I learned yesterday that the goo that caterpillars turn into in their cocoons is actually the result of them “digesting” themselves. I feel as if a massive rift opened up in my life story. Caterpillars turning to butterflies is symbolically potent. So, I dove down that chasm to see what else could enhance my changing metaphor. Here’s what I found so far. Mostly just the facts for now.
Holicow! Caterpillars really are born with butterflies inside them! Not only do they digest themselves within the chrysalis, but everything is digested via release of enzymes (just like in our stomach) leaving protein-rich goo. How the butterfly happens is that caterpillars are born from their eggs with something called “imaginal discs” (imaginal discs – how perfect is that?! – Imaginal!) throughout their bodies. Each imaginal disc is the seed, if you will, of a butterfly body part. One for each wing, leg, antennae, etc. The imaginal discs don’t get digested with the rest of the caterpillar (perhaps they have a hull, like other seeds do which prevent them being digested – I will have to dig further for that). When swimming in the digested goo, or, poo really, the imaginal discs do what any seed would do in a compost pile, begin feeding and multiplying its cells.
I am so excited by this more mature understanding of this process. Really, it makes me giddy as a child. The implications for metamorphosis of my metaphor are too mind-blowingly ironic to express right now. It will take a bit more digesting.
Here’s how it relates so far to this present moment: Imaginal by definition means relating to image or imago (which is basically an image of an image). Today I finished sewing the prayer flag “Presence.” When I sew the hundreds of thousands of stitches in dozens of colors, it is done with a translucent film (water soluble stabilizer that later gets soaked off) covering the image. So, the image is “fogged,” as I work on it. I have to trust my memory of what layers were placed where and just where the beginnings and endings of fabrics are. I have to trust my sense of color theory. I have to trust that my sense of color theory can survive fogging the colors. Most of all I have to trust the Great Collaborator who guides my intuition. And I have to listen.
So, imaginal seeds of the prayer flag, the layers of fibers, the colors, the pieces butting up to one another are all there but under the film. And I can’t, once the sewing begins, look under the film. So today, when I got to drop “Presence” into its bath to dissolve the film, I again was reminded what a miraculous process this is. What a metamorphosis. The flags are often fulfilling of their purpose when just pieced. But for one, they can fall apart with a breeze from the open window or the brush of a sleeve (trust me on those). Also, they tend to have flatter, less textured colors and images; but with the free-style stitching, the details are enriched. Even a visual sense of movement often comes into play. One might say they soar! And, literally, once sewn, they can fly, as prayer flags are intended.