1. A complete change of physical form or substance.
2. A complete change of character, appearance, etc.
3. A person or thing that has undergone metamorphosis.
4. The rapid transformation of a larva into an adult that occurs in particular animals, for example, the stage between a chrysalis and butterfly.
Etymology: 16th century via Latin transformation from Greek meta change + morphé form.
Most of us know the word. I started with this definition to assure, we talk about the same process. And most of us, when we hear the word metamorphosis, immediately jump to the caterpillar and the butterfly. More generally, it is a process when mainly insects go through to transform from some sort of water or land creature into a flying one, like the moth, butterfly and dragonfly.
As more terms relating to metamorphosis will come up later, I would like to introduce them now, so then, I don’t need to interrupt our flow of thinking.
At the end of the caterpillar’s life, it spins a cocoon around itself. Once this is completed, the caterpillar’s skin hardens like soft leather. It is in its larval stage and its called larva. In the last, the chrysalis stage the skin harden crisp.
The butterfly breaks open the chrysalis at a thin section at its neck. It climbs out not wholly but leaves its lower part inside the chrysalis. Initially, its skin is soft, and it can take several hours before it hardens.
During this time, the butterfly also pumps blood into its the veins of the wings to unfold them. The blood coagulates providing the stiffness to the wings, so they are suitable for flying. After all, this is completed it frees itself entirely.
Only recently, I heard another bit of information, which initially made my ears perk up, then it startled me, and finally, it opened up a new way of looking at a consequential part of human life.
Here it is: During the transformation from the caterpillar to the butterfly, butterfly cells begin to grow inside the caterpillar body.
For the caterpillar the butterfly cells are foreign bodies, an intrusion, it fights them like an infection, and it gets ill.
The caterpillar weakens; it cannot eat anymore. When the defences are down the butterfly cells invade, and the caterpillar dies.
The growing butterfly uses the dying and later dead caterpillar as food for growing.
Until now, I had looked at metamorphosis as an interesting, but a given, ordinary, everyday process. I was stunned and somewhat disturbed when I heard about this brutal, deadly battle with no chance for the caterpillar. Still, it makes sense. However, how can such a beautiful being like a butterfly behave so cruelly?
The important phrases are:
1. Butterfly cells grow in the living caterpillar body
2. Caterpillar fights them, like an infection and falls ill
3. Caterpillar weakens and dies
4. A new form, the butterfly, arises from it
In the entire process, what is essential? And what is important to whom? The only individual involved is the caterpillar. Humans who judge and flowers to be eaten are bystanders, and the butterfly has not been born, yet.
1. Is the life of the caterpillar essential?
The caterpillar ended up dead, futsh, gone, kaput. He died after an illness from a fatal infection, which he had carried from birth and could not do anything about it. Growing and becoming food for his killer was his purpose of life and dying has always been his destiny.
Did he suffer? Did he feel hopeless and helpless? Did he search for a reason, a purpose of his life? Did he leave something of value for posterity? Did he believe in an afterlife, nirvana, a sublime being with a higher plan who knows what is going on?
2. Or it’s transformation into a butterfly?
Does it matter to him that he will turn into a butterfly? He never knew he would, neither what a butterfly was, had never seen one in his whole life. (Recommended reading: Busy Bees).
3. Or the life of the butterfly?
The life of the butterfly? Not really. As stated before, it has not been born, yet, so it would not matter at all. It may matter to the flowers who need pollination performed by the butterfly, but yet again, this could be achieved by having more bees. Finally, humans have plenty of other pretty things for their delectation.
I guess you can see the metaphor arising. (Just drop a few letters out of metamorphosis, and you end up with metaphor.)
Our body is an animal. Early on, it is born, it eats and procreates. At some stage, the ride ends. What now?
How does our ride end? Many of us die in an accident. Accidents would not be the most preferred way. Dying peacefully?
A small sidetrack: Why would our animal die at all? It gets old. Why do we get old? Cell replacement does not work as well as it could.
This has been one of my favourite mental exercises all my life. (The other one is why we use only a small percentage of our brain?) The fact is, all the cells of our body are replaced in a seven years cycle.
Every seven years our body is renewed, so to speak. Why… I ask you, are the cells replaced by a copy of its diseased, dysfunctional, aged cell, and not by one of its original, perfect state?
If a worn component of a machine needs replacing, I produce the new piece according to its original drawings. Why would I replace it with a part manufactured as a copy of the worn, damaged part?
It would be much more difficult, and more so, what would be the point of this? You tell me. I have thought about it almost all my life.
Back to before the sidetrack: every now and then foreign cells enter in our body. If the battle is intense, we get ill. We heal again, but it appears that one never recovers completely. Consequently, the body weakens with the number of assaults, our resilience fades and we fall sick more often. No battle can really be won, the victor does not loose necessarily less, he only does not give up, first.
The illnesses cause more severe damages. Organs’ function and capacity are reduced and die; there are dead parts within a living body. The decline accelerates.
It does not make sense. Still, I must accept this way of ending. Just like the caterpillar.
I am repeating the crucial phases concerning the caterpillar, slightly modified for human beings:
1. Foreign cells grow in my animal body
2. My animal body fights them, like an infection and it gets ill
3. My animal body weakens, stops eating and dies
Just like the caterpillar and many other beings and plants follow the same path. Why don’t I continue my train of thought? I have observed metamorphosis. I am aware of it and consider it a normal process. I can see it clearly, the caterpillar dies and out of its body comes another entirely different animal.
I see it and I know it. The caterpillar does not. His life is finite, ends with death, no afterlife, no reincarnation, no nirvana. End, finale, finito. Could I tell the caterpillar? It would have no idea what I am talking about.
It cannot know; metamorphosis and butterflies are outside its perception, outside its capacity of imagination and thinking. How could it know?
What about me?
If someone would tell me about the metamorphosis of humans and turning into a beautiful ‘butterfly’, how would I react? How do I react, now? I could try to believe it. However, there is not the minutest fraction of evidence. Like the caterpillar can’t see the butterfly, it is impossible for me to see my next state of being, even it would stand, sit, crawl, hover right in front of me.
Even though, somewhere, there is a clean, undeniable logic in this. Those three phrases correlate with my life, peoples’ life and the caterpillars’. The fourth part is true for the caterpillar and much of nature; therefore, the deduction is clear and settled. The fourth part is true for all nature, including human beings. We are blind to it, just like the rest of nature, metamorphosis is part of our natural life but none of us can see it.
4. A new form arises from it
Loud and clear, unmistakably, unavoidably, like the fanfares of Jericho. Why can’t we see it? It is not hidden, nature knows. And I know about the caterpillar and many others.
I want to have a clean slate of mind. For a moment, I want to switch off my terrific, wonderful mind. He is magnificent and I love and care about him.
Here is my self-talk: “For now, just a short moment, go into your room. Occupy yourself with one of your unsolved challenges and tell me later. I am anxious to find out what you came up with. I am not going far away, just in the next room, I am busy just for a short while.”
That’s taken care off. Now, accept all the above to be true, real. Fall into this world where humans, I, go through metamorphosis.
I feel light. All my nagging thoughts about the purpose of life and the many answers offered by other thinkers have disappeared.
I know as a human being, like all the other human beings and other animals, right now I am passing through a stage of my larger life. Now I am a being of lesser potential. What will I turn into? What I will be capable in this next incarnation?
Without hindrance, uncensored, I see a being, smaller than me now, almost transparent, with six wings. For a short moment, this being looks at me with blunt arrogance. Disapprovingly, it turns away, ruffling nervously with its feathers and disappears.
What was this? I am not a caterpillar and definitely so ugly to deserve such behaviour.
Stop it right here! I just criticised a being on its behaviour not knowing anything about it. Why would I project onto my future self, my unpleasant perception? I sense anger, about the fact that I will have to die for it to be born and live.
Even I am aware of my bitter feeling, I can’t eliminate its domineering undertone. It is not a small thing, knowing be killed and eaten alive by someone, even it is my next metamorphosis.
The question is: “Will it be me? Will my sense of “I” survive?” I don’t think so. Conscious transitions are only for enlightened beings. I better hurry up, then.
Of course and understandably, my mind had been lurking behind the door, spied through the keyhole. The door flies open: “What did you just say?” It screamed with a mix of incredible excitement and panic. I laughed and embraced him.
By the way, when I envisaged my next stage, I didn’t occur to me particularly beautiful, by far not like a butterfly, but rather shapeless, skinny and transparent like a jellyfish. Humans are more well-proportioned and symmetrical. This new thing is more cylindrical and less ornamented (no arms, legs or any other noticeable protrusions). The good thing was, it can fly.
I guess, if you ask a caterpillar, a tadpole or larva of a dragonfly to comment on the beauty or any other aspect of their metamorphosed state, if they could imagine it or see it like I did, they would reply in a similar fashion.
Similar to the way I see beauty within the range of human beings, caterpillars would rave about their soft skin, vibrant colours, spiky whiskers and their skills in climbing and speed of chewing leafs.
A butterfly, it would find skinny with a yucky hard shell and those silly, stiff flap-things. Rejecting the whole apparition: “If caterpillars were meant to fly, they would have wings.”
There is sex. Butterflies, frogs, dragonflies and humans have sex. Caterpillars won’t, can’t. They won’t miss it because they don’t know about it. Larvae and tadpoles neither.
Conclusion: It appears, humans are already in the butterfly stage. Our mothers were our chrysalises and there is a stage before, we don’t know anything about. No need to add, there is a stage after and we don’t know anything about it either.
Ask a butterfly. It would not know about a caterpillar and when it would see one of them, it would cry: “This ugly thing, my former state of being? Preposterous,” and would fly away in disgust. This comment does not cause caterpillars to be non-existent.
All nature, all living things, don’t know much about themselves or each other, do they? Every dog owner would tell you about communicating with his do, so do cat, bird, fish and snake owners. Does the word owner feel strange in this context? Most owners would find other words. Those, who don’t own, smile for many different reasons.
Why are we not keen to find out more about each other? Yes, there is some research on talking with whales and dolphins. We try in our technical, scientifically sound methods. What if they have been talking to us all along, but because it is not our way, we don’t hear them.
There is so much more. In our narrow-mindedness we believe, if we cannot sense it with our advanced technology, it does not exist. What an innocent arrogance.
Go back a hundred years. You would hear the same comments. Why don’t we learn? What keeps us from it?
In my learning with the North American Indians, I experienced their deep respect, kindness and care for all there is. Calling all brothers and sisters is not a quirky idiosyncrasy.
It is the result of knowing, that everything is connected and related. We are all one family. Therefore, they call everything like someone from the family: father, mother, sister and brother. Uncles and aunts only exist in their human family. They know, all is living, even things we call inanimate, in our blindness.
As an example, I show you briefly how it goes. One day, we were introduced to stone magic also called stone ceremony. Magic is in everything. The first activity was to go out and find a stone. Big deal?
First, I went inside, held my question, closed my eyes and walked slowly. When it was time, I crouched and saw a stone.
I told the stone what I was up to and asked it for permission to take it from its place to the ceremonial circle. I would repeat this until I had found a stone that agreed.
It goes without saying. After the ceremony, I took the stone back to exactly the same spot and positioned it in exactly the same orientation. Then I would thank the stone for allowing me to participate in the ceremony and helping me to find clarity.
I am the living witness of all my ancestors. I am here on this planet, this universe in this state of metamorphosis… and I am this way because of them. Knowing the finiteness of this life, the concept of metamorphosis is a realistic idea of the continuation of part of me after my animal body has died. Seeing the logic behind it, gives me comfort.
09 May 2015