I sat on a bench in our backyard, taking a quick break from my day. It’s not really a yard; more of a makeshift garden wandering about the landscape with flowering plants and succulents in their designated pots.
The sprawling bougainvillea that hangs from the fence behind me created a canopy, shielding me from the afternoon sun at its pinnacle in the sky. Spaces such as these, which can be steps from the front door, are the sanctuary one yearns for from bustling city life.
Here, I discovered monarch caterpillars devouring the milkweed leaves that my neighbor planted last year. There were six, inching their way along the plants, munching on the thin, narrow leaves. Their black, white, and chartreuse-striped bodies seemed to grow by the minute.
These creatures can eat over 20 large milkweed leaves a day and over 200 leaves before they enter the chrysalis stage.* Thank goodness there were several pots of milkweed for them to dine on.
As I gazed upon them, I realized that we humans have similar stages in our lives: the caterpillar, the chrysalis, and the butterfly, where we accumulate growth, wisdom, and ultimately transformation when we arrive at the butterfly stage.
The caterpillar stage can be the beginning stages of life, but it can also be our first job, a budding relationship, or anything new we haven’t done before.
It is the fresh start—in the tarot deck, the “fool’s journey”—where an individual sets off on an adventure with only a small sack of belongings, trusting that they will be guided on their journey. On this new quest, we learn, gain new skills, and make mistakes.
I used to fear missteps, but I soon learned mistakes are a part of being human. Like a baby learning to walk, our blunders help us learn and offer a new perspective and redirection.
Humans often abhor change, and anything new can be daunting. But new experiences, even if we make mistakes, allow for more depth as we progress through life and on a soul level, creating more clarity, understanding, and confidence.
When a caterpillar is ready to become a butterfly, it builds a chrysalis, or case, setting the stage for its transformation. Sometimes we enter the chrysalis phase after an unexpected experience or loss, such as divorce or the death of a loved one.
Within the chrysalis, enzymes break down the body of the caterpillar into a soup or goo-like substance. In this metamorphosis, new cells are created and come together to form the beginnings of the butterfly. In roughly two weeks, when the monarch butterfly is ready to emerge, the chrysalis will become transparent.
Why is the chrysalis stage important for humans? It’s a time of profound reflection, solitude, and going within to sort through our thoughts and emotions and access the deeper realms within us. With introspection, there’s an opportunity to gain wisdom, which ultimately can lead to transformation.
This stage can sometimes feel raw or as if nothing is happening; we are searching without a compass in the dark (or in our own “soup”), trying to understand who we are, where we’re going, or what our next step is. It’s where we ruminate and cloister to grieve and heal in our own way.
When my father passed away, I mourned for some time. The loss was like nothing I had experienced before, and at times it was excruciating.
Even though my father had been ill for a while, his death blindsided me to the point where each day after his passing became a blur. I was a ship unmoored, trying to move forward but not knowing how. Well-meaning people would say, “You’ve got to move on.”
But grief has its own timeline. Even though I wanted to hurry the process along so I could get my footing and find some sort of traction in my life, I had to allow this phase to unfold on its own timing. I was in the chrysalis goo, the darkness of not knowing where I was or which direction I needed to move in.
When I took the time to grieve, it allowed me to go inward, where I visited many aspects of myself, accessing how I was showing up in the world and what I needed to change to move forward. From the chrysalis, I was renewed, transformed, and ready to shift towards my new life.
The butterfly stage can be the “crowning jewel” of a fulfilling experience. It can be anything from achieving a goal to moving into one’s dream home or starting a family. Arriving at a long-sought-after achievement takes a great deal of tenacity, and the monarch butterfly has this in spades.
For such delicate creatures, they are robust and sometimes even fast, soaring at a speed of nearly 12 miles an hour. They are the only butterfly species that make a two-way migration, flying over 3,000 miles in some instances. Countless monarch butterflies make the trek from North America to southwestern Mexico in the winter.
As pollinators, their migration helps keep a thriving ecosystem intact, contributing to our flora and food supply. With such resilience, it’s no wonder butterflies, and in this case, monarch butterflies, can represent strength, endurance, and perseverance.
This stage isn’t just about material needs or desires; it also represents our soul or higher self. In Greek mythology, the word for butterfly and soul is identical: psyche.**
Thus, the butterfly’s journey from caterpillar to chrysalis to its final state is similar to our own soul’s journey, where our experiences create learning, growth, transformation, and transcendence while gaining wisdom in the process.
In some cultures, butterflies signify resurrection and immortality, but universally, their spiritual meaning mostly represents transformation and change.
Change is never easy, but it’s necessary for our continual evolution. The various stages of life we go through generate growth and expansion. While some stages can be challenging, if we are willing to learn, surrender, and reflect, we will reap the rewards of transcendence. From there, we can soar, like the butterfly, into a new way of being.
* Statistics found here.
** Symbolism and spiritual aspects of butterflies found here.