The Butterfly Story

October 17, 2012 Leave a comment
butterfly story

|Image from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center|http://www.flickr.com/photos/gsfc/3903384725|

At the closing of last week’s Vermont Farm to Plate Network Gathering, my colleague and friend, Beth Tener of New Directions Collaborative, shared the following beautiful story and metaphor from the evolutionary biologist Elisabet Sahtouris.  In it is the invitation that we both feel net work offers – to not simply engage in new superficial ways of working, but to let it take hold of us in shaping a new “genome” for human awareness of and interaction with living systems . . .

A caterpillar can eat up to three hundred times its own weight in a day, devastating many plants in the process, continuing to eat until it’s so bloated that it hangs itself up and goes to sleep, its skin hardening into a chrysalis. Then, within the chrysalis, within the body of the dormant caterpillar, a new and very different kind of creature, the butterfly, starts to form. This confused biologists for a long time. How could a different genome plan exist within the caterpillar to form a different creature? They knew that metamorphosis occurs in a number of insect species, but it was not known until quite recently that nature did a lot of mixing and matching of very different genome/protein configurations in early evolutionary times. Cells with the butterfly genome were held as disclike aggregates of stem cells that biologists call ‘imaginal cells’, hidden away inside  the caterpillar’ all its life, remaining undeveloped until the crisis of overeating, fatigue and breakdown allows them to develop, gradually replacing the caterpillar with a butterfly!

Such metamorphosis makes a good metaphor for the great changes globalisation, in the sense of world transformation, is bringing about., as Norie Huddle first used it in her beautiful book Butterfly. Our bloated old system is rapidly becoming defunct while the vision of a new and very different society, long  held by many ‘imaginal cell’  humans who dreamt of a better world, is now  emerging like a butterfly, representing our solutions to the crises of predation, overconsumption and breakdown in a new way of living lightly on Earth, and of seeing  our human society not in the metaphors and models of mechanism as well-oiled social machinery, but in those of evolving, self-organizing and intelligent living organism.

If you want a butterfly world, don’t step on the caterpillar, but join forces with other imaginal cells to build a better future for all!

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