What happens when monarch caterpillars stop eating?

Laura's Butterfly

As soon as a monarch caterpillar is born its primary job is to eat. It eats and sleeps, eats and sleeps. Along the way it molts (sheds its skin) five times. It eats so much it even eats its shed skin. It gains 2700 times its original weight.

We’re a consumer society. It was the solution that businesses came up with after World War II to keep themselves in business, and the government did its best to help out, hoping to avoid another Great Depression.

It worked. Today, we consume more than we ever have: obesity, consumer goods purchases, energy consumption, waste generation, entertainment consumption are all at the highest levels they’ve ever been since we first showed up on the planet.

When we consume we feed a hunger – literal or metaphorical. Now that we have enough food to eat (if you’re reading this, that is), this hunger is usually emotional.

Back to the butterfly – once it has eaten enough, it forms a chrysalis. 9-14 days later it turns into a butterfly and takes to the air. It no longer needs to eat enough to gain 2700 times its weight. In fact that it would be a pretty bad idea. They need to travel light to make it to Mexico. They start leaving in September.

That’s what monarchs do. What do we do when we stop eating?

When we’re done consuming and trying to fill a hole there’s a period of waiting and unknown that can be quite unsettling. It’s the visit to the underworld in the Hero’s Journey. We can refuse the call and go back to eating, consuming, preparing. Or we can enter our personal chrysalises and “wait without hope” as T.S. Eliot wrote. If we’re brave enough, we’ll find that, “the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.”

Because after we’ve stopped blindly eating like the caterpillar, and we’ve waited in the darkness like the chrysalis, guess what comes next?

 

“I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope

For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,

For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith

But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.

Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:

So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.”

-T.S. Eliot

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