Last week while visiting family, my father took me to my aunt’s house to show me her butterfly garden. During the quarantine, she and her husband have gathered milkweed covered in caterpillar eggs and have kept them until the caterpillars hatch and metamorphose. I had never seen a monarch chrysalis up close and was surprised by it’s sparkling flecks of gold. Curious about it, I resolved to read about it at some point and quickly forgot.
Just now, I came upon a post on my neighborhood’s page which had a photo of a monarch chrysalis and I paused to read it. To my surprise, it answered the exact questions I had. The most logical reason for the gold is that it reflects the external light in order to hide itself. Whereas we humans think of gold as something that demands attention, in nature it is used as camouflage. The gold forms a ring around the top of the chrysalis resembling a crown, suggesting royalty that seeks to blend into its environment.
Whenever I consider butterflies and transformation, I am reminded of my favorite book as a teenager. It was a parable called, Hope For the Flowers, by Trina Paulus which I found on a bookshelf in another aunt’s home. The story is about a population of caterpillars which crawl on top of one another climbing higher and higher, using others as stepping stones along the way. None of them know where they are going or why, however, they continue on because it is what they have always done. Two caterpillars meet each other’s gaze on the way up and realize that they do not want to keep climbing. They retreat down the tower and find love and joy together. At some point, one of them becomes restless and decides that he must know what is on top of the tower. He leaves his mate behind. She mourns his loss and suffers from loneliness until she sees another caterpillar hanging upside down. Intrigued, she asks questions and eventually decides to follow her inner program in order to surrender to the mysterious process of change. After she emerges, she flies to the caterpillar tower looking for her friend. She knows then that what is to be found at the top of the tower are butterflies and that climbing did not make them such.
Once we, like the caterpillars in the story, recognize that the typical ways of living are simply routines that serve no purpose, we abandon them in search of something meaningful. Living outside of the norm can be lonely and surrendering to change is painful. This has always been the lesson of metamorphosis. The additional piece that the Monarch adds is that we can also be royal and divine, and even display that truth externally. However, it is not for the purpose of drawing attention to ourselves but rather to become one with the world around us which we already recognize as divine. In order to fly free, we must each be ready to affirm the belief that “I mean nothing because I am everything.”