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  • Writer's pictureCamp Goldston Publishing, LLC

Caterpillar or Butterfly? Which?


I look to nature to provide me the truest form of spiritual insight. Through natural occurrences I witness the order of the Universe and my uncomplicated connection to it. Through my relationship to plants and animals I have begun to understand that as evolved as we think we are the same processes that relate to all living things tie us to the circle of life and it’s ever evolving simplicity.

Metamorphosis is a profound example of the Divine operating in nature. This phenomena occurs in the butterfly, yet the concept of transformation is mirrored throughout the Creation. During metamorphosis a life form undergoes a process as one species and emerges vastly different, some say, more useful in the perpetuation of life. Many faith traditions speak about the self-dying to be reborn anew.

In 2009, I joined Blank Canvas, a group founded on the principle that a woman’s life, despite what she has experienced, is like an artist’s canvas, hers to paint her path forward upon. I was at a critical point in my life, looking for a supportive incubator in which to grow. Over the year and a half I was a member of Blank Canvas, seven to fifteen of us, spent our sacred meetings, slowly peeling layers of ourselves. As we tugged at the common threads that loosely bound us, we realized that we were all capable of soaring. But some things held us back.

Some of us were held us back by fear, physical disability, memories of abuse, drug addiction, feelings of rejection, and grief. All of which came with their coping mechanisms that provide rationales to hover in one space. Reasons to avoid splashing paint upon our canvases. We used our meetings as a way to illuminate our deepest desires and walk into our dark spaces together.

At a particularly inspiring session, Angela, our facilitator displayed a picture of a beautiful Monarch butterfly. This stoked our curiosity and murmurings of “where’s she going with this? Urging patience, she spoke slowly, as she led us painstakingly through the life cycle of a lowly caterpillar that somehow becomes a butterfly. As we sat in the comfort of our meeting space, immersed in the sanctuary of our collective experiences and struggles, our small sisterhood inched slowly ahead.

As our facilitator showed photos, of the caterpillar emerging from an egg, hungrily eating until it outgrew its body, we discussed that this process is not unlike the cycles that we experience as humans. We grow through various experiences hungry for more life, more love, and more health. Yet each phase of our growth requires that to keep forward momentum, something, some habit, some idea and at times, someone must be shed.

When the caterpillar finally stops eating, it attaches itself to a leaf, flips upside down and spins a protective cocoon around itself. That’s the lonely incubation period when the only guidance it receives is innate. This is not a phenomena exclusive to the caterpillar, we all need periods of solitude, where after we receive all that we can from others and our surroundings, we need to “be” with ourselves and the spirit dwelling in each of us. We need to make some decisions for ourselves.

It is in this phase in the cocoon or chrysalis that the caterpillar inside discharges chemicals that cause it to completely digest itself. However, dismal this appears, the digested matter is slowly reforming into the next version of itself. Could it be that when something appears to be breaking apart, or dying it is merely transforming we wondered?

We learned that after the work is completed inside the chrysalis, there is the journey back to the outer world when the newly formed butterfly, must break free of its chrysalis or die. This reentry seems like a final challenge. A test of worthiness. And what if the butterfly fails?

We pondered is there a way out? In a subsequent photo we saw that there is a structural weakness in the confining walls that allow just enough air in to allow our butterfly to flex its wings repeatedly against the walls of the chrysalis. Finally it breaks through, spreads its wings and is free to soar!

A few concepts were reinforced for me that afternoon. Growth requires change. Change is painful. Some growth must be done alone. Even when you emerge there are tests. There was also the clear affirmation that one’s decision to stay a caterpillar or undergo the arduous transformation to become a butterfly is a personal choice.

– Susan D. Peters

Susan D. Peters, aka, Ahnydah (ah-NIE-dah) Rahm, brings a wealth of experience gained as an expatriate living in West Africa. Her memoir Sweet Liberia, Lessons from the Coal Pot, received the Black Excellence Award for Non-Fiction from the African American Alliance of Chicago and the Mate E. Palmer award for Non-Fiction from the Illinois Press Women’s Association. Broken Dolls, Susan’s second book, represents her foray into the mystery market and is the first of a series featuring Detective Joi Sommers as its heroine. Her most recent publication is Stolen Rainbow, a short story focused on the post combat recovery of a beautiful marine captain after a devastating combat injury. Her work is featured in three anthologies, Baring It All, the Ins and Outs of Publishing, Signed, Sealed, Delivered … I’m Yours, a contemporary romance anthology, and The Anthology of the Illinois Woman’s Press Association. Buy her books online and at


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