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Imaginal Progression

The art of finding and keeping what you and your organization need and how to let go of everything else.

When a caterpillar makes a chrysalis, most of its cells lose shape and become part of a soup, a caterpillar soup. The chubby legs of a caterpillar will not stretch into the stylized, segmented legs of the butterfly, nor will it’s leaf munching jaws unfold into the long curly proboscis that allows the butterfly to obtain nectar from the flower. Almost every cell becomes undifferentiated, like a blank slate, except for the cells in the imaginal discs, small clusters of cells that hold the blueprint of each of the insect’s stages. To be clear, the insect is not using the same caterpillar leg and refurbishing it to now serve a very light flying butterfly, it is completely unmaking that leg and using cells from the chrysalis soup to build a completely new and specialized leg, a leg made for a butterfly.

There are parts that are needed as a caterpillar, but as it metamorphoses, grows, and develops into a butterfly, many of those parts become unnecessary. It does not need to keep this leg, it needs the cells that make legs, because this leg, the caterpillar leg, as it is, will be a hindrance to a butterfly. As long as it can identify, protect, and nurture its core cells, it can become anything, a caterpillar, a butterfly, or maybe even some sort of creature that we have not even dreamt of yet.

In our work with environmental and conservation organizations, we see an extreme urgency to adapt and change, and we also see a great fear of letting go. Organizations want to be necessary now. Relevant now. They want to be the organization that can address the unique challenges we are facing at this time, they want to move their mission into the future in the best way possible. At the same time, letting go of the things that got us here is painful, it is like letting go of a part of ourselves. The change, the soup, the melting, the unknowing, are frightening. In many cases people were hired to work on the specific things that we are now trying to let go of, that deer restoration project, that magazine that is now going into a digital format, that policy that we now have to revise.

Graise’s 5 year old son has finally started in-person school. On Thursdays, he gets to go to the school library and last week, he brought home a book from the library called “Caterpillar Dreams“. In this sweet book, Henri the Caterpillar, can’t wait to become a butterfly! But he suddenly finds himself stuck, in a cocoon, and thinks that it’s the end of his dream of flying. But we know how the story ends! Henri transforms! Leaving behind his old form and becoming something new.

We all feel that we may become obsolete, we wonder how we are going to adapt, transform, learn new ways. We feel a huge loss, because although we have seen the trends, and our head is telling us change is the right thing to do, our guts clench at the uncertainty of it all. What if all I can be part of is a caterpillar? What if I have grown too fond of my ability to make strong chubby legs? What if I can't find my place in the butterfly? To you I say: find your imaginal disc, find that fire deep inside you that makes you who you are, the fire you felt when you decided to start doing the work that you are doing, the fire that you felt before being hired into the organization that you are part of now. That is who you are! You are not a caterpillar leg, but a source of information, of experience, of fire, a cell that is capable of building the next progression of your organization, an organization that serves you now, in this reality, one that can understand the need of protecting that imaginal portions of itself, while letting go of the rest.

“I feel like my house is on fire and you are telling me to let it burn so we can later build a new one.” Workshop Participant

No, what I am saying is that we can help you understand what makes your house a house, and we can use those deep values and identities to build the next version of itself, maybe a new house, or maybe a boat, or a train, or an igloo, it can be whatever you need, and it will still feel as your home because, although it may look very different from what it was, the core has been progressed, it is still there. The parts that you see burning are those that have lived their natural life, and now are becoming nutrients for the next version. The caterpillar does not mourn the liquifying legs, it dreams of what it will become, it dreams of wings.

Graise and I have co-created Imaginal Progression as a way to help people and organizations find their core, their imaginal discs, and use that information to realize their dream of the next version of themselves. We guide them through the process of truly identifying purpose, recognizing what is not serving it any longer, acknowledging and embracing the feelings of grief, loss and uncertainty that make change so difficult, and ideating ways in which to use their imaginal core to create what is needed next. Through this process we share tools to diagnose our systems, to ask the hard questions and hear the hard answers, and to create and hold a space for deep transformation to happen.

Purpose determines needs, and sometimes we need caterpillars, and some others we need butterflies. Although purpose may stay the same, the needs will change. Through Imaginal Progression, we stay true to purpose while becoming aware enough to embark in the much needed process of progressive transformation.

If you want to learn more about our imaginal progression methodology, send and email to connect@resolveconservation.

If you want to learn how to practice imaginal progression - stay tuned. Workshops are coming.

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