Why I meditate: The Caterpillar

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Yesterday I was hiking at a local state park on a riverside trail with my wife and we encountered a beautiful, multi-colored furry caterpillar slinking across the path. A risky journey given that there were many hungry birds about. Not to mention hikers like us tromping by.

I have been thinking of how I might adequately answer the question: “Why meditate?” And it occurred to me that this caterpillar could provide an answer. My wife and I had an extended discussion of the incredible transformation of the caterpillar into the beautiful butterfly. Of how the caterpillar could not possibly envision the butterfly it is to become. Yet what guides and enables this mysterious process, with this curious intermediate form so essential to its future destiny? It seems that the butterfly could not complete its own development in one embryonic span. It needed to acquire more resources: more food, more energy, more strength, more capacity before becoming the butterfly.

It is as though the insect’s personal evolution needed to be interrupted at this intermediate form – a simple segmented, many-footed slinking eating-machine. It is perfectly adapted to crawling up branches and devouring leaves. Taking in nutrient molecules filled with energy, with moisture, with building materials for what is to come. A destiny it surely cannot envision as it eats and enjoys this intermediate existence and life. Probably it would believe that its existence is full and complete as a caterpillar. Yet one day it has enough of this. Something beyond calls to it, mysterious, inexplicable, yet undeniable.

Perhaps it feels the calling possibility of transformation. Something it cannot ignore. So many of us have, as children, placed a caterpillar into a jar on a branch with a few leaves. Holes poked in the lid for air. And over days we watched the creature weave its own cocoon: a turning-within to a chrysalis form that has the very appearance of death. It is a going within, a turning-away from the outside world from the only, if limited, life it has ever known.

We know the rest of the story. The silent transformation that takes place in that tiny sanctuary, in its own little self-generated cave. A transformation that takes time and follows a sequence dictated by the intelligence, not of the creature’s limited mind, but intelligence woven in the fabric of nature itself. And then there is the struggle to emerge. We know that is hard, yet unstoppable. The juices and life-energy are squeezed by the very struggle to expand and open the beautiful wings that will carry it forward. We know that without that struggle the wings will not be formed. The insect would be shriveled and unable to fly.

Yet the magnificence does open and is revealed. And now it can fly! It can fly thousands of miles, from the northern to the southern hemisphere, to its home forest where its fulfillment will be complete.

The parallels to our own human journey are clear: to the transformation that is made possible by our own daily “going within” in our exquisite, transformative meditation practice; And to the unfolding and the challenging sequences that progressively releases our old limited life and identity. It is by this that we may emerge into the liberated magnificent fullness of our own lives.

We know that such liberation and beauty are possible in human life. We see examples in extraordinary individuals such as in Maharishi, in Gurumayi, in so many other enlightened teachers of every era. Today Pope Francis is such an example. With almost every one, if we study their lives, we find a period of contemplative inward focus, of going within. A period usually of some years of extended inward reflection that was transformative in their life. And only from this process, and their personal struggle to release former limiting identities and ways of being, did they emerge as liberated, and yes, magnificent beautiful beings. This is why I meditate.

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