfly does not worry about from where their next meal is coming. The butterfly takes what it needs at that moment.
We as humans tend to worry. We worry if we have worked hard enough. We worry if we are good people. We worry if the stock market is going to crash. We worry if people like us. This worry is sort of like when we put a microphone next to a speaker into which it is connected. We are all very familiar with the shrill sound that comes as a result of that audible feedback loop. The reason the microphone creates this sort of screaming sound is in fact because the observer and the result are being placed right next to one another.
This feedback is the same thing that happens when we worry. We worry because we are the observer, our minds create the result, and then we envision the notion of potentially getting a bad result. This thinking pattern creates the same constructive feedback that can quickly get out of hand as in the example of the microphone. This runaway signal can only happen when we neglect the fact that we are not isolated, independent, completely free beings.
What is it that we can do to worry a bit less? Due to the interconnectedness and us being the result of every situation that we have encountered before this time, we can find some comfort, some ease. That is to say; we have a foundation that has been created based on our past. We also have the contents of our minds. These two substances are what we have to work with, and that is it. Anything else, we cannot control. So we should do what we can with what we have, and beyond that, we must let go.
“Give evil nothing to oppose and it will disappear by itself.” - Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
If we frame the notion of worry as pain and we know that through acceptance and letting go we can transform pain, then perhaps there is an equation here. When we experience pain, and then we resist that experience we turn it into suffering. This idea in no way denies the fact that terrible things happen in life. This contemplation also does not even hint at the notion of why terrible things happen. It only suggests that once something undesirable has occurred, we can try not to make it worse. Clinging onto what was once can transform this critical situation into a living hell if we are not careful.
We can return to the butterfly analogy for a final round. The butterfly does not think about the parental butterfly and become upset when it dies. The butterfly does not think about all of the wrongdoings that the other butterflies have done upon it. The butterfly does not think about the nectar that has been stolen. The point here is to illustrate that past events must be dealt with, integrated, and leveraged to propel us forward.
Life is cyclical, and we can use this pattern as a way to go beyond what we currently know. We can learn from the butterflies that if we act more, then we may worry less. We can see that we live in a highly complex web of action, reaction, and interaction. Who we are is a culmination of all experiences that we have ever had. Because of this experience set, we are likely to act in certain ways, in certain situations. Finally, if we accept what has happened to us, it can become another tool in our box of tricks. We can then strive to be better than who we were yesterday with no fear of not becoming what we want to tomorrow.