The caterpillar

Eat, sleep, repeat. You are what you are. You don’t even slightly resemble a butterfly. You are wonderful and unique in your own right, you are life, but you’re only ever going to crawl around on the ground.

The human as a caterpillar is the human that is yet to awaken and evolve. There’s nothing wrong with this stage, it is essential. But it’s only the start. The caterpillar stage can be encompassed in Carl Jung’s statement that we spend the first half of our lives developing a healthy ego.


What is ego?

It’s your identity. It’s who you think you are based on your childhood experiences. Your personality, the way you think the world works, how you relate to others, your belief systems. It’s limited, it’s structured, it’s fixed, it’s repetitive. You may grow a little within the bounds of your ego, but you do not drastically change or transform. You just become a bigger caterpillar.

Here’s an example of my caterpillar stage:

– I am what I achieve

– I must work hard and prove myself

– I fear rejection and abandonment

– My success is based on material gain

– I must get approval and validation from others

– I must please others and meet their expectations

– I am limited, life is limited, life is a struggle

– I must hide emotions like anger or sadness and tears


This is a tiny snippet of my caterpillar world. Whilst I spent years building my self-awareness and reflecting, you can learn so much about yourself just by asking a few introspective questions, observing your behaviour and looking at your own life. Once you get a feel for your caterpillar, don’t resist or judge it. Just become aware. It’s all OK.


The cocoon

When the caterpillar goes into a cocoon, it turns into complete goo. Everything it was, dissolves.

In human terms, this is the dissolving of the ego, the identity, the beliefs as I shared above.

Some people call this a mid-life crisis (although it can happen at any time). You start to question your purpose in life, you may physically and mentally retreat for a while, you realise that how you’ve been doing things is not making you happy anymore. Your buried wounds and traumas are coming closer to the surface and the material world doesn’t satiate you as much as it once did. You want more. You need more. You may not know what ‘more’ is, but you yearn for it and you begin to seek.

If you embrace this period and do the inner work, you will start to break down the fragile egoic identity. You’ll start to question your own beliefs. You’ll stop doing what you used to do, you’ll question your deeper motivations, you may get coaching/ therapy as you try to navigate the ‘goo’. It can be really uncomfortable, a sort of ‘no man’s land’ where you’re not what you were but, you’ve not yet become what you’ll be.

For me, this stage includes:

– questioning my ‘people pleasing’ personality and seeing that it’s dysfunctional and harming me

– realising how I sabotage myself by feeling unworthy, insecure and allowing fear to rule me

– realising that no one out there can validate me, I must validate myself

– understanding my childhood traumas and how they’ve shaped my world

– seeing how my childhood belief systems are just ‘stories’ I’m repeating, not the ultimate truth

– looking for the real me – who am I? What is in my heart, my soul? What is my truth?

I hope this gives you a flavour of what it looks like to begin disintegrating what you thought you were. It can be like waking up from the Matrix! If you’ve seen that movie, they really depicted well how uncomfortable the process of waking up from the illusion can be. But, it can also be amazing, freeing, exciting and full of possibility!


The butterfly

Now for the reshaping.

From the goo, from the dissolved ego, you start to rebuild into who you were always destined to be. Not who the world told you to be, but who you truly are – a beautiful butterfly with wings to fly! The old beliefs of lack, limitation, people-pleasing etc. no longer apply. You start to realise what’s important to you, how you want to live, what you want to do. You see that if you want to fly you must give up the things that were weighing you down. You cannot be a caterpillar and a butterfly at the same time. You realise that you have a choice.

In this stage, you learn the truth of your own soul and you let this part of you lead. As you follow this truth, you start to grow wings and soon take flight. You may be nervous – that’s because it’s new, you’re learning, you’re being reborn, you’ve never flown before! It can be very vulnerable.

Sometimes the caterpillar and cocoon call you back to ‘safety’, where safety is the familiarity of the caterpillar or the protection of the cocoon. But your wings are also taking shape and there is an urge to fly. This is the daily battle that has been analogised in many ways – a battle between heart and head, ego and soul, lower self and higher self, devil and angel. Each time you feel this inner war, you are challenged to choose the higher.

My butterfly stage includes the following realisations:

– I am a spiritual being having a human experience

– My soul has innate gifts and a purpose to express here on Earth

– I know what I love to do, how I want to live and I must do it

– The only limits are in my own mind

– I do not have to set myself on fire to keep other people warm

– I can be unapologetically me, I am whole, there is nothing wrong with me, I’m not broken

– My soul is the master and my ego is the slave

Your butterfly journey will be unique to you – as will your caterpillar and cocoon. There are patterns and similarities across us all but your transformation is a personal experience.


The pitfalls

Sometimes we can stunt our own process of growth, here’s how:-

  1. Staying as a caterpillar or in the gooey cocoon

You’ve got to keep moving, shedding and evolving. Once a wing begins to sprout you cannot change it back, once you’ve tasted flight, it’s painful to stay on the ground. But you can fall back.

What’s it going to feel like when you stop people-pleasing and start putting your needs first? Uncomfortable. When you end a relationship or job that wasn’t serving your highest good? Uncomfortable. Petrifying even! That’s called ego death or abandonment depression – and it hurts. The ‘old you’ is being put down and it won’t go quietly. So, you’ve got to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Keep moving, keep growing into your new self, do not retreat.


  1. Trying to get rid of ego

I know I just used the words ‘ego death’ but don’t take that too literally. A misconception in modern self-help and spirituality is that we must get rid of the ego. This is both impossible and undesirable; your ego is your mind and body – if you get rid of it, you’d be dead! You need it.

But, notice what actually happens in the cocoon – the caterpillar (ego) is disintegrated and reintegrated into the butterfly. It does not disappear and get thrown out. It is broken down and reformed. It is the raw material. Here are some examples of how your dysfunctional caterpillar ego is reintegrated in a functional, healthy butterfly:

The caterpillar says: I must put other people’s needs first.

The butterfly says: I love to support others once I fill my own cup.

The caterpillar is a high achiever collecting trinkets, trophies and accolades to feel worthy.

The butterfly is a high achiever working towards fulfilling its soul’s purpose.


  1. Thinking this process only happens once

I don’t experience this as a one-time thing and I don’t think anyone does. The caterpillar to butterfly process happens multiple times. Sometimes I have big shifts in a short period, other times I have lots of little sheddings and rebirths. There are no rules. There is just continual growth and evolution. Piece by piece you disintegrate and reform different parts of you, like pieces in a jigsaw.


The two halves of life

As mentioned earlier, Carl Jung said the first half of life is devoted to developing a healthy ego. He also said, the second half of life is going inward and letting go of it. That is the transformation from caterpillar to butterfly. That is the process of human evolution, it’s the journey we are all on and if you embrace it willingly you will transform into a beautiful butterfly. Just like the caterpillar, it is your innate destiny to do so.

“Your time as a caterpillar is over. Your wings are ready.” – Unknown


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