photo: Bahman Farzad on flickr

photo: Bahman Farzad on flickr

How many times have you heard the story of the butterfly emerging from its cocoon?

Maybe fifteen hundred billion times?

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good butterfly story. It’s a great metaphor for growth and transformation.

I especially like hearing about how, when they’re in the cocoon stage, they’re relegated to total mush. I’ve been total mush more than a few times in my life, and I’m always glad to hear I’m not the only one.

But all this time, the dragonfly has been quietly undergoing a most remarkable metamorphosis.

Again and again and again.

photo: Donnie Nunley on flickr

photo: Donnie Nunley on flickr

Here’s what happens:

Most of the dragonfly’s life is spent underwater.

That’s right. Underwater.

We think of the dragonfly and we think of a groovy, tattoo-inspiring insect that can fly in six directions and doesn’t take crap from anyone.

But first, they have to spend some serious time in the depths.

Not that they don’t have fun while they’re there.

The dragonfly’s underwater form is called a nymph. I suspect this is to impress the mermaids, but that’s just a theory.

i wanna impress them. just sayin.

The nymph is a busy little creature. It spends most of its time using its extendable jaws to catch tiny aquatic animals.

But that’s not all.

The nymphs “breathe through gills in their rectum, and can rapidly propel themselves by suddenly expelling water through the anus.”

That’s from Wikipedia. I’m not making this stuff up.

The nymph has a lifespan of up to five years. That’s five years of gulping down aquatic animals and propelling themselves at lightning speeds around the pond.

But eventually, the nymph wants more.

After spending a majority of its life underwater, the nymph is prompted to emerge from its watery existence and crawl onto a reed, above the water’s surface.

photo: Rictor Norton and David Allen on flickr

photo: Rictor Norton and David Allen on flickr

What causes our friend to burst from the depths?

Is it the desire for freedom? The desire for a fuller expression of life?

Or is it the desire to propel itself around the world with wings instead of, um, another part of its anatomy?

Who can say? Only the nymph.

photo: Roderick T on flickr

photo: Roderick T on flickr

Once situated on its reed, the nymph – now in larva form – is exposed to air for the first time. This exposure causes the larva to begin breathing.

How awesome is that? From water to air, adapting itself to each environment.

But it gets even better.

Now that the larva has transitioned to its new surroundings, its skin splits at a weak spot behind the head and an adult dragonfly crawls out.

photo: Clinton & Charles Robertson on flickr

photo: Clinton & Charles Robertson on flickr

photo: Clinton and Charles Robertson on flickr

photo: Clinton & Charles Robertson on flickr

No more being stuck underwater, chasing after tiny bugs. Now this baby can fly.

It can fly forwards, backwards, up, down, and side to side. It can cruise the world in all its dragonfly glory, gulping up midges and flies along the way.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that the dragonfly spends just a small portion of its life in this stage before it sails off to Dragonfly Heaven.

But what a life!

photo: Ana_Cotta on flickr

photo: Ana_Cotta on flickr

Now that we’ve taken a light-hearted romp through the life cycle of the dragonfly, I’d like to get serious for a minute.

(It will just be a minute, I promise!)

How often have you been the nymph?

I don’t know about you, but I’ve often had to spend a lot of time under water before I was able to emerge in my dragonfly glory. I’ve always been something of a late bloomer, and the dragonfly’s process speaks to me.

My sexuality. My gender orientation. My “coming out of the closet” as a spiritual seeker. It took me a long time to move from my private depths to a high-flying, out-in-the-world existence.

One aspect of this story that’s important is that there’s nothing wrong with the depths.

The time I spent discovering and collecting myself was invaluable. Indeed, not pushing myself to come out before I was ready was life-saving.

As for the nymph, it has a fabulous time down in the depths. It’s gobbling bugs galore. And it has a super-charged butt. Life doesn’t get much better than that.

Until it does.

Every stage of the journey is important. And powerful. And magnificent.

Thanks to the dragonfly, we now have another beautiful story of transformation. Butterflies have been getting all the glory for years. It’s time for dragonflies to have their turn.

So here’s to the dragonfly!

Whether it’s an underwater bug-gobbler, or a high-flying bad-ass, the dragonfly has something teach us all!

photo: Bùi Linh Ngân on flickr

photo: Bùi Linh Ngân on flickr

How do you relate to the story of the dragonfly? How does it inspire your own journey? Share your comments below!

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