Monday, 1 September 2014

Transformation and the Butterfly

I was introduced to the Rorschach inkblot test during a session with a therapist many years ago. The inkblots are a test of projection in Western psychology used to determine aspects of a patient’s personality. Deviating from its traditional use, the therapist asked me to describe what I saw in each inkblot. She gave me feedback on my internal processes based on the general meaning associated with each card. Looking at one of these cards, I said that I saw a bat. A few seconds later I said that it looked more like a butterfly. She said that my projections reflected aspects of night and day. In working through my darkness, I transformed it into something beautiful. Unsurprisingly, the butterfly again showed up in a reading of Native American medicine cards which someone did for me a few years later. In Native American language, the butterfly offers medicine of transformation.

The stages in the life cycle of a butterfly (egg, caterpillar, pupa and butterfly) show that each form or aspect is appropriate at the time. Only when the time is right will the butterfly change its form – the process cannot be rushed. The caterpillar is already a butterfly at its core (although not yet in form) and the butterfly has the caterpillar in its memory. There is no reason to believe that the butterfly is the ideal or the end goal, because each stage offers the organism what it needs to survive and be itself. Butterfly medicine teaches that when we think of our future dreams, we might want to remember that we are the dream. In continuing on our personal life path, we will reach a stage of full maturity and bright colours. The dream has been planted in our hearts in the same way that the life cycle of the butterfly is programmed into the organism inside the egg. The former versions of ourselves stay inside us as a reminder of the path we have walked and the experience gained.

Possibly the most interesting stage in the life cycle of the butterfly is the pupa. In this stage, the organism transforms inside a protective shell, although no change is visible from the outside. In terms of butterfly medicine applied to personal transformation, this is the often painful and confusing time when inner work has to be done. It may feel like nothing is changing in our outside reality and it could be a time of great frustration if we want to rush the process. In truth it is a time when we are preparing for a more mature phase of existence where our colours and brightness will be on display. We may feel stuck and impatient, but in this stage a protective shell is necessary until we are ready to emerge in a different aspect of ourselves. This can be a time of darkness and confusion, but once the transformation is complete, the shell that provided the darkness becomes waste material that can be cast off. On the other side of darkness, the shell material can be seen to have been an important part of the process even if it is no longer needed. The bits that have been discarded merge with the flow of nature, where it becomes compost for another cycle of life.

Of course we are humans, and our lives are infinitely complicated by the fact that we have brains, egos and conflicting desires. But we can still learn from the wisdom in nature, and butterfly medicine shows the importance of consciously participating in our own transformation while being kind to ourselves through our darkness. The message here is to accept that change will happen when we are ready. Each phase of our journey can be appreciated as a vital part of the whole.