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On Caterpillars, Mice, & .38 Special

Note: This blog first appeared on

My wife is a yoga teacher. The other day in her (online) class--which you can catch here--she talked about the miraculous fact that before a caterpillar becomes a butterfly, it literally liquefies inside its chrysalis and, from that liquid, goopy state, transforms itself into a beautiful butterfly. Nature has a billion miracles to share with us if we just take time to notice them. Surely the caterpillar’s metamorphosis is one of her greatest.

As my wife pointed out in her class, over the past couple weeks, we each have entered our own sort of chrysalis. We’ve done so reluctantly, driven into the cocoon of our home by Covid-19. While the caterpillar transforms in its cocoon in just a week or so, none of us knows how many days or weeks or months we will be here. I and my fellow Virginians have just been asked by our governor to stay home until June 10--about 70 days from now.

The question for each of us to ask is: When I emerge from this cocoon, how will I have transformed?

In high school physics, we learned that if enough pressure is applied to a substance it will change form. How might the pressure of remaining under the same roof for weeks and weeks with your spouse and kids, or by yourself, or with elderly parents--or whatever your home situation--change you?

The quick and perhaps funny answer is that it will drive you completely nuts. Fair enough. And, seriously, for some the mental strain of this new situation, of being isolated from social contact, will truly be daunting. Let’s not minimize that and, yet, let’s also be both hopeful and intentional in thinking about how we might each transform.

I don’t believe the caterpillar enters its chrysalis with the intention of becoming a butterfly. It just does it. As humans, however, we are gifted with the blessing, and curse, of thought. We can set intentions. We can set out to transform in a particular way.

What way might you choose to transform over these next couple months of cocooning at home? Will you choose to become more fit? To eat more healthily? To reconnect with friends? To return to books that you have wanted to read? To books that you’ve wanted to write? To meditate? To develop a business plan for your dream idea? To spend more times with your kids, spouse, parents, or other loved ones? Or, more broadly and perhaps more profoundly, to become a better expression of yourself, whatever that might be.

Whatever your intention, whatever your plan, remember the wisdom Robert Burns shared in his poem “To A Mouse.” In that poem, the poet, out plowing his fields, digs up a mouse from the mouse’s home. He apologizes to the mouse and acknowledges all the efforts the mouse had undertaken to build his home. In the course of that apology, Burns gives us one of our most often cited aphorisms: The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

For us as we set our intentions during this cocooning, that wisdom applies. Set your intention. Pursue your intention. And allow for the possibility of not winding up there. Furthermore, recognize that in not winding up there, you may wind up in a place that offers other benefits, other lessons, a place that--for whatever reason--is more important than the place you intended to go.

For so many of our pursuits--not just those we set upon during the Covid19 cocoon--this wisdom holds true. Set our goals and let go of our expectation of results. As .38 Special sang (and, yeah, that’s right. I am citing both Scotland’s most heralded poet and an 80’s southern rock band in the same blog):

Hold on loosely

But don’t let go.

If you cling too tightly,

You’re gonna lose control.

Although the band was giving advice about how to “hold on” to your girlfriend, the wisdom applies as well to your goals and intentions. Hold them loosely, keep them present in your mind, but don’t strangle them with your desire for a pre-ordained outcome.

Or, just as we might imagine the caterpillar does, enter this Covid-19 cocoon willingly and allow the experience to transform you. Set a direction to that transformation and, simultaneously, yield some power to the experience itself. The you that comes out on the other end of this experience may quite well turn out to be a beautiful expression both of your intentions and of life itself.

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