Transformation & Hope
Joanne Shank, Acrylic
Creativity and Awareness
Joanne Shank, Acrylic
Insight and Clarity
Joanne Shank, Acrylic
In the spring of 2006, during a particularly challenging time in my life, I took my students on an overnight trip to a conservation area north of Ontario. The first morning after we arrived, the guides took us on a hike around the property. This was a gorgeous wooded area with a calming river that ran through it. When we were approaching the river, I felt a fantastic sense of peace and calm envelope me. Something I had not felt in a long time. It was a warm sunny day, the sky was a lovely shade of blue, and I could feel the gentle touch of a cool breeze on my face. I decided to sit down by the river's edge and take time to fully appreciate the moment. When I did, I happened to look down at the ground next to me. I noticed what looked like the dead carcass of some kind of beetle. But there was a worm wiggling its way out of it. What intrigued me the most was that this worm was a beautiful fluorescence turquoise. Just then, one of the guides walked by, and I asked him if he had any idea what it was. The guide explained that it was a dragonfly shedding its skin. Now I had no idea where dragonflies came from. I just saw them flying around and thought they were pretty. The guide continued to enlighten me. I learned that dragonflies live underwater as nymphs for months and sometimes even years. When they are ready for their transformation, they climb out of the water and attach to a leaf or plant near the water's edge. From that point, they shed their nymph skin and turn into beautiful dragonflies. I was amazed by this. I knew that caterpillars turned into beautiful butterflies, but I did not realize that dragonflies experienced a similar metamorphosis. I was even more amazed at the fact that I was actually witnessing this transformation firsthand.
The guide walked away, and I kept watching in awe. As I did, the dragonfly's entire body emerged from the carcass and then the head with its two impressive eyes. It was exquisite. I had seen dragonflies before but the colours of this particular one were especially astonishing. But there were no visible wings yet. And I remember thinking, "there is no way there is room in that dead bug for a set of four dragonfly wings. And then, to my surprise and delight, the wings began expanding like magic from either side of her body. She just stood there, in all her glory, on top of the carcass she had so tenaciously left behind. I'm assuming she was taking the time to regain her strength after the strenuous and arduous task of completing her final transformation. Or maybe she was generously letting me take in her beauty. But then, she flew away and began her new journey as a dragonfly.
As I looked at that dead, dry, ugly skin my dragonfly had left behind, it reminded me of what my life had felt like. It spoke to me of the pain, the fear, and the hopelessness I had been feeling. But I knew then, beyond a shadow of a doubt that everything would be ok. I knew that I was going through my own arduous transformation and that if I trusted in the experience great things were to come.
When I got back home from the trip, I grabbed my computer and started researching dragonflies. I knew very little about them at that point.
What I discovered literally blew my mind.
Predictably dragonflies represent transformation, but they also represent courage, emotional maturity, and self-realization. They have near 360-degree vision. For this reason, they are associated with curiosity, mental agility, and the ability to view situations and problems from all angles to decide the best life has to offer. They are powerful navigators and are also associated with purpose and direction through difficult and challenging times. Some say an encounter with a damselfly can mean that she is sending you a challenge, to trust in the experience, and to open yourself up to what life has to offer.
I chose to accept her challenge.
After my serendipitous encounter with my dragonfly, I set out on a mission to learn, apply, and put into practice the insights she had shared with me that day. When I was afraid of the future, I remembered her incredible transformation of hope. When I got discouraged, I was reminded of her message of courage and self-realization. When I was unsure, I remembered her agility and adaptability.
I eventually tattooed my damselfly to my shoulder because I wanted to see her every day and be reminded that the universe had my back.