It's a popular meme-theme to buttress oneself or others when things are difficult: the caterpillar and butterfly image. Sometimes there's a cocoon stage in the tale too. It's a myth or story we can tell ourselves about not just who we are or what we are going through now, but also about who we will become.
It's similar to—but not quite the same as—the popular image of the cat looking at its reflection or its shadow and seeing itself as a tiger. That’s some great Jungian stuff there!
We love stories of transformation. And, paradoxically, we love these stories that are somehow also about an inner nature or true self becoming realized.
Time's arrow is aiming toward our future self, or who we already are.
These images and metaphors can be good consolations or motivators when we aren't where we want to be or who we want to be or doing what we want to do.
The peril, though, is that these metaphors might serve to limit our growth and evolution, instead.
The human assumption or implication is often that the caterpillar would prefer to be a butterfly. Or the cat would prefer to be a tiger. Or at least we would prefer them to be that. There might be a little denial of nature in that preference, however. And there might be some cultural persuasion too. But it might be that the caterpillar is not thinking and planning and hoping to be something else. It is what it is. Likewise with the kitten.
Perhaps the triad of Rajanaka might be useful here, a model of relationships between things or people or even our own multiple personas. I'm not you; I'm something like you; I'm nothing but you.
We might wish for the unity of I'm nothing but you, but think of this triad not just like a pyramid, with that relationship at the top. At any time, any of the three relationships could be at the peak.
The model is also like a tripod. Each of the three relationships are legs that simultaneously support our experience of ourselves and the world. All three are always going on. (It's not a perfect metaphor, but what is?)
Let’s think about the emotions involved with these myth-memes. There might be some buried shame worth looking at. There might be depression arising to stop you from doing what you're doing or moving forward. There might be some privileging or valencing of the emotion of happiness over the other emotions. Maybe there is some anxiety about the future. Maybe there is some stuck or suppressed sadness or even grief concerning things to let go or things that are already gone forever. Maybe there is the suicidal urge, which arises when a way of living has to end. Maybe there's some jealousy or envy involved.
Every emotion is likely here, playing its part—commanding or supporting—similar to the triad legs. And all the emotions are there to help you. They give you the insight and energy to take more skillful actions toward yourself and the world.
I'd like to suggest that, if these myth-memes resonate with you, you welcome the opportunity to more fully explore what they might be saying, what messages your deep self is trying to deliver. Use the mirror to better see the facts, as well your dreams and desires. Become more skilled at interpreting the myths—it’s the way of yoga.
When the present is allowed to open up the past and turn toward the fullness of the future, that is when one's growth and transformation is most empowered.
Be all you are. Be all you can become, even if that involves a Zoom cat filter.
Embrace the paradox that is already embracing you.