The hidden battle in the chrysalis

Posted by Kenetha Stanton on

chrysalis of a monarch butterfly hanging from brown leaf

The story of the caterpillar's transformation into a butterfly has been a deeply meaningful one for me to cling to during my own transformational process over the last few years.

The image of my old self and my old life being completed disintegrated into a blob of primordial ooze from which my new self and new life would eventually emerge resonates so well with my lived experience of this process. It helped me stay the course on those days when it felt like everything I knew has melting into an unrecognizable sludge.

And yet, I recently learned more about what actually happens inside the chrysalis that adds even more connections between this process and my experience.

When the caterpillar first disintegrates into the primordial ooze, this ooze becomes a blob of undifferentiated cells that are all basically the same. But then new cells, known as imaginal cells, begin to appear here and there within the ooze.

The new imaginal cells are so different from the undifferentiated ooze cells that the ooze cells fight them off as an unwanted invader. Despite the fact that these imaginal cells keep being killed off for being too different, they continue to appear in ever-increasing numbers.

Over time, 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, they begin differentiating even among themselves, with some becoming wing cells, others becoming leg cells, and still others becoming antenna cells.

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

Learning of this battle between the undifferentiated ooze cells and the emerging imaginal cells resonates strongly with my own experience in two important ways that have been helpful to reflect on.

First, I recognize that description of the battle taking place in the chrysalis in the resistance I often experienced to some of the new, unrecognizable parts of me that began appearing during my own transformation. I would catch these glimpses of what seemed like alien life showing up inside me, and I didn't know what to do with these strange appearances.

Not only did I fight back to try to annihilate these (seeming) intruders, but people around me often reacted in similar ways as they caught glimpses of strangeness emerging from the person they thought they knew. This inner (and often outer) battle made the process of transformation that much harder and frequently slowed my progress.

Second, and perhaps even more profoundly, I also resonate with the unshakable determination of the imaginal cells that kept appearing and kept multiplying and kept introducing new things despite the battle being fought against them.

It often felt like transformation was something that was overtaking me and was happening according to its own time and plan with no regard for my plans or preferences about the process. There was nothing I could do to stop or to direct the transformation process no matter how hard I fought.

My own imaginal cells drove my transformational process from within and did so with a deeper, more instinctual knowing of the direction needed than I could have even begun to imagine.

I still find it so hard to be able to explain or describe the journey I've been on these last few years (a journey that continues even now), so I find great comfort in finding my experience so well described in a natural process that can serve as a metaphor for my own transformation on those days when words fail me.

How does this story of the battle taking place inside the chrysalis relate to your experience of transformation? Do you recognize any of it in your own life? What (if anything) does it teach you about your transformation process?

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