The Greek name for a butterfly is Psyche, and the same word means the soul. There is no illustration of the immortality of the soul so striking and beautiful as the butterfly, bursting on brilliant wings from the tomb in which it has lain, after a dull, grovelling, caterpillar existence, to flutter in the blaze of day and feed on the most fragrant and delicate productions of spring. Psyche, then, is the human soul, which is purified by sufferings and misfortunes, and is thus prepared for the enjoyment of true and pure happiness. —BULFINCH’S MYTHOLOGY: THE AGE OF FABLE
The lifecycle of a butterfly is a perfect example found in nature that mirrors back to us what it means to break free from the limitations and fears that restrict us from living our most liberated and joyful life. The caterpillar’s metamorphosis into a butterfly beautifully demonstrates the natural rhythms and processes of inner and outer transformation experienced by all life.
In its physical form, the butterfly itself symbolizes the potential freedom and lightheartedness that are available to each and every one of us. Just seeing a butterfly reawakens us to the magic and wonder inherent in life. Its grace and vulnerability immediately take us beyond thought into the mystery of our own existence.
The butterfly begins its journey as a caterpillar, and it may or may not be aware of what it is destined to become. But the caterpillar lives on, faithfully following the inner prompts arising within its being. It feels its way through life, naturally following the inner direction with which it was born.
Surrendering to Your True Self
The caterpillar follows what seems to be an inner plan, which from the outside can be observed as inspiring the journey from caterpillar to cocoon and from cocoon to butterfly. The feeling and the pull into what appears to be the unknown must be so clear and so strong for the caterpillar, because when the time comes to create a cocoon for itself, in which both its inner and outer transformations will occur, the caterpillar carries out its intended purpose with a one-pointed focus and determination.
The caterpillar appears to feel that it does not have a choice but that it must surrender and follow the forces of nature and the universe as they propel and guide it forward, no matter what the journey entails. Once transformation is complete, the butterfly struggles with all of its strength to emerge from its cocoon. Eventually it leaves behind the protective shell that no longer serves any purpose.
The butterfly’s new existence only slightly resembles its old form. It does not know itself anymore. Its past has been left behind, and the butterfly now experiences itself as something changed and new. It has been reborn. And now it is free.
Our own journey through life is like this as well. Like the caterpillar’s journey into its cocoon and its struggle to emerge as a butterfly, our own journey as human beings toward our most liberated and joyful life is one in which we also struggle to live gracefully and intentionally as a free and full expression of who and what we truly are. We all struggle to liberate ourselves from our suffering and thus free ourselves from our protective cocoon in order to embody the highest form of our own soul’s evolution.
A Life-Defining Choice
Within each one of us, there lives a sense of an inner plan that is always inspiring us to break free into the mystery of our existence. We too have this inner guidance directing us forward, a felt force deep within our soul propelling us onward in faith. Just like the butterfly that struggles to break free from the restricting confines of its cocoon, deep down our souls know and trust that our own struggles will eventually open to the richness, wonder, and beauty of our most liberated and joyful life.
Ultimately, the struggle to liberate ourselves fully is the struggle to love ourselves unconditionally in every moment, situation, and relationship. In order to do this we’re all called to consciously heal our psychological and emotional pain in the present. We’re faced with the task of freeing ourselves from the protective cocoon that we’ve developed over time—this psychic shell that’s been protecting us until we’re ready to live our lives authentically and openheartedly as a free and full expression of who and what we truly are.
Just like the butterfly, the development of our own cocoon is natural and vital for our soul’s evolutionary unfolding. Our cocoon serves us while we heal and go through the inner transformations necessary to fully embody our soul’s true nature. At some point in our lives, however, our cocoon always becomes limiting and unhealthy. Once we’ve gone through the initial stages of healing and growth within the safety of this protective shell, all of us are called to liberate ourselves from a way of being in the world that no longer serves us.
When this time comes will vary for each of us, but it does indeed come. And when it does we’re all faced with a life-defining choice. We either surrender and align with the forces of nature and the universe that are evolving within and through us, or we resist this evolutionary force and thereby create more struggle and pain for ourselves.
The Necessary Path
With this in mind, I’d like to share a touching story that I once read about a woman who brought two butterfly cocoons into her home that were about to hatch. The woman wanted to observe the butterflies break free from their cocoons and eventually take flight.
For days she eagerly watched, waiting for the butterflies to emerge. In time, she was able to witness one of the butterflies begin creating a small hole in its cocoon. From the woman’s perspective, this first butterfly seemed to struggle painfully as it slowly pushed its way through the opening it had created. Once it was fully liberated, the butterfly lay there on the table, exhausted and unable to go any further. However, after a short period of time, the butterfly finally raised itself up and flew out a nearby window, fluttering on its strong and beautiful wings.
After observing the challenging process that the first butterfly experienced, the woman felt inspired to help the second butterfly free itself from its cocoon so it wouldn’t have to struggle like the first one did. Meaning well, the woman decided to use a razor blade to gently slice down the center of the second butterfly’s cocoon as it began its journey toward its liberation. Once freed, the second butterfly lay there on the table just like the first one did. However, after that same short period of time, rather than raising itself up and flying away, the second butterfly quietly died.
Confused about what had occurred, the woman contacted a friend who was a biologist and asked her to explain why the second butterfly had died. Her friend expressed that the challenging struggle the butterfly undergoes to liberate itself from its cocoon actually forces liquids from deep inside its body cavity out into the tiny capillaries in the butterfly’s wings. This process is what causes a butterfly’s wings to harden, making them strong enough and healthy enough for their new life of flight. She explained that without the struggle a butterfly experiences in breaking through its own cocoon, there could be no strength in its wings, no flight, and ultimately no life.
Liberating Ourselves From Our Protective Cocoons
Just like the butterflies in this story, you and I are destined to liberate ourselves from the bonds of our own protective cocoons. And just like the caterpillar, we each have everything that we need within ourselves to (1) love ourselves unconditionally and (2) create the inner and outer freedom that we all intuitively desire.
When we stop to reflect on the deeper meaning of the above story we are graced with one of life’s most beautiful and empowering lessons: Each of us already has everything we need within ourselves to fulfill our life’s purpose and realize our greatest potential. God, or the intelligent universe, created life this way. Life itself inherently holds all that it needs within itself to fully become all that it is destined to be. Our greatest potentials and strengths already live within us, just waiting to be cultivated and expressed fully in our lives.
Unfortunately, however, too many of us live our whole lives without realizing this. We go through life living in fear, constantly relating to our world from the familiarity, comfort, and safety of our protective cocoon. Way too often we end up settling for a limited way of life, having never realized nor expressed the fullness or the greatness of who and what we all truly are.
If we don’t just settle for cold comfort, a large majority of us continually search outside of ourselves, thinking that something or someone outside of us will free us. Maybe someone will rescue us or save us from the restricting confines of our own cocoon? Maybe someone will love us enough or care for us enough to liberate us from our personal struggles and make everything okay?
What an illusion this truly is!
We Are All Born Caterpillars
All of us are born caterpillars in this life, and we all create a cocoon for ourselves as we grow. What differs among us, however, is that some of us are willing to follow the inner prompts of our heart and soul to become the liberated, passionate, and purposeful beings that we’re destined to be, and some of us quite simply are not.
There seem to be only two options in life. We either become the butterfly that we’re destined to be, or we don’t. We either master loving ourselves unconditionally, and in so doing free ourselves from our cocoon, or we don’t.
In the same way it is often said that the unexamined life is not worth living, I believe that a life without learning to love ourselves unconditionally is similarly not worth living. If you’re honest with yourself in reading this, I’m sure you would agree that the pain, suffering, and confusion that result from an aggressive, fear-based, and self-destructive relationship with yourself makes life quite miserable and hardly worth living at times.
Considering this, loving ourselves unconditionally always leads to the lasting inner peace, health, happiness, and fulfillment we’re all looking for. I have found that once we’re finally ready to welcome and love all of who we are today, as well as all of who we have been in the past, we naturally find the strength, courage, and love within us that’s necessary to heal ourselves, fulfill our life’s purpose, and realize our greatest potential both personally and professionally.
I often ask myself: why would anyone settle for anything less?
Subtitles by InnerSelf
©2013, 2015. Reprinted with permission of the author.
About the Author
Blake Bauer is a Chicago native whose fascinating life experiences led him to take the path of teacher. Remarkably young yet gifted with extraordinary wisdom he has become an internationally recognized author, counselor, and alternative medicine practitioner. Blake has traveled worldwide training with notable spiritual teachers, healers, and masters and has acquired a formal education in psychology, Chinese medicine, nutrition, herbal remedies, hypnosis as well as other forms of traditional healing and alternative medicine. Visit his website at www.unconditional-selflove.com