Cicadas: A story of transformation

cicada exoskeletons

Every Summer in Texas, we welcome a new generation of cicadas.  They make a very loud screeching buzz from the trees, they donk into our windows all of the time and during this season, we find lots of crispy brown exoskeletons clinging to the outside of our house and to tree trunks and flower pots.  These exoskeletons are all cracked across the back, ripped open like the Hulk’s shirt.  I love them.  These shells are inspiring.  To me, they serve as evidence that massive transformation takes place around me all of the time.  Only once have I found one that was pre-cracked, still containing the wingless and pale cicada creature.  Once. When I picked it up, the shell was still kind of soft.  I thought it was dead, but then, in what seemed like slow motion, it wrapped itself into a tight fetal curve.  It was eerie and I felt like a voyeur.  I wasn’t meant to see that. The transformation is supposed to happen at night, unseen. It reminded me of a feeling I had when I saw a photo of a baby born with it’s amniotic sac intact.

baby in amniotic sac

I’ve been meaning to do some reading about cicadas for a long time.  It’s a little unlike me, but I haven’t done any reading or research on these creatures.  I guess the thing is, I am attached to the narrative that I’ve come up with and I don’t really care if it’s inaccurate. It feeds my imagination and speaks to some inner truth that I want to believe in, so maybe my failure to research comes from a worry that knowing actual facts might just get in the way.

In my story, Cicadas live underground at the base of trees and they live out this underground part of their lives for 3, 5, or 7 years, depending on the kind of cicada.  I really don’t know what they do underground for all those years.  I imagine that while underground, they have a pale creepy larval blind-creature look and they scrub around through the soil looking for tiny blind little-known creatures to eat. I have no idea what they actually eat. Sometimes it happens that all the years for emerging intersect and then you get a huge cicada boom.  When this happens they make this incredible sound that is deafeningly loud because there are just so many of them.  I’ve noticed that the sound of the cicadas moves like a tidal wave.  You can hear it starting on one side of the yard and almost watch it as it crests and moves through the trees and plants and sky.

Do they start as eggs?  Are the eggs laid underground?  How can it possibly take 7 years to grow from egg to creepy larval cicada? Are they beneficial insects? Do they aerate the soil or fertilize or eat pests?  See, I don’t know any of that stuff.

Eventually, their time as underground dwellers ends and during some night they emerge from the earth and lurch, like the zombies in Thriller, to some vertical surface where they can undergo what can only be described as a radical transformation.  Sometimes they only make it a few inches above the ground, and sometimes, I find them way up high on things. They perch and then something truly amazing happens.

The cicada must leave the shell that has contained it’s body for years.  Somehow, it pushes through the back of the exoskeleton and cracks through the spine of the shell.  Slowly, perhaps it takes hours, the cicada pushes its way through the exoskeleton that was its underground armor for so long.  With the back spine split,  the new, winged and noisy incarnation of the insect pushes through the shell, freeing itself from protection it no longer needs. The tender soft cicada perches for a while, beautiful and pale green. The new wings slowly unfurl, stiffen and reflect light with their iridescent wings.  The insect goes from something creepy-larval to majestic.

I love this story.  Who doesn’t love a story of victory, coming into the light and transformation? This is a story that yoga offers us, too. With yoga we are able to do something that we couldn’t do before.  Most of the time, our transformations begin with taking conscious action to respond differently than we always have or we make a sustainable change in what we eat or we go to bed at a time that allows us to wake up feeling fresh.  But sometimes there is a big transformation that we want or need. It may take years of scrubbing around in the dark until we have developed the clarity and the readiness to crawl up and out become what we are destined to become. We might be one of the ones that is dealt a full 7-year cycle of scooching around under the dirt and eating tiny insect vermin before we know that it is time to emerge, crawl up towards the sky and press ourselves out, where our new wings can unfurl and fly. The time comes when we must transform because the very way of life that used to provide protection and growth isn’t serving us in the same way anymore.  We need to break out of the bulky, confining exoskeleton and fly.  We need to make noise.

you can see that cicadas are a prominent feature in our bug collection
you can see that cicadas are a prominent feature in our bug collection

2 thoughts on “Cicadas: A story of transformation

  1. I teach meditation at a local prison. I can’t wait to share this because I believe many of the men will relate beautifully to this message. Thank yiy

    1. Anita, thanks for this work you do! I have this sense that meditation might offer a bit of freedom to these men. I love that you’ll take this story with you. Thanks.

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