Most of us know the life of a caterpillar, especially those who have read The Very Hungry Caterpillar by the late Eric Carle. A butterfly lays an egg, the caterpillar later comes out of the egg, eats a ton, builds a cocoon, hangs out in the cocoon while it’s body transforms into a butterfly, then it pushes its way out and stretches its wings ready to fly as a beautiful butterfly. The metaphor of becoming a butterfly is used widely, especially when talking about transforming grief into empowerment. However, we tend to overlook a BIG part of the process. The caterpillar literally turns to mush before becoming the butterfly. Let me explain the actual science behind it, and then we will get back to the metaphor.
When a caterpillar is ready to transform into a butterfly it finds a place to hang upside down and does one of two things: either spins a cocoon around itself or molts into a chrysalis. This is where the fun begins. There is a special hormone that isn’t released until the caterpillar is safely in a cocoon or chrysalis. If that hormone would be released before this stage, the caterpillar would die. To speed up the explanation, once this hormone is released the caterpillar’s system basically digests itself.
Another enzyme is released telling the once caterpillar cells that are now basically mush to create butterfly parts. The magic begins. The butterfly is slowly formed, and when it is done, a new hormone is released softening the cocoon or chrysalis so the butterfly can push its way out with its legs. When it comes out the wings are wet and need to dry out. Butterflies tend to stay upside down to let this process happen as they open and close their wings. Now it’s time to talk about the metaphor of self-transformation from this example.
There is a major event or catalyst that happens, and you instinctively cocoon. You wrap yourself up knowing a change is going to happen. Maybe you only realize this on a subconscious level, but the change will occur whether you like it or not. If you’ve done past healing work, you know to cocoon or form your chrysalis with healthy support. If you are newer to this work, you may cocoon yourself up with addictive habits or people that don’t understand the growth you are about to undertake. The lesson of what actually supports you in your healing is one we all must learn in our healing journey.
As you cocoon, you are transforming grief into empowerment. Your emotions, thoughts, beliefs, opinions, and nature are changing. You are becoming mush, and you cannot rush this. This explains the brain fog we experience in grief as well. We struggle to remember things and think clearly, but it’s all normal. It’s part of the transformation. We could go further into how we develop into a beautiful butterfly, but my work right now is focused on you in that cocoon. The space where the magic happens. It doesn’t feel good at all, but an alchemy is happening. Your pain is being transmuted into power.
What happens though when we try to rush this process, skip a step, or avoid it all together? Well if we were a caterpillar we would die. As humans, we get stuck in our grief and we suffer. We think being in the cocoon of grief causes suffering, but it’s actually when we try to control the process that we cause ourselves more problems. Your cocoon is so powerful and is where the new you is formed. It’s not a process to rush or try to skip over important details. You can’t fly with only one wing, you know what I mean?
When we get uncomfortable, we want to fix things and escape the feeling. This cocoon of grief is transforming grief into empowerment. It’s not going to feel good. My best pieces of advice:
1) Get comfortable with the uncomfortable.
2) Cocoon with things that serve your healing, not distract from it or negatively impact it.
3) Contact a grief healer or grief counselor to sit with and support you during this time.
You will learn so much about yourself in the cocoon of grief if you allow yourself to stay in it and feel the change. That butterfly will emerge, but first you must turn to mush.
Ready to get some support as you cocoon? Check out my book The New Face of Grief to help guide you on your journey as you transform through the process of grief healing.