New beginnings: Trusting the imaginal cells in the transformation process

Posted by Kenetha Stanton on

Image credit: ©2014 Rachel.Adams, Flickr | CC-BY-ND


Over the last few weeks, we've been looking at the phases of the process of transformation. The process starts with the death of some part of our self-identity, moves through a phase of a lack of a clear self-identity, and finally moves into a phase of new beginnings as a new self-identity begins to form.

New beginnings sound so hopeful. This is what the journey has been moving toward all along, so now that a new beginning has started, everything gets easier ... right?

Unfortunately not. At least in my experience, this phase brings its own set of challenges. As much as we have longed for this new beginning to emerge, we also have a tendency to fight it when it begins to appear.

Once again the process of the chrysalis provides a very apt illustration of what happens for us as we move through this phase.

After the "death" of the caterpillar as it gets dissolved into primordial goo, this goo is initially a bunch of undifferentiated cells that are pretty much identical.

At first, nothing seems to be happening, and this is what leads to so much of the frustration we experience in that second "neutral zone" phase of transformation. But then, new differentiated cells, known as imaginal cells, begin to appear within the undifferentiated ooze.

These new imaginal cells are so different from the rest of the undifferentiated ooze that they fight them off as unwanted invaders. The status quo is hard to overcome! But despite being killed off for being too different, the imaginal cells continue to appear in ever-increasing numbers.

As their numbers increase, these imaginal cells begin to find one another and cluster together in groups, and those groups then begin to connect with other groups, which offers these new cells some protection from the ongoing attacks from the ooze surrounding them.

As these collections of new cells grow, the imaginal cells begin differentiating even among themselves so that some become wing cells, others become leg cells, still others become antenna cells, and so on.

Eventually these new imaginal cells sufficiently overcome the undifferentiated ooze to become the butterfly that emerges from the chrysalis as a whole new being from that which entered into it.

Despite our longing for something new to emerge when we are in that primordial goo stage of transformation, we tend to react the same way as our own new beginnings first begin to emerge.

We see glimpses of new possibilities that are so different from who we once were that we can't imagine living into those new selves. We tend to discount the new dreams that may be forming, ignore the new directions that our interests seem to be heading in, and treat new possibilities that appear on the horizon as outlandish impossible fantasies.

Our new beginnings look so foreign from the self-identity we once held that we withdraw and retreat from what is trying to emerge even as we impatiently wait for that very emergence.

Can't we go back to something more familiar? Why do we need wings when we already have all the access we need to leaf food with our many legs that carry us along plant stems?

So we try to kill off these crazy new ideas that appear, and the people closest to us often cooperate with that attempt to limit any new beginnings to things that look familiar. After all, any radical changes on our part affect their worlds too.

But just like the imaginal cells who persistently keep appearing despite the battle being fought against them, our own transformation continues to unfold in the direction it needs to go no matter how much we try to redirect, tame, or suppress it.

We manage to slow it down and make it harder on ourselves, but the process itself is an unfolding directed by our deepest soul taking us in the direction of being more of who our true self really is. It continues to well up from inside us despite all of our fighting against it.

My own transformation got stuck here for quite some time because what was emerging for me felt like such a departure from the person I thought I was and what I thought I was capable of.

Not only did I experience my own fear and discomfort about where this process seemed to be headed, but people around me also questioned my ability to become the self that seemed to trying to emerge (not to mention questioning my sanity at times!).

I've tried and tried to adjust the trajectory of my newly emerging self into safer options, but my own imaginal cells kept returning in ever greater numbers to create a new beginning that emerged from deeper in my soul than my logical mind could see.

It has only been as I stopped fighting the process and leaned into what is emerging (crazy as it often still feels to me) that I have begun to see just how well this new path fits with who I was and the direction I've always been heading even as it feels like a radical departure.

What new beginnings are your imaginal cells trying to create?

In what ways are you fighting against those imaginal cells and the new beginnings that are emerging?

What are you afraid will happen if you trust the process and new self that is emerging?

What would it look like for you to trust that your imaginal cells know what needs to emerge and to lean into the process instead of fighting it?


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