When the wing buds have grown long enough to cover half its body, the nymph climbs out of the dark water bottom and begins its stunning metamorphosis on land, usually on a blade of grass or on a plant. It no longer needs to breathe through gills because it has now become an air breathing creature that leaves its old body behind. As it dries in the sunlight, it splits open its final exoskeleton at the thorax and head to shed its old self once and for all. The dragonfly literally pushes itself out of its old underwater body and enters a completely different body on land.
However, it is at this moment in its transformation that the dragonfly is most vulnerable. Before it reaches the summit of its new life, it can fall victim to a hungry bird or other predator. It has arrived in an unknown dimension that it doesn’t yet understand. But if it chose its spot on land wisely and if it is lucky enough to survive, the reborn Dragonfly emerges triumphantly and is twice the size of the old body it left behind! When its wings harden and dry, it glides effortlessly into the air to its new home far above the gloomy depths where it used to live. It becomes something so unique and beautiful that humans create art, poetry and myths to illustrate how our spiritual evolution mirrors that of the dragonfly.
The extraordinary life cycle of a dragonfly begins in a pond, lake, stream, or wetlands area as an egg deposited in the water by its mother. Entomologists say that most dragonfly eggs hatch in about a week, but some can take months depending on weather conditions. After hatching in the water, the nymph (or dragonfly larva) spends a year or more as a bottom crawler searching for food. At this point in its development, it breathes through gills and resembles a rather ugly spider. It goes through about twelve underwater transformations, called “instars” in which it sheds its exoskeleton and begins life again in a new body.
These frequent underwater body changes create what is called a “wing bud” which slowly develops over its abdomen. They are undeveloped wings and are not functional, but they have the potential within them to help the dragonfly become the elegant angel-like flyer that so many people adore. Thus, the nymph’s wing buds develop over many lifetimes on the water’s muddy floor as part of an evolutionary journey that will transform it into a soaring dragonfly that will shine and shimmer in sunlight. Is it any wonder that even as a bottom-crawling nymph, the evolving dragonfly reminds us of death and rebirth?
The dragonfly is an enigmatic, beautiful and dazzling creature steeped in mythological and spiritual symbolism, particularly in Asian and Native American cultures. Its exquisite iridescent wings magically reflect and refract sunlight, creating the illusion that it changes color with the intensity of light. Some dragonflies even seem to disappear entirely in certain light. The dance of light on a dragonfly’s celestial wings has prompted poets and artists from around the world to depict the dragonfly as a symbol of spiritual awakening and a messenger from above. Since its life begins in a murky underwater abode and ends rapturously in sun-bathed air, the dragonfly has come to represent the human spiritual journey from the darkness of ignorance to the light of wisdom.
Earth has been home to the mysterious dragonfly for about 300 million years. It is old enough to have witnessed astonishing changes in our planet’s evolution, including the appearance of our own species, Homo Sapiens. It is a helpmate to humans because its favorite food happens to be mosquitoes. The word “dragonfly” is associated with a myth that it was once a dragon that learned how to fly. With its wondrously designed eyes which allow it to see the world in 360 degrees, along with its fascinating metamorphosis from a crawling underwater larva to a beguiling flying acrobat (it can fly in six directions, including backwards, and travel at 40 miles per hour!) the dragonfly has become an enduring symbol of regeneration and renewal, as well as courage and endurance.
Transformation of a Dragonfly
By Cynthia Overweg
Essays & Reflections
Like the dragonfly nymph which spends most of its life crawling head down in murky waters, much of our lives are lived below the surface in a frenetic haze of mental and emotional confusion. In our hearts, we sense there is more meaning to our existence than everyday life suggests, but we struggle to find it. Spiritual sages have been saying for centuries that we have the potential to rise out of our confusion and hypnotic sleep to become something new; to expand our awareness and grow into a spiritual body that opens our eyes to another dimension of being; a field of awareness that brings us lasting peace. The question we ask ourselves is: How do we get there?
That was the question asked of the Buddha and Jesus of Nazareth. They usually answered the question with silence, suggesting that we already know the answer. “What you are seeking is seeking you,” said the Sufi poet, Rumi. But we spend so much time and energy puzzling over the question of how to get to Nirvana that we forget to relax and be still. It is in Stillness that a window opens to the mystery of who we are, and who we’ve always been. When followers of the great Indian sage Sri Ramana Maharshi asked how they could acquire spiritual bliss, he told them to begin with the inner question of “Who Am I?” He was suggesting that hidden beneath multiple layers of our conditioned mind is our true nature, the one Self, and we can realize that truth by peeling away what is false.
So unlike the dragonfly nymph whose beautiful transformation happens on nature’s cue, without a conscious effort on its part, a human being must actually seek his or her own renewal and salvation. While it’s true that spiritual realization can happen in an instant through what we call Grace, it’s also true that what comes to us from above, to paraphrase Rumi, is seeking the seeker whose earnest longing “to know” has opened the door to spiritual perception. In other words, we are the engines of our own spiritual unfoldment. “Seek and ye shall find; knock and the door will open,” said Jesus in the Gospel of Mathew.
The striking transformation of a bottom-feeding water nymph into a resplendent dragonfly whose ethereal beauty reminds us of an unseen world we dimly recognize, but feel in our bones, is an invitation to live up to our full human potential. The natural world is filled with reminders of the sacred mystery which tugs silently at our heart to help soften it and make it whole. We need only be quiet enough to let those gentle reminders come in. If we're open to it, that is the highest gift we can receive from the light-dwelling dragonfly.
Wishing you every Blessing.