“I want to be strong…. I want to be a butterfly but I feel like a caterpillar”. Lauren was telling me her story. She was speaking of her struggles, her frustrations, her hopes and aspirations, yet she voiced the quiet desperation that lives inside each of us. We know there is something more within us, but how do we get it out?
Laurens words bounced around my head for the next several days, until, on a whim I Googled “what happens inside a cocoon”. Reading through the first page of results, I quickly realized that we’ve missed the true wisdom that lies within the, often oversimplified, caterpillar to butterfly analogy. If we miss the wisdom, we miss the magic.
Running can be transformative, however, there are thousands of runners who have never had a transformative experience. They enjoy the physical, mental and emotional benefits that come with running but they are essentially the same person, only a little healthier and sweatier. So why do some have a transformative experience while others don’t? More importantly, how can we use running to become something more, something better, instead of just a sweaty caterpillar?
Lessons I learned from the caterpillar.
- The caterpillar is born with everything it needs to become a butterfly.
Before a caterpillar is hatched, it grows an imaginal disc for each of the adult body parts it will need as a butterfly. It carries them within it’s plump caterpillar body, waiting for the day when it will shed its current form and reveal its true nature!
- The caterpillar is committed.
A caterpillar will build a chrysalis or cocoon in which it will undergo metamorphosis, it won’t leave until the process is complete. It won’t visit the cocoon three or four times a week for 30 minutes on the Stairmaster. It won’t ask a doctor to prescribe a metamorphosis pill. The only way to bring about a transformation is to fully submit to the process required.
- Change comes from the inside-out.
Inside the chrysalis or cocoon, the caterpillars body will begin to digest itself from the inside-out. It releases an enzyme that will digest all of its tissue, except for the group of cells known as the imaginal discs, the cells that will form the wings, eyes, antennas and other features of an adult butterfly. It gets rid of everything except what is necessary to realize its goal.
- It must escape from the cocoon in order to complete its transformation.
The caterpillar has shed its plump body and transformed into a sleek, beautiful new creation. Yet, it will never fly until it breaks free from the comfort and security of the cocoon.
This may seem elementary, that may be why we miss out on how profoundly simple much of life can be. We are all born with everything we need for greatness inside us, we either fail to see it or we discount it as nothing special. How foolish, and tragic, it would be for a caterpillar to never become a butterfly, simply because he didn’t believe he “had what it takes” to be a great butterfly. We cannot commit to something we do not believe.
Focus on inner transformation, let the outer transformation simply be a reflection of what is occurring on the inside. You change how you see yourself, how you identify yourself. You change how you see your possibilities and opportunities; you change your expectations of yourself. Then, gradually, your body will begin to reflect the transformation that has already occurred in the mind.
Build your own chrysalis or cocoon, an environment where you rid yourself of the habits, patterns and trappings associated with your former identity. An environment where you cultivate the habits of the person you wish to become. An environment free of judgement yet where you are held to a high standard.
Beware of anyone who has no desire to become something more. They are more dangerous than those who criticize or belittle, as they allow you to feel comfortable in a skin you weren’t meant to wear. It’s believed that you will become the average of the five people you spend the most time with, pick your company carefully.
There is something more, something greater, inside each of us. However, our metamorphosis, unlike the caterpillars, is not a singular event, but a continual process of elimination and growth that lasts a lifetime. A process articulated best more than two thousand years ago by the Greek philosopher Aristotle, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”