As people, we expect our activities in life to be purposeful. The birds of the air and the fish of the sea must resort to instincts deep inside their diminutive and primitive brains to conduct their activities, but we are different. We have the capacity to reason, to plan, and to adapt. This ability should make us unique among the animals of the world. Unfortunately, we often resemble unthinking, lower forms of life.

Case in point: the processionary caterpillar. The noted French naturalist, Jean Henri Fabre`, studied this unique little furry insect in great detail. What makes this caterpillar special is its instinct to follow in lock step the caterpillar in front of it. This behavior, not only gives the caterpillar its name, but a deadly characteristic also.

Fabre` demonstrated this unusual behavior with a simple experiment. He took a flowerpot and placed a number of caterpillars in single-file around the circumference of the pot's rim. Each caterpillar's head touched the caterpillar in front of it. Fabre` then placed the caterpillars' favorite food in the middle of the circle created by the caterpillars' procession around the rim of the flowerpot. Each caterpillar followed the one ahead thinking that it was heading for the food. Round and round went those silly insects--for seven days! After a week of this mindless activity, the caterpillars started to drop dead because of exhaustion and starvation. All that they had to do to avoid death was to stop the senseless circling of the flower pot and head directly toward the food-less than six inches away from those ever-circling crawlers. However, the processionary caterpillars were locked into this lifestyle and couldn't extricate themselves from this mindless behavior.

Human beings are different from caterpillars. We alone have the ability to change our direction in life. Or do we? We often confuse motion with meaning and activity with achievement. We can all too readily get into ruts, which cause us to dysfunction at work, school, or home. The ruts can become vicious circles, which don't get us any further than the processionary caterpillar gets on the flowerpot. Then we find ourselves resembling the processionary caterpillar more than we would first think or want. If you fear that you share some of the style of the processionary caterpillar, here are three things you can do so that you can breakout of that senseless circle.

1. Drive to and from your destination by a different road the next time. As you go a different way to work, look at the sights. You will discover an entire world out there that you might not have ever seen. Blaze new trails to work, school, or shopping. After you are comfortable about changing your driving routine, dare to do other things differently.

2. Be adventuresome about your approach to life. Try an ethnic restaurant sometime. Go to a music concert or movie that isn't your normal fare. Dare to be different. The worst that could happen is that you will learn to appreciate your tried and true choice more. The best thing that could happen would be that you would have expanded your horizons.

3. Having broken some habitual patterns of activity, look at your work, schooling, and interpersonal relationships. It is important to try your exploratory wings on things like types of music you listen to or the way you get to work before you attempt this final technique. I know myself well enough that I want to test out new ways of thinking and doing with "safe" things like going to Vietnamese restaurant before looking at the larger and more significant issues like employment or continuing my education. Having practiced on the least critical areas of life, go for the truly vital ones. Take the first tentative steps to breaking away from your processionary humdrum of life. Try really living. Don't confuse vegetating with vitality. Set professional or educational goals for the next five years. It looks safer to stay in the routinized ruts of life, but the processionary caterpillars show us that it doesn't really get us anywhere. Movement isn't necessarily meaningful. We are human. We possess an intelligence that enables us to be different from all the lower forms of life. Be all you can be by learning from the pitiful processionary caterpillar.