Katie the Caterpillar
One warm summer day, Katie the caterpillar pushed and wiggled her way out the egg she had grown up in. She stretched and looked around.
She thought, “Boy, am I hungry!”
She didn’t have far to go for food. Her mom had left her right where she needed to be with a vast food supply all around her. She started eating and she ate and ate and ate. She was devouring all that life had for her and she was enjoying every minute of it. However, she ate so much that she began to feel uncomfortable. Her skin got tighter and tighter the more she ate. Soon, she noticed that her skin was so tight that she couldn’t breathe. It was so uncomfortable that Katie was afraid she’d suffocate. Just when she thought she couldn’t take it anymore, her skin split open and fell away. She was able to wiggle right out of it.
“Ahhhh,” she said. “I can breathe again. And boy am I hungry.”
And so the process began again. She was happy and content as she nibbled at the abundance around her, until once again, she found her skin becoming tight. She remembered how, last time, her skin split open and she was able to crawl out so she continued to eat until she became so uncomfortable she thought she couldn’t take it anymore. And once again, her skin split and fell away.
This process was repeated three more times. The last time, however, was different. Instead of the outer layer simply falling away, it hardened into a chrysalis and poor Katie was trapped inside. The good news was that she was no longer hungry. The bad news was that her body was turning to goo. Katie was frightened, and yet somehow, it felt normal and expected. She had no idea what was going to happen next, but she couldn’t fight it, so she simply allowed what was happening to happen.
Soon, Katie’s body was almost completely dissolved. All that was left were tiny pieces of who she used to be. Although she didn’t know it, these tiny pieces held all the information she needed to make a new body. The goo that had been her old life became the fuel she needed to rebuild her life.
After several days, Katie began to feel that old, familiar, cramped feeling again, but this time, it was more like hatching out of her egg. She knew she could do it since she had done it once before, so she pushed, wiggled, and gnawed and soon the chrysalis broke open and she was free. She was also exposed and vulnerable. She clung to the last little bit of her old life as she contemplated what would happen if she let go.
Katie looked at the legs holding tightly to the papery sheath she had just crawled out of and thought about how wonderfully long and strong they were. She looked off to the side and saw brightly colored wings unfurling behind her. She had never seen anything so beautiful. She wondered briefly who could be standing behind her, when she realized that those beautiful wings belonged to her. She knew that she couldn’t cling to her old self anymore. She had to let go and see what happened and as she let go, she tumbled away from her old life. She flapped her wings once, then twice and then she floated away. She had never felt so light, so free, and so beautiful. She also felt really hungry, so went to find something to eat.
The Moral of the Story
We can learn a lot from nature. Our ancestors learned how to find food, use plants as medicine, and even how to build shelters from the natural world. Over time, we’ve come to take the natural world for granted and we’ve lost touch with what they have to teach us. If we pay a little attention, though, even the lowly caterpillar has something to show us.
So what does Katie have to teach us? We all go through times in our lives when we’re cruising right along, having a great time, feeling comfortable, then something happens to rock our world. Change can be good or bad: from marriage, babies, new jobs, and relocation to divorces, getting fired, and losing a loved one. And like Katie, we can accept it and see where it takes us. Sometimes, we have to turn ourselves into goo to find who we truly are, not who we believe we are.
I’ll give you an example from my own life. I spent eight years in a job that I hated. I just landed there after college and lacking anything better to do, I stayed. It got worse and worse over the years. I felt constricted and bound to this job. It bored me to tears and my every attempt to make it palatable was completely unacceptable to management. By year seven, it started to feel like I was going to die if I didn’t get out of there, yet I was too afraid to quit. I stormed around the campus, muttering to myself, “Why don’t they just fire me?” until one day they did. I had never been so elated. It was like the straight-
jacket had been unlocked and I was set free. It was one of the best days of my life.
I took some time off to decompress, then I found a seemingly perfect job in herbal manufacturing. It was very similar to my old job, but I thought it would be better, because it was a small business and it wasn’t high volume or high stress. However, within a couple of months, I got that old constricted, straight-jacketed feeling again. Instead of waiting eight years to get fired, though, I quit after about ten months and this time, I was bound and determined to figure out why I kept ending up in the same place.
I holed myself up in my house and turned myself to goo. I looked at everything that I believed, because I knew that I was bringing all on myself by believing I wasn’t worthy of better, I wasn’t capable of better, and I didn’t deserve better. I worked hard with my therapist. I meditated. I did lots of yoga. I journaled like a madwoman. I dove deep into my emotional pool. I cried a lot. I broke myself down till there was nothing left but those small parts that were not a part of the lie I had been telling myself since I was a child. I found that those small pieces held everything I needed to rebuild my life. I stopped pretending I was a scientist and accepted that I was really a creative. I stopped saying yes to things while my body screamed no. I realized that I do have value. I do deserve to be seen and heard. I decided to quit caring what other people thought of me. It’s MY life after all. And while I have a way to go yet, I feel good. I am happier that I have ever been. I survived the goo.
By the time we hit middle age, we think we should have it all figured out, so that we won’t have to change anymore, but change is the one thing that is certain. Yet we fear change because we feel we can’t change or that it will be too painful.
What is more painful, however, is to remain in the skin that you’ve long ago outgrown. You’re not meant to stay the same. You’re meant to grow and change and sometimes that means you have to let yourself come apart. Don’t fear the goo. Trust that when you emerge, you’ll be a bigger, more beautiful version of yourself than you could have ever imagined. Trust that once you let go of all that you were before, you will be free to fly and it will feel wonderful.