They’re called “instars.” And they’re phases of time in the life of an insect.
I think it is a perfectly compelling name, a perfectly intriguing idea. Instars. In … stars. As if it is time spent inside a star.
Instars are, in fact, those times of living and being that take place between two transitional stages of an insect’s development – between two periods of molting. Like the times between when a caterpillar transforms into a chrysalis, and when it transforms again from a chrysalis into a butterfly.
Living in … stars.
Much has been written and thought and said lately about this transformational time we are all experiencing in our own lives, our own realities, our own beings. And comparisons are often made to the stages of the caterpillar-to-chrysalis-to-butterfly experience – particularly relative to the potential there could be when we are emerging from it all, with the possibilities of new perceptions and unimagined beauty, and of being able to metaphorically “fly” and have a vastly different perspective from when we once crept along on our own tiny versions of the world and its truth.
I am one of those who believes this to be possible, hopes it to be true. Although I do wish I had the absolute commitment of poet William Stafford: “I embrace emerging experience. I participate in discovery. I am a butterfly. I am not a butterfly collector. I want the experience of the butterfly.”
A friend of mine also recently published a book that is titled “Emergence.” And it traces her own personal metamorphosis in terms of a butterfly’s being and becoming – and it is amazingly insightful and terrifying and encouraging. It is the remarkable transformation of an individual soul.
And then to make the whole subject all the more worth pondering, I learned that within the butterfly’s chrysalis stage, during that particular time of its life, it is a purely liquid floating existence of cells – cells that are called “imaginal” – cells that are undifferentiated (like stem cells), able to become any number of possibilities. Cells that might even “imagine” themselves into wings.
In-star moments … surrounded by imagined realities.
I suspect, however, that one of the most significant aspects of the phases of insect life is that caterpillar experiences can be remembered by butterflies. Scientists have discovered that caterpillar memories and associations can be made and stored and taken along into the butterfly’s life experience and will influence its behavior – especially those experiences and encounters that occur in late-stage instar phases.
I find that to be wonderfully significant, because I suspect that it may be so with our own experiences. Experiences such as compassion and generosity, as well as fear and sadness, courage and peacemaking, as well as anger and inequality. I suspect that what we experience – and choose to experience – during our own instar existence – we will pass along into our own imaginal cells of possibilities – and the memories of those experiences will be imprinted on us and will be born into our own outcomes, our transitioned lives.
In the end, of course, caterpillars transform into butterflies by knowing life only as it comes, dependent on the seasons and pesky birds, pure chance and the moods of the universe.
But we humans are able to help create the memories we make, the experiences we will take with us and pass on. We can fill our time of living “in stars” with kindness and justice and all good things and right actions. And we can remember. We can imagine our own wings. And we can fly.