A monarch caterpillar is shown in 6 stages of shedding until the skin falls away and a chrysalis begins to take shape. The first stage happens after the caterpillar has fastened itself with silk to a branch and hangs in the shape of a J. Then the skin of the caterpillar slowly splits and moves upward until the crinkled skin drops off because of the wiggling movement of the caterpillar. What is left is a chrysalis which dries and shrinks a bit.

October is my birth month and it coincides with a time of great change in my life. This has led to some rumination on transformation and metamorphosis:

The creative process is inherently destructive. The death of insects, plants and animals is the process of release–of bound matter losing hold upon complex structures and returning to elemental form. From that dust arises new life; composition is spawned from the act of decomposing.

This has been such a time for me. Old routines, schedules and beliefs rigorously embodied are now cast aside for a reshaping of my life into its potential. I love that the root of ‘potential’ is the Latin, potentia, meaning power. The creative act is the sculpting of form out of our life force. The word, manifest, harbours the physicality of the act, that of “striking by hand” (Latin manus and fendo) and hints at the destructive process through its proto-European root, gwhen, meaning to “to kill”.

Chrysalises are formed by the shedding of their skin; even their faces are erased, peeled off like a mask. The hard shell clings to the stalk of a plant, hiding the violence within. Death caspases–enzymes secreted to dissolve tissues–transform the innards into an organic sea of building blocks–sugars, proteins, fats–necessary for the creative act.

But first, the idea, the vision of what-is-to-come must be expressed. Imaginal discs are comprised of cells that form a sac-like structure. One layer or wall of the the sac is made up of flat, squamous epithelial cells while the other wall is made of columnar epithelial cells. These cells contain the blueprint of the new form to come. The impossible and unimaginable are already fact within those quiet cells. The columnar cells will make up the adult organs while the flat epithelial cells regulate eversion and fusion of discs. Growth factors and hormones such as ecdysone stimulate the growth of imaginal discs. Extending this to the metaphor of re-creating the self, it is the imagination that must be awakened and nourished before the new identity (the imago from which imaginal cells get their name) emerges.

A butterfly is a re-incarnation within a continuous lifespan, whereby the life-force is physically incarnated into another body. Re-births are part of life and occur when the life force exceeds the limitations of what can be expressed by the old form. We die many deaths. The shells of our former forms lie strewn around us like worn rose petals. They will darken into earth and crumble. They will feed the soil. From that ferment a new creature arises, spreads its impossible wings and lifts off.