Self-isolated in our cocoons? Caterpillars show us what we can achieve in confinement.

I’ve been struck by the irony of my publishing a book which urges its readers to shed their cocoons and emerge magnificently out into the world, right before we’re all self-isolated and locked up in our homes. Oh boy, life has a sense of humour!

We are headed for unprecedented and uncertain weeks and months ahead. We’re worried on so many levels, and apprehensive at the prospect of being stuck in our homes for a prolonged period.  But as we settle into our new normal, one silver lining has emerged. In a world where we can often feel like we’re on a treadmill that’s moving so fast that we’re losing control, life appears to be about to slow down for a while. I suspect this is not an accident where the machinations of universe is concerned. 

I’ve been thinking about what this slowing down will mean for us. It’s scary, because our brains are so addicted to new information, content and likes for their dopamine releases. But a reset is precisely what we need. This weekend my husband and I were clearing out all our books, as we’re having new bookshelves being built. I rediscovered lots of old, beloved novels and for once, I felt like I might have some time over the coming weeks to curl up and enjoy them. 

Here’s what I learnt when I wrote Metamorphosis. Cocoons are wonderful refuges that we build for ourselves. In nature, caterpillars use their cocoon as a temporary refuge, for transformation and growth. We humans tend to get very comfortable in ours, and stay in them far longer. We use them to hide from the world, from our own possibilities, and from those tough questions on the periphery of our consciousness. We don’t tend to use them as a pit-stop to rebuild resilience and energy. But we can. We can use these sanctuaries for extraordinary purposes.

The key is that, in nature, all the hard work happens inside the cocoon. It occurs inside the sanctuary. Transformation is messy, literally. Before the butterfly can emerge, the caterpillar has to consume itself. To enjoy rebirth, first we must die, be consumed. We must unlearn everything and erase who we were to become who we are. 

In the cocoon, the caterpillar first digests itself, releasing enzymes that dissolve its tissues. It loses its form and returns to a blank slate of possibility. Scientific American explains, ‘If you were to cut open a cocoon or chrysalis at just the right time, caterpillar soup would ooze out.’ The construction of the butterfly form is driven by highly organised groups of cells called imaginal discs.

I love this term! What if we too can access our imaginal discs? What if we can shrug off the limitations of who we’ve been, and use the inner knowing that we possess of our true possibilities, to build a blueprint of what we want to grow into? Some species of caterpillars possess tiny wings tucked inside their bodies. What potential do we carry, locked under our skin? 

What if we use this hiatus, this bizarre and at first unwelcome disruption to our frenetic daily lives, as a blessing rather than a curse in whatever way we can? What if we use it to grow stronger and healthier in mind and spirit? What if we accept that the waves of external stimuli that constantly crash around us may subside, and what if we take the plunge to see what buried treasures the still, dark waters, far beneath our surface, contain? We may not pull off an Isaac Newton and emerge with theories of optics and calculus in hand, but when society’s agenda for us gets pulled, we may be able to pursue our own agenda, for our own growth. 

What would you like to focus on in your cocoon? What transformation will you pursue? If you would like some transformative book recommendations, reply or message me! I have enough to keep you busy for a year or more …

Thanks to this article in Scientific American for the biological detail! 

Stay safe. 

Photo by Suzanne D. Williams on Unsplash

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