Ode to the Butterfly

I’m betting some of you will identify with the following situation: Something’s bugging you, some gnarly conundrum that you’ve been battling seemingly forever. (Which, of course, you haven’t… it only seems so because you long for resolution.) You think to yourself, “How can I stop obsessing about this?” (Which, of course, is another form of obsession.) Deadlock. No (visible) progress, no letup in the Haunting Thoughts department.

That’s where I’ve been, quite literally, for years. The specific issue doesn’t matter. (Good thing. It seems too personal to share.) I’m guessing the results are fairly uniform and predictable, regardless of the specific issue: A roller coaster of feelings and actions, alternately looking for resolutions and struggling to let go of expectations of any sort. I’m tired of being in that place, really tired of it.

Henry Ford once said that “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” Remembering that line led me to ask myself how I can view things differently. I picked up my journal with the intention of exploring what might be missing in my view and approach, or what might be removed from my present mode of operation. Those seem like the choices: either add or subtract something to shake things up and break through the impasse.

I opted for the “conversation” approach to journaling, where you draw a line down the middle of the page and let two sides/voices “talk” to each other. It seemed to me that two parties in this conversation needed to be my mind and my heart. My mind: “All right, already… How long must this go on?!?” My heart: (without a moment’s hesitation) “Calm down. We cannot know. Be peaceful first. There can be no solution that does not start with peace. No amount of frenetic activity can ‘solve’ things. Peace has to come first.”

(Amazing, how the heart knows, and yet we run circles around it with endless laps of thought loops, as if thinking things through one more time will make a difference. Meanwhile, the heart waits, patiently waits.)

I could feel my body soften as those words tripped off my pen, realizing that my frantic efforts and obsessions might actually be impeding rather than bolstering resolution. A picture came to mind: one of those behemoth road-eating machines that chew up pavement then spit it back out to create a new road. That’s what I’ve been doing, devouring every “morsel” in sight in hopes of creating solutions. All the “chewing” seems to do is create indigestion. No New Glorious Path emerges from all this violence. If all this Hard Work isn’t helping, I might as well relax!

Relaxing, of course, does not automatically happen just because I “decide” to do it. What could help me enable relaxation?

That question led me to examine past problems and their solutions. What had I done in other situations? A light bulb went off as I realized that there was very little correlation between my proactive endeavors and the solutions that eventually evolved. If anything, it’s almost as if the solutions came in spite of my efforts, not because of them!

(It does seem, however, that there is one qualification to be recognized: While I can’t make things happen, or control them, I need to be on the playing field. I bought a piece of art 45 years ago, a primitive print with the following inscription: “The opportunity that God sends does not wake up him who is asleep.” The message appealed to me then, and it has caught my imagination many times along many roller coaster rides over the years. My antenna needs to be up. I need to be attentively listening, ready to see opportunities so I can grasp them when they appear. There is an important nuance here: Seeing possibilities is very different from creating them!)

Several pages later I wondered if I could distill my rambling thoughts into a short, memorable phrase, a sort of mantra to dislodge my habitual frenetic thought patterns and engender a more peaceful path. The two words that came to me were “peaceful’ and “purposeful.” “Peaceful” to remind me that my efforts aren’t the real driver of solutions, and “purposeful” to stand for the power of intention and awareness. Hmmm. Something was still missing… PATIENCE. The first two words articulate an approach, but they don’t hold up without patience. Where is that going to come from?

This is where the butterfly comes in! How many times we have heard the metaphor of the butterfly: the caterpillar that needs to break down so that metamorphosis can take place, the necessity for time in the cocoon, and the untimely death that results if the process is rushed, preventing the emergence of the beautiful butterfly. Ironically, although my life coach training is literally built around the concept of the stages of life of the butterfly, I’ve failed to sufficiently honor the cocoon stage. I have mistaken understanding the stage for the actual living of it. Nothing can substitute for or shorten the time required in the cocoon! The butterfly-to-be doesn’t question this time requirement. Okay: I’ll grant you that our little friend the butterfly is not a sentient being, and does not have the reasoning to “decide” to be patient. None the less, the life cycle of a butterfly offers a profound lesson: It pays to cooperate with nature’s timeline. Sometimes our sentience gets in our way!

Peaceful, purposeful, and patient. That’s my part. And then, “I quit.” The rest is up to Providence…but pay attention. Things happen!

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