What Cicadas Can Teach Us About Growth

what we can learn from cicadas about growth

I’m still not totally sure why, but I’ve been struggling recently.

Not externally, with how things are going for me right now, which is actually amazingly well given what’s going on in the world. 

Rather, I’ve been struggling internally, with strong waves of emotions that at one point got so intense that I wondered if I was getting depressed again. Depression is rare for me these days, but it does happen, and though it isn’t enjoyable, I’ve also learned that it isn’t the end of the world.

As I sat with my emotions, however, it occurred to me that what felt like depression was really just me panicking over feeling such strong sadness and longing and grief without knowing why. And then, like a falling leaf that lands inexplicably in your hand, the thought arrived: I don’t have to.

As in, I don’t have to panic; I can just feel.

So I did, and the wave washed over me, and after some tears I felt calmer and clearer, though no more insightful than before.

Then, a few days later I went on a walk with my aunt.

She reminded me that sometimes we feel emotions most intensely when we’re breaking through to something new.

What she said reminded me of a video I’d seen of a cicada emerging from its shell. It’s something I’d never thought much about: the fact that these large, flying insects in the treetops that seem so confident in their noisy song all begin as mute, wingless nymphs that spend their time hiding underground.

In the video I saw that documents one such transformation, the cicada has an intense look of concentration on its face, as if it’s using all of its focus and effort to bring its body out of the old form and into the new.

The cicada looks bewildered as well, like it’s not quite sure what’s going on, and when it finally emerges completely, it appears to be clutching the shell from which it emerged for dear life.

I’ve seen cicadas in the morning after emerging from their shells at night, and they’re motionless and nearly helpless for a time, perhaps because they’re still working to integrate the incredible transformation they’ve just been through.

I find it all strangely reassuring, with a few important insights to offer:

1. Growth is hard. For everyone.

Transformation is scary, bewildering, and disorienting. It doesn’t help that we don’t often get to choose when it happens.

2. We’re not left alone in our struggle.

We can be sure that in any given moment, there are millions of other beings out there who are also working hard to expand or emerge alongside us.

3. We’re built for it.

We often forget this last one, believing that we’re supposed to be succeeding, achieving, or enjoying instead. But the one thing that every living thing on this planet has in common is growth. We’re designed for it, so we can trust that no matter how awkward, messy, or overwhelming the process is, we can handle it.

I still don’t know where my expansion is headed. But I do know from previous experience that if I can stay with the discomfort long enough, new worlds will open up.

Speaking of change…

If you’d like help on your own journey, I offer individual and small group coaching. Find out more here.


Photo by Benoit Gauzere on Unsplash

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