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a row of chrysalises with an emerged butterfly on one and others in the process of emerging

Emerging from the chrysalis

Image by Vlad Indrei from Pixabay


If the stages of transformation follow the journey of the caterpillar to a butterfly in the chrysalis, then there must be one more stage after the three phases we’ve covered from Bridges’ work on transitions.

We must eventually leave the chrysalis to spread our wings and fly just as the butterfly does when its process of transformation is complete, and this process of emergence brings its own struggle.

If you’ve ever had the chance to watch this chrysalis process in nature, you’ll know that the new beginnings stage of the process that we looked at last week leads to the formation of the butterfly inside the cramped space of the chrysalis as the imaginal cells multiply and differentiate.

The primordial goo has all been converted to the various body parts of the butterfly, and the colors of the newly formed wings are often visible through the walls of the chrysalis at this point.

But even with its new wings in place and all of its new parts formed, the butterfly still cannot fly as long as it remains in the chrysalis.

When the time is right, it uses secretions to soften the hard shell of the chrysalis and tears a hole in it with claws on the tips of its wings. From there, it must struggle to drag its body through that small hole.

As you can see from the image above, the fully emerged butterfly is considerably larger than the chrysalis—much less the small hole from which it is emerging! Squeezing itself out of that hole is a struggle indeed, and it will often stop to rest several times during the process.

But the struggle is necessary. Its wings are strengthened by the struggle itself in order to gain the strength and firmness necessary for flight.

If someone cuts open the chrysalis for the butterfly to let it out without the struggle, its wings will remain shriveled and useless, and the butterfly will likely die because it cannot fly to sources of food.

Of course, our own emergence from our metaphorical chrysalis is not as obvious nor is it completed nearly as quickly, but there does come a time when our new self-identity has taken sufficient shape that we must also emerge from whatever cocoon we’ve built around our transforming self and take that new self-identity out into the world to be tested.

It’s one thing to feel this new self-identity taking shape in our internal worlds. It’s not as easy figuring out how to live into this new self-identity in our careers, our relationships, our spirituality, and our daily interactions and habits.

We often struggle to fully inhabit this new creation that we are becoming as we learn to fly for the first time.

In my own experience, I find myself often trying to retreat back to the seeming safety of the chrysalis with all of its inherent possibility to avoid having the make the hard choices that living into a new life can bring.

And yet, there is also such joy in feeling those wings opening and spreading out for the first time, unfurling from their cramped quarters to harden and strengthen into the wings that will carry me aloft as I move forward.

This joy is what keeps me actively engaging in the struggle to fully emerge even when I feel stuck in the small opening to freedom.

Does this final stage of emergence ring true for your experience of transformation also? If you are currently going through a journey of transformation, what stage of the process do you identify with most right now? What do you need to help you move through this stage into the next stage?


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5 comments

  1. I love your posts about the stages of transformation. I can identify with each stage you so beautifully and aptly describe. The one that speaks to me the most now is the stage of emergence and how tempting it is to retreat back into that from which we came because it feels safer, familiar and more comfortable.

    1. Thanks so much, Iris! I’m glad you are enjoying the series. I also find myself so often tempted to retreat back into the safe and familiar. Part of the struggle of emergence (at least for me) is that it takes to much emotional energy since everything feels so new and different all the time. It’s good to know that I’m not alone with that.

  2. I think I’m half-squeezed through the opening, taking a Very Long Rest while I contemplate the landscape/possibilites.

    1. What a hard space to be in! And yet, I can very much relate to that. What a beautiful description of such a challenging place. I hope your time of rest and contemplation helps you find the right possibilities for your journey ahead.

  3. […] it melts into undifferentiated goo which is then gradually becomes the butterfly that is ready to emerge from this container as a new […]

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