caterpillarAs the caterpillar made its way up my forearm, I remembered the spring times of my childhood, when the fuzzy critters were everywhere.

Then it hit me.

A caterpillar?  Seriously?

I’ve been in this meadow for an hour, and the animal that gets closest to me – the one that’s crawling up my arm – is a caterpillar?

This can’t possibly be right.

I am so totally not in Square One.

In Finding Your Own North Star, Martha Beck uses the caterpillar as a metaphor for the first steps in a major life change, or being in Square One.

I’m a Martha Beck-trained coach, so to me, caterpillars symbolize dissolving one’s current life in order to make way for a new and – with a little insight and a bit of work – improved one.

Once you’ve allowed yourself to grow through a Square One-sized transformation, you can no more go back to being your former self than a butterfly can turn back into a caterpillar and inch its way along the forearm of its friendly, neighborhood life coach.

Square One can be messy – think bright yellow caterpillar guts squished onto the sidewalk – but working through it with an open mind and heart can lead to a life that a caterpillar could hardly imagine.

I did all of that dissolving stuff months ago.  I’ve been happily tooling around in Square Three, putting my new, ideal life into place, step by tiny step, thank you very much.

Or did I?

Not one to look a gift caterpillar – or any animal totem, for that matter – in the mouth, I considered its characteristics and learned some juicy caterpillar wisdom.

Gut first, body later.

Amazed that caterpillars can walk at all, what with those impossibly tiny legs, I learned they ambulate by sliding their internal organs forward, elongating and contracting their squishy torsos, moving forward like a fuzzy, miniscule Slinky.

Gut first, body later.

How can this help you through a major life change?

Get really clear on your intentions and throw them out to the universe first.  The rest will follow as inevitably as an inchworm’s legs follow its elongating and contracting guts.

Look in every direction for a new path.

On its return trip down my arm, the caterpillar paused at my fingertip.  It stretched its head around in a circle, as if it were feeling its way to a new path.

Turns out the little guys just don’t see that well.  So they navigate roadblocks by pausing and then feeling around in lots of different directions before tossing their guts forward again.

Its 360-degree scoping dance complete, my caterpillar wound around my finger and began to explore my palm.

How might this play out when the course of your life is altered?

When you think you’ve run out of options, pause.  Feel around for lots and lots of new directions.  Be sure to consider ones that seem unlikely at first.

Going Around Beats Going Backwards

As it explored the bench we shared, the caterpillar approached a bump in the wood twice its height.  It paused, but didn’t back up.  It did that look-around-by-feeling thing until it ended up continuing in the same general direction by walking around the obstacle.

Caterpillars actually can walk backwards but with “dramatically reduced duty factor of the legs and potential instability,” according to researchers at the University of Cambridge.

Here’s how this bit of caterpillar wisdom might play out in your life:

When you encounter an obstacle, as you surely will, on your caterpillar-to-butterfly journey, you can certainly back away from it, but doing so will likely cause you a reduced duty factor, which is researcher speak for “it’s going to feel awful and work even worse.”  Not to mention the fact that it will lead to instability.

Why risk that when there are so many other delightful paths to choose?

Circle ‘Round the Square

I’ve had a few weeks to reflect on my caterpillar encounter, and now I’m pretty sure I was on a side trip back through Square One at the time.

But how cool is this?  As I sat on the porch writing this post, my garden was alive . . . .  with butterflies.

butterfly on flower










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images ©Florence Moyer

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9 Responses

  1. Love this!!! Such fabulous little instructors the Beasties are!! I love the wonderful analogy to obstacles along the way….and then the natural world shifts and boom- you are surrounded by flight! How fabulous? Thank you!

    1. Thanks, Sarah! And thanks for the comment love. It’s nice to know I’m not singing to an empty house. 🙂

  2. Love this post! Especially the ending. 🙂 And the whole idea of going around something instead of going backwards is really helpful to me. That can be directly applied to so many things.

    Thank you Flomo!!


  3. Flo: I found your blog on a search for information on inch worm as totem. Thank you so much for giving such specific awareness as your experience with the inch worm unfolded. I actually do feel like I’m at square one of a major life shift, and in fact felt I had identified a strong, core pattern that was keeping me out of alignment with that life shift and started dissolving it only this morning. Your message was timely and helpful.

  4. Ah, this is SO GREAT! I just saw a caterpillar inching it’s way across the ground in the FREEZING COLD here in Buffalo, NY. I COULDN’T BELIEVE IT! I’ve NEVER seen a caterpillar or much of any insect in 20 degree F weather before! It was just walking along. I took a picture of it and sent it to a friend and he replied: Caterpillar Totem! So I came home and looked it up and this is what I found: you’re really thoughtful, well written and researched blog FULL of wonderfully helpful insight and humor and I found a great site with info about the caterpillar totem andvegetvit might mean!

    Thank you thank
    You thank you :)))

    Blessings Eternal!


    p.s. I had a dream that I was watching a huge monarch butterfly land on a bush outside of a window or open door weeks ago! Sweet!

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