The photo at the top of this article is a Facebook post I did earlier today. The comments actually lined up perfectly to discuss what this means to me. Remember, though, that I’m a seeker like you. I know some stuff, but I don’t know everything. It’s not really about what I think, but about you, thinking.
The cartoon makes it clear that caterpillars and butterflies don’t necessarily speak the same language. That makes sense to me. The butterfly has gone through a complete transformation, with a change of mission, diet, capabilities. It is a one-way threshold. So, naturally, the butterfly would have no reason to interact with the caterpillar. Yet, if we are dealing with insects that could sit over glasses of wine, they are the same, but one is further along the journey. The caterpillar might not have much useful information about being a butterfly, but the butterfly may remember all too well what it was to be a caterpillar.
As humans, we don’t just get to go through one transformation in our lives. Many of us go through multiple transformations as our wold gets turned on its head again and again. We look in the mirror and don’t recognize the face looking back at us. Our obvious purpose in life may get kicked to the curb while we roam aimlessly, looking for the next purpose, which may not be so recognizable. In our own lives, we are constantly the butterfly and the caterpillar.
Before you read any further, take a moment to listen to this song by The Crash Test Dummies, called God Shuffled His Feet. Pay attention to the words.
I absolutely love this song. I joke that we tend to make God in our own image when the truth is that we cannot possibly view or understand the universe the way that a god does. In the song, the people get to hang out with God. He’s chillin’. It’s just supposed to be a nice time. But, the people start asking questions. The questions are so obtuse and short-sighted. There is no real communication going on here. It’s awkward for everyone.
Imagine that we are both the caterpillar/human and butterfly/god in this scenario. Don’t we tend to bog ourselves down with what-ifs, how-do-I-knows, and other excuses to hesitate and not take flight? In these cases, we don’t need any external influences. We are perfectly capable of miscommunicating with ourselves.
Now we come to the external butterflies and caterpillars. Because we aren’t as simple as insects, we are typically a caterpillar to some people and a butterfly to others. Other people in our lives experience the same thing. Even though we may recognize that we’ve developed wings, some people can’t see them. Some people tell us they have wings, but we can’t see them. Who gets to decide when you have your wings and when they’re good enough?
There are some situations when the levels are clearly defined. There are obvious requirements and tests for qualifications, like becoming a master electrician. In those cases, it’s fair to say that someone tells you when you have your wings. If you can’t pass the test, you don’t go through the threshold. Even though you may have gained knowledge and skill in electrical work, you must be able to get through the process for the achievement.
There are many things, however, where there is no clearly established demarcation between seeker and master. In fact, I find many points where I thought I was attaining mastery simply made me a seeker at a higher level. This is clearly not what I was sold in the brochure!
This is where it all gets weird. I liked one of the comments on the Facebook post, talking about not knowing what kind of wings one will have. Just as our wings may be invisible to some, we may not clearly see the wings that others have. It’s not really up to us to judge anyone’s wings except our own, and, believe me, that’s plenty. It’s tempting to look at this cartoon and think “Now that I’ve got my wings I don’t have to deal with those lowly caterpillars.” I think that’s a mistake. We need to separate ourselves from the caterpillar limitations, but perhaps we still need to keep connected the the caterpillars. They need our experience and example and reassurance that one can emerge with wings.
We also need to accept that no matter how full and gorgeous our own wings seem to us, some will never acknowledge them. Occasionally, it will be malicious, but more often it will be that others are just too tied up in their own perspective. We won’t speak the right type of butterfly. We can’t be discouraged by this and doubt our own wings. We can’t revert to caterpillar mode.
So, as I reflect more on this picture, I think that caterpillars and butterflies can communicate, but not about everything. We can’t judge where other people are on their path, and, if we can’t maintain that discipline, then we should stay away from the caterpillars for their good, not ours. At the same time, we need to have confidence in what we see in ourselves. We can’t let the judgement of others cause us to deny our own wings. We need to fly with those who can see them.
In the end, I find myself finding this cartoon funny, but no longer dealing with it at the surface. As one of the other commenters suggested, when you get your wings you become bilingual. That’s the real gift.