Butterfly Lesson: The Terrifying Gift of Imaginal Cells

Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.
-from "A Blessing" by James Wright


It’s like something out of a sci-fi movie, but of course, as with most awe-inspiring things in nature, it’s mind-bogglingly real.

Imagine a group of cells living inside you, lying dormant until just the right time when—they strike and dissolve you into an “organic goop.”

But before you’re liquified into a puddle of oblivion, your own immune system wages war against these cells of yours. Attacking. Resisting the threat of total annihilation of yourself as you know it.

This frightful transformation is what happens to our lowly caterpillar once it enters into its chrysalis. And those cells bearing the signals of both complete destruction and glorious transmogrification are so aptly called imaginal cells.

How heroic caterpillars are to undergo such an ordeal…

How heroic we are, too, to recognize the cells of change within us, and—not knowing the outcome—to fight against ourselves, our old habits, our society, friends, and family even to forge ahead in the belief that we will become something new, and better through these worthy travails.

This is the lesson of the butterfly.

That change can be terrifying, but so utterly beautiful.

Yellow Butterfly  by Albert Bierstadt (circa 1890)

Yellow Butterfly by Albert Bierstadt (circa 1890)