Friday, April 6, 2012

Imaginal Cells: Nature's Imagination

"What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls the butterfly." ~Richard Bach

It's spring, and some caterpillars are or already have gone through one of the most magical reminders of the life/death/life cycle. On my run today, I was distracted more than once by the butterflies fleeting around me, and I couldn't help wonder how it must feel to have fresh new wings.  

During the life cycle of a butterfly, a caterpillar is liquified inside the chrysalis in the transition phase. There are cells forming the liquid which carry the intelligence to metamorphose into what we recognize as a beautiful, shimmering, and majestic butterfly. These are the imaginal cells. 

If we were to open up a cocoon during this process, we'd encounter a blob of goop, unrecognizable from the very hungry caterpillar it was before, or the butterfly it will become. I think of becoming that blob of goop. 

In order to become, do we have to give in to the inevitable goopy part of the cycle? Do we have to let parts of ourselves die in order to live? 

And what about these magical imaginal cells? 

Scientists named them this for a reason. Because they carry the image of the butterfly in complete detail. There comes a time when imaginal cells wake up. Upon activation, they congregate. They are instinctively drawn to each other, sending messages to mobilize and connect to become the genetic directors, and thus take on the task of forming the butterfly. 

There are researchers who study how many of these imaginal cells are needed in order to make the metamorphosis complete. While the exact number continues to be unknown, it appears that it's been established that there is a critical point, in which the pre-existing caterpillar cells putrefy, becoming a nutritive soup for the imaginal cells, feeding them while they continue to create the butterfly. Then the imaginal cells differentiate. Some become wing cells, some become antenae cells, some part of the digestive tract, and so on. Once the butterfly emerges from the cocoon, there are no imaginal cells remaining, only the miracle of a butterfly. 

Imaginal cells, so magically and exquisitely attuned to the intelligence of nature. 

Do we have our own imaginal cells? Dormant, just waiting to be activated? Activated when we are ready to leave the cocoon we've created for ourselves? 

It's a nice thought.

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