The Pr*cessionary Caterpillar

** Note: This post was edited to make it less likely that students looking for info on this particular type of caterpillar would end up here **

See how that line of caterpillars goes on and on into the distance? Those are pr*cessionary caterpillars. When they go searching for food, they follow the leader, which is whoever happens to be the first guy out of the next in the morning. He lays down a thread that each other caterpillar follows and adds to. As you can see from the photo, they form a head to tail “procession.” The lead caterpillar lifts up his head and sniffs around for food every once in awhile but there’s really nothing special about him. If you remove the leader, the second caterpillar in line takes over and becomes the new leader.

Jean Henri Fabre wondered what would happen if pr*cessionary caterpillars somehow got stuck without a leader. He constructed an experiment where he got a line of caterpillars to go around the rim of a flowerpot and as soon as they filled the rim, he knocked the extras off. Voila. Caterpillars walking in a circle without a leader. He put some food nearby.

The caterpillars walked around that flowerpot without stopping for 6 days until finally some of them died from either exhaustion or starvation. That broke the circle allowing for a new leader and a new direction.

What a powerful metaphor for addiction — where we go ’till we can’t go any more.

And for recovery — where we follow a new leader to get out of the circle.

But it’s hard for an individual caterpillar to tell when they’re going in a circle. Sometimes recovery seems a bit circular, particularly when someone’s quoting scripture from the Big Book. There’s just no getting around it. I’m going to have to pick my damn head up now and then and do some sniffing for myself.

That’s now. A few years ago when I was marching around the addiction flowerpot, I couldn’t pick my head up and the whole world smelled like shit. If that’s where you are in your recovery, just worry about following someone who’s going in a direction that seems right. First things first, right? As your brain and nose start working better you’ll be able to pick your head up too.

This neat story comes from page 5 of a book I’ve just started by Tim Hurson entitled Think Better (your company’s future depends on it… and so does yours.)


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