The Monarch: Perpetual Source of Wonder and Admiration by Amanda Imes (YTT Cohort 1)

During our last weekend of yoga teacher training at the House of the Gathering Yoga School, each of us brought home our very own Monarch larvae to shepherd safely through metamorphosis. As you may know, the Monarch population has declined by nearly 80% in the past two decades. Threats include climatic factors, habitat loss, disease, and insecticide use.

The next day, I found another larvae and brought him/her into the office. My coworkers were skeptical. Perhaps they were embarrassed on my behalf. When I enthusiastically explained that by bringing the larvae inside I was significantly improving the likelihood of survival, they looked at me with wide eyes, nodded, smiled a half-smile and an expression that said, “Why is this grown woman so enthusiastic about a caterpillar?” They joked about me being like an eager kindergartner.

When I first brought in the larvae, he was roughly the size of a staple. The first 4 days, he didn’t grow much. He was difficult to find on the milkweed leaf, his tiny little holes in the blade barely visible.

Despite initial skepticism, every morning my coworkers started dropping to peer through the glass and ask “How’s the worm doing.” A half-hearted exchange became a genuine interest with each passing day.

The growth from the 1st instar to 2nd instar is noticeable. Instar refers to the developmental stages of arthropods, or insects, between each molt until they reach maturity. The Little Bebe doubled in size seemingly overnight!

As coworkers dropped by, they’d share information they learned about milkweed and monarchs. Did I see the article about milkweed in the Star Tribune over the weekend? Had I noticed that someone mowed the milkweed down in the Capitol Mall butterfly garden? Did I think our caterpillar was a 4th generation monarch, bound for Mexico? (Yes we agreed, like beaming parents, although based on the timing it’s likely a 3rd generation monarch.)

And while I’m well aware that the butterfly metamorphosis is a tired cliché, I cannot help myself. I’M IN LOVE, I’M IN LOVE AND I DON’T CARE WHO KNOWS IT!

Here’s what I’ve learned from the caterpillar: 

1.    You are what you eat.

These little cuties poop a lot, like… a lot a lot. So much poop from that tiny little body! Their poop is green like the milkweed they eat. A good reminder.

2.    Approach the world with the wonder and curiosity of a child.

Beginner’s mind is a concept from Zen Buddhism. Steve Jobs was an avid proponent of the beginner’s mindset. This earth is a precious, unfathomably beautiful gift full of grandeur and mystery. All we have to do is stop and bear witness, follow our natural curiosity, and seek to understand. 

3.    Big problems, small actions.

If you are like me, you may feel overwhelmed by the enormity of problems humankind must face in the coming century. Watching the news is a dangerous place for some of us. While staying informed and sharing information on social media is one way to process the information available, it is incredibly gratifying to take action on these issues, no matter how small the gesture may be. I cannot stop legislators from removing regulations to protect endangered species or privatizing public lands, but I can improve the likelihood of one monarch’s survival. I can work to eliminate single-use plastic from my life. I can start a compost pile in my backyard. I can plant milkweed in my garden. I can give caterpillars to all my friends and talk to them ad nauseam about the plight of our pollinators. 

4.    Change takes time

This caterpillar didn’t turn into a butterfly overnight. This transformation required diligently eating milkweed practically 24 hours a day for days on end. This transformation required the caterpillar to completely shed his skin five times. This transformation demanded that the caterpillar completely abandon his carcass to become a chrysalis. This transformation required weeks spent in stillness while the body reconstitutes itself. 

5.    Transform

When a caterpillar transforms into his/her chrysalis, it completely sheds his former self. It is odd to see what looks like a dead and desiccated caterpillar carcass dangling beside a brilliant jade green chrysalis. 

What would be possible if we too were so willing to let go of our attachments? 

6.    Luminous beings are we

The caterpillar doesn’t know his transformation is a perpetual source of human wonder and admiration; he is merely fulfilling his life’s purpose- he just is. What if we worried less about our perceptions of who we are supposed to be and instead, honored the luminous beings we already are? We are the result of hundreds of generations passing DNA and traits from being to being. We are a compilation of billions of cells working together that we might dance, sing, shout, read, swim, and breathe. We are sentient beings on this planet capable of boundless love, radical kindness, and perpetual forgiveness. We can dream, wonder, and hope. 

And it is with that very hope that I will proceed, believing that we can and will do better to protect all the beings on planet Earth. 

Information on planting butterfly gardens, the plight of the monarch, and raising a monarch indoors can all be found here: https://monarchjointventure.org/

 

Hilary Buckwalter Kesti