From the Caterpillar to the Butterfly

The Imaginal Discs of Chrysalis – Dynamics of Personal Transformation

In the Eye of the Storm

An individual response to the Global Crisis

ISSN 1939-3407


April 18, 2020

Ashok Bedi, M.D., Jungian Psychoanalyst

Robert BJ Jakala PH.D., Jungian Psychotherapist

In a storm, the safest place is in the eye of the storm. My colleague BJ and I will share our daily reflections on this centering process from an Analytical perspective, sharing from the repertoire of our personal and professional experience. BJ is a psychologist and a photographer and will pick an image of the day that catches him in this collective crisis. I will amplify it from a Jungian Analytical perspective. We hope that this may offer you a baby step on the path to your own unique response to this chaos.

Never are we closer to the sublime secret of all origination than in the recognition of our own selves, whom we always think we already know. Yet we know the immensities of space better than we know our own depths, where—even though we do not understand it—we can listen directly to the throb of creation itself. (Jung, 1960b, p. 380)

Life changes dramatically from caterpillar to butterfly. Its stay at home order in the cocoon provides an environment that makes metamorphosis natural and essential for survival. In its life cycle, transformation is required for the continuation of the species.

But how does this transformation gestate? Here is some information about the metamorphosis of the caterpillar from the Scientific American.

As children, many of us learn about the wondrous process by which a caterpillar morphs into a butterfly. The story usually begins with a very hungry caterpillar hatching from an egg. The caterpillar, or what is more scientifically termed a larva, stuffs itself with leaves, growing plumper and longer through a series of molts in which it sheds its skin. One day, the caterpillar stops eating, hangs upside down from a twig or leaf and spins itself a silky cocoon or molts into a shiny chrysalis. Within its protective casing, the caterpillar radically transforms its body, eventually emerging as a butterfly or moth.

But what does that radical transformation entail? How does a caterpillar rearrange itself into a butterfly? What happens inside a chrysalis or cocoon?

First, the caterpillar digests itself, releasing enzymes to dissolve all of its tissues. If you were to cut open a cocoon or chrysalis at just the right time, caterpillar soup would ooze out. But the contents of the pupa are not entirely an amorphous mess. Certain highly organized groups of cells known as imaginal discs survive the digestive process. Before hatching, when a caterpillar is still developing inside its egg, it grows an imaginal disc for each of the adult body parts it will need as a mature butterfly or moth—discs for its eyes, for its wings, its legs and so on. In some species, these imaginal discs remain dormant throughout the caterpillar’s life; in other species, the discs begin to take the shape of adult body parts even before the caterpillar forms a chrysalis or cocoon. Some caterpillars walk around with tiny rudimentary wings tucked inside their bodies, though you would never know it by looking at them.

Once a caterpillar has disintegrated all of its tissues except for the imaginal discs, those discs use the protein-rich soup all around them to fuel the rapid cell division required to form the wings, antennae, legs, eyes, genitals and all the other features of an adult butterfly or moth. The imaginal disc for a fruit fly’s wing, for example, might begin with only 50 cells and increase to more than 50,000 cells by the end of metamorphosis. Depending on the species, certain caterpillar muscles and sections of the nervous system are largely preserved in the adult butterfly. One study even suggests that moths remember what they learned in later stages of their lives as caterpillars.

Each one of us is in an enforced gestation mode of the caterpillar. This is a transformational opportunity for those who create a sense of “INTERIORITY”. If we make this time for self-reflection and incubate IMAGINAL DISCS for what we want to be and do going forward, we may emerge from a consumer caterpillar ravenously ingesting all that it can eat, to a Chrysalis mode of introversion and creating a blue print of the Imaginal discs, templates, wish-list, a frame-work and a potential roadmap of our emergence. We must of course continue our outer life and responsibilities simultaneously. Image is the seed of Reality. In the womb of imagination gestates the reality of tomorrow.

Some Points to Ponder:

  1. During this time at home, what changes are happening to you?
  2. What changes are you making happen?
  3. How do you envision life afterwards?
  4. What influence do external changes have on your internal world?
  5. How do you see yourself as a material consumer in your Caterpillar mode?
  6. What is your system to create the Chrysalis space for contemplation and self-reflection?
  7. What are your IMAGINAL DISCS that will constitute the future you?
  8. What is your Roadmap to support these Images of the Potential, Best Version of YOU?
  9. What is your Image of the Ubermensch – the better version of you?

Photo taken in St. Petersburg, FL.

Jung, C. G. (1960b). The structure and dynamics of the psyche. New York: Pantheon Books.

© Ashok Bedi, M.D. and Robert BJ Jakala, PH.D.