On Meeting a Butterfly

While on holiday earlier this month, I had a moment with a butterfly. The black and white creature seemed to know exactly where it was getting to when it softly landed on me, like it had a purpose at that very moment.

I was in a divine spot: at my feet thermal and sea water pools, the beautiful outline of the Stromboli volcano in the background.

My friend Raffi and I were just discussing my connection to these delicate insects a few weeks ago. We were chatting by another pool and surrounded by lush vegetation. My attention, typically pretty focused on the people I talked to, kept on wandering around. This was because so many of my winged friends were flying around us. We were in Ischia, another lovely Italian island, in a rather wild area.

I have had a sense of connection with butterflies for some time, feeling that they rush to me, often in the most improbable of places. I recall one encounter in particular, because it felt so out of place, with a beautiful white butterfly at a random street corner in downtown Manhattan – it pretty much flew into me, into my chest, as I was walking into a coffee shop.

Anyway, back to the story: The day before the encounter with the butterfly, while in one of the pools, I attempted to save some kind of pretty insect. It wasn’t a bee; I knew it wasn’t going to sting me. It looked like it could live if I delivered it to a dry place. Its wings were light, translucent, sticky from the water and its frailty moved me.

As I helped it to safety, the poor little creature wouldn’t leave my finger, which made me mildly nervous. I am all for helping out but I am not yet used to embracing the presence of an insect for more than five seconds anywhere on my body. Nevertheless, I successfully managed to transfer it onto my straw hat and placed it in the shade, hoping it would recuperate from this unfortunate bath.

Minutes later, as if on a spree, I tried to rescue a white butterfly; its body was floating across the flat surface of the water. By the time I got to it, sadly it was too late. I delicately got it out and to the side, using a dried leaf that had lost itself nearby as some sort of soft raft.

It felt funny, then, when that butterfly landed on my left arm the following morning. I was minding my own business, lying on a sun lounger and listening to a podcast or some other audiobook. My butterfly was medium-sized, it looked remarkably like the one in the image below. But with wings closed, like it was hanging out. I looked at it; I think it was looking at me.

I felt a bit strange. You know, the way sometimes when something really beautiful and special happens, yet you feel quite uncomfortable and feel you should make it stop?

So I moved a little, encouraging it to fly away. Message received, the creature flapped its wings a few times around me, excitedly it seemed. To my surprise, it circled back, this time landing on one of the green beads of my bracelet. Again I was amused and a little baffled by the encounter, I made a move, and he beelined back on me for the third time. We were sort of eye to eye. At this point, people around the pool could have wondered what was going on with me. I was smiling, having a conversation with myself, or rather I was up close and personal with a winged creature on my ring finger.

I laughed; something is going on between me …and a butterfly!

Thanks to this lovely encounter, I got thinking about butterflies. And the «Butterfly Effect» came to mind.

My starting point was to Google the term to ensure I understood it correctly before getting further into my reflection:

In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state. …

It felt like I was onto something. For weeks, I had been pondering on how some minor changes I had made a while ago had a huge impact on me of late.

Perhaps my connection to this butterfly resulted from me feeling more attuned to life in general, as I have felt for a few years. Possible result of my meditation practice? So I feel some intimate bond with drowning insects.As for the butterflies, they are such wonderful creatures, I am fascinated so it’s only natural that I see them, that I pay attention, that I enjoy watching them fly around. Yet this got me thinking further…

Did the subtlest of changes in me, likened here to the flap of a butterfly’s wings, set off a tornado in my life?

It suddenly dawned on me that there might be (yet) another metaphor for me to explore. Stressful events have led me through some deep personal change, (the story told in parts earlier here), resulting in me “shedding my old skin”. I was letting go of old identities, old beliefs that no longer served me. I could liken it to coming out of a chrysalis. Breaking through. Breaking the shell. In so doing, revealing more of myself. Getting ready to be seen. Getting ready to fly.

I don’t think that scientists have means to tell us how butterflies feel when they unravel out of their protective layer. Is it thrilling, scary, excruciating? Are they confused or ready to shoot out, ready to fly?

I think we know this about human physical and psychological growth: it is most often painful, unexpected, uncomfortable, and it’s hard to gage what is going on and who we are as the old breaks into the new.

If you had asked me a few weeks ago, or months ago, I don’t think I would have realised that I was still in some kind of shell. I could move a lot, do a lot in that space after all. But if you had asked me if I felt completely free, if I was meeting my higher self, if I was working my way towards my purpose… If anyone had actually asked me that question, including myself, I could not have answered with a yes.

I was still held back by that comforting extra protective layer of the known. I can call it that, I can also call it old beliefs. And also call it fear. Fear of giving more of myself to the world, fear of giving more of myself to someone else, and giving more of myself to me.

All of these thoughts of shells reminded me of this wonderful other analogy, moving on from winged creatures to molluscs. If you haven’t seen this interview of Dr Rabbi Abraham Twerski about “Stress and how do lobsters grow” do yourself a favour and watch it (it’s only 1.31min long). To me, the impact of his talk is powerful and immediate, making things that much more limpid: when you get uncomfortable, there is a sign of potential growth. In times of stress lies a signal of this growth “if you use adversity properly”, implying here that ignoring discomfort or numbing (via any means) would stop the opportunity for expansion.

As I can now clearly see, the emotional distress of my past, the whirlwinds of emotions not just this year, but a few years ago too, had been such signals. And created the right weather conditions to generate this evolution.

So what did my reveal look like? I am still going through it but most thrilling, surprising and immediate was my starting to write. Write and publish! I did mean to start, someday. But didn’t know how to. I didn’t have my “in”, my voice. Suddenly, words were flowing out of me. I can’t seem to stop writing.

Turns out the writer in me was trying to come out.

Deepak Chopra explains the process differently and it adds to my understanding of how we evolve as human beings.

In his book “The Higher Self”, he lays out the premise that “in the body there is a process of purifying the old conditioning that comes first. As each impurity is released an overall transformation takes place.” And later on adding “the growth of insight tells you that purification is taking place. Not just in the mind, but in every cell, letting go of imperfection. In that letting go, there are bumpy moments and major crisis. There are crisis of growth. All of us have got different levels of trust in the process. Fortunately the process builds trust as it goes forward by itself.”

Becoming aware of discomfort, acknowledging the stress, I assume is an example of insight to Mr Chopra. And then accepting to be with what is. Trusting that the process of transformation will unfold naturally.

Weeks on from my whirlwind, things have started to settle down for me. I am now crystal clear on the way that my studies in Meditation and Mindfulness as well as yoga have deeply affected me. The ethical and philosophical concepts I am learning have shifted me into alignment with my goals and my higher self, and they continue to support me. Like new foundations, you could say, that I can build myself upon.

This just goes to show – no wonder why my butterfly encounter felt so special.

I can see someone else in a shell. And I know that it’s terrifying to break free, because it’s comfortable where you are. But I can’t wait to see you fly; I can’t wait to see you set free. I can’t wait to meet you in your freedom. I can see it now; it’s beautiful. When I think about it, it gives me butterflies.

This story was originally published on Medium.com

Image of a pool and see, picture by Anne Muhlethaler Photo by Bradley Howington on Unsplash