Lessons about COVID-19 from the Little Fuzzy Caterpillar

Creating a New Normal

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Krzysztof Niewolny on Unsplash

The little fuzzy caterpillar,
Curled up on a leaf,
Spun her little chrysalis,
And then fell fast asleep.
While she was sleeping,
She dreamed that she could fly,
And later when she woke up
She was a butterfly!

Children’s Song

The Caterpillar

The little fuzzy caterpillar has within it billions of cells existing together. Somewhat like in the human body, its cells have different functions—digestion, motility, immunity, evacuation and so on. During its brief life cycle it eats. In fact, its appetite is voracious and it munches its way through delicious leafy things until it grows up to twenty times the size it was when emerging from its egg. There reaches a point, however, where it has attained its maximum growth and cannot eat another bite. Inside things begin to change. Certain cells die because they no longer have a function, others are seeking their place in a quickly disintegrating system. In the face of chaos and confusion, the caterpillar does an interesting thing. It attaches itself to a leaf or twig in a safe place, where predators cannot find it, and spins a shell around itself. There it hangs until it can emerge again into its new state.

The caterpillar stage of mankind has been going on for millennia during which we have gobbled up everything in sight. We have harvested the resources of the earth in our quest for survival and have built societies in order to connect together to make our lives comfortable and enjoyable. In doing so, we have acted according to our nature—to receive for ourselves everything we need and want. We’ve been successful in that and have come to the end of our feeding stage, but unlike the caterpillar, we haven’t stopped consuming.

We have instead created an environment dedicated to consumption so we can continue to satisfy ourselves, thus breaking the natural progression from egg to pupa to butterfly. So nature is giving us a nudge. COVID-19, a miniscule piece of genetic material, has driven us to cocoon ourselves inside our homes and away from others. Society has come to a standstill.

Here is something you may not know about the life cycle of the butterfly. From the outside it seems that the caterpillar is taking a rest, but a remarkable flurry of activity is happening inside the cocoon. The caterpillar’s body is digesting itself from the inside out, breaking down its own body, until it liquefies. Old caterpillar body cells are broken down into what are called imaginal cells. They are totally undifferentiated which means they can become anything they want! Many of these imaginal cells join together to form a new body, the glorious thing we call a butterfly.

So here we are, hanging out, protecting ourselves from a persistent virus, and speculating about what will come next. We’re also thinking a lot about what is of value and what we can live without. There is a dawning realization that we have created a Ponzi scheme on a global level. Those on top, the obscenely wealthy, have created a system of want, buy, want more, buy more, want even more, get it however we can even when doing so harms others and harms the earth. We have become more and more separated from each other because we compete for available goods and for the prestige that having all of these things brings us. We strive to rise to the top level, but the system doesn’t allow it.

The structure of the pyramid now is beginning to eat itself up as all of our major institutions fail. The operators on top are trying desperately to rebuild, but it’s too late because we who are relegated to the lower levels see too much now. We know that our things can be taken from us in the blink of an eye, that all our means for survival are seriously threatened, and that what we miss the most is the people we love. Social distancing has shined a spotlight on the fact that we are totally interconnected.

Insects that spin cocoons must eventually escape to complete their transformation. Some escape by cutting their way out from the inside. Others may secrete fluids that soften the cocoon and make it easier to break out.

We see both the aggressive and the softer approaches now as we grapple with how we will “open up” economies and learn to live with this virus. Meanwhile, the inner corrosion continues as rampant xenophobia, the most malicious way that we separate ourselves, is exposed nakedly and citizens are rioting and vandalizing cities.

Are we asleep and dreaming we can fly? Or are we comatose and yearning to  return to “normal,” the same old world? The caterpillar has no such dilemma because the laws of nature drive its transformation. Not so within humanity. Our hungry and bloated ego has impelled us to create chaos because we blatantly refuse to be in alignment with those laws—interconnection, altruism, balance, interdependence, unity. In this state there is no easy ascent to the higher degree of the butterfly.

The Butterfly

What will our transformed state look like? It all depends on how many of us are imaginal cells and how well we work together to create a new world. It also depends on how well we understand that this is an inside job. We are driven by desire, otherwise known as lack or deficiency. If I am hungry, I eat. If an hour after finishing a large meal I am offered food, I refuse, because my desire has been sated. That is, unless I value the taste and comfort of the food over the health of my body. The high rate of obesity in our country is a visual manifestation of the greed inspired by the ego.

What it comes down to is the nature of the desire. What is the lack? What do we crave more than anything? There is evidence that we are beginning to understand how interconnected we are and how much we depend on each other. The acts of help and kindness to help those most vulnerable to dying from the virus multiply daily. Love for others and creativity are helping us devise ways to be together with loved ones virtually and to social distance while celebrating. Even social unrest is a desire for connection in that the demand is caring for one another despite differences.

This is the correct desire. When we value and crave connection and unity above everything else, our actions will be in the direction of loving others as ourselves. We will eschew selfish actions, as we would rotten meat, in favor of supporting the common good. We will have this intention in all our actions, aimed at the goal to transform the pyramid into a circle that includes mutual responsibility for each other. Imaginal cells in the global system of mankind can easily topple and reform the deteriorating caterpillar of the old world into something more magnificent than mankind has ever known. We will still enjoy our “things,” but we won’t hurt each other in order to get them. Nature will lovingly provide them for us.

Krzysztof Niewolny on Unsplash

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