Sunday, February 18, 2018

In Search of Milkweed

Vintage lifecycle butterfly

I decided to write a 4 part series of articles on personal transformation, using the therapist’s metaphor of butterflies. I’m surprised by how little I knew about these awesome creatures before now. I’d heard about bees – their disappearance and why we need them - but not the plight of Monarchs. Maybe you don’t know this either, so here goes:

The Monarch butterfly, a most intricately beautiful creature, begins life roughly the size of a pinhead. And they come to life under miraculous circumstances. Their mothers go to great lengths, flying long distances, to lay their offspring on the one and only plant necessary for their survival: Milkweed. She’ll take care to lay one egg per plant because these babies take sibling rivalry to a whole new level. A Monarch caterpillar will eat the eggs of his siblings. Cooperating with nature, mommy Monarch gives each caterpillar its very own plant.

In fact, the entire lifecycle of a Monarch butterfly is dependent upon the milkweed plant. These orange and black wisps of summer will go extinct without it. It provides not only nourishment for caterpillars but contains a poisonous toxin that is stored in their bodies. At each stage of development, the milkweed provides nutrition and protection. The plant’s toxin makes the Monarch butterfly taste terrible to predators. Ingenious. Here’s this undesirable plant which spreads underground, grows in the worst of soils, and clumps in clusters that crowd out other plants. Misperceived by everyone for a long time to have no real value. Yet, without it the Monarch will die.

In our species, we have at least one thing comparable to the Monarch’s dependence upon milkweed. There is something just as vital to humans but which has gone largely unappreciated: Feelings. In harvesting the crops of success and achievement, our feelings have been considered the weeds. In many family systems, including the one I grew up in, healthy emotional expression had no value. The importance placed on intellect, staying in our heads, or achievement in school, sports, or professions was rewarded, but not emotional development. What is the impact of this cultural shift away from respect and validation of one’s vulnerability and expression of feelings?

According to an article in Psychology Today on August 15, 2014, research substantiates the importance of emotional intelligence. “A 40 year longitudinal investigation of 450 boys found that IQ had little relation to life success. The most significant predictors were being able to handle frustration, control emotions, get along with other people. Another study followed 80 scientists over the course of forty years and found that social and emotional abilities were four times more important than IQ in determining professional success and prestige.”

As summer comes to an end, Monarch butterflies are migrating to Mexico. But in far fewer numbers. According to Newsweek magazine, in the past twenty years, 90% of the Monarch population has disappeared. “The 90 percent drop in the Monarch’s population is a loss so staggering that in human-population terms it would be like losing every living person in the United States except those in Florida and Ohio,” said a biologist last week. Most sources report that the genetically modified soybean and corn from Monsanto is to blame. It’s wiping out the other pollinators, like bees, too. Apparently Midwestern farmers use more and more Roundup to grow their crops and this herbicide has decimated the milkweed plants which Monarchs need to survive.

Like the milkweed’s demise, a type of Roundup has been used to kill people’s emotional side with disastrous consequences. I don’t think I’m the only one who has been appalled by the increase in violence and loss of respect for life on a global scale. From school and theater shooters in our country to ISIS overseas, it seems the planet is in trouble. Pundits pose questions about why? How can another human being become so void of feeling anything but hatred? My belief is that parts of society have eradicated feelings, cut them off from consciousness. Exposure to horror and violence will systematically destroy a human’s ability to feel empathy, vulnerability, and compassion. Generations of people have been produced with very little access to their interior world. And now, like Monarchs, we find ourselves going in search of our milkweed, hoping to locate our feelings, desperate to feel alive, connect meaningfully with others. We drink, take drugs, use sex, shopping, work, eat too much, restrict our food- anything, even making war, to try to feel something besides the dull ache of EMPTY.

Just as we’ve become more conscious of the unexpected but vital importance of milkweed and its connection to life, we must recognize the value of our emotional landscape. Centuries of misperceiving the value of feelings has taken its toll, but hopefully, it’s not too late. The seeds of awareness have been planted.

Next month: Caterpillar Days….

Laura Vogel, MS, LPC



Bridging Harts Institute & Psychotherapy
203 S. Alma St. Suite #300
Allen, TX 75013
T: (972) 562 5002
Email: info@bridgingharts.com


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