Mar 28, 2011
Birthing our butterflies
One of my clients – I’ll call her Kathryn – came to me because she was feeling overwhelmed. Her relationship of five years is fraying. Her career has stagnated. She has money concerns. She feels trapped in the small town she lives in. And she has a little two-year-old daughter to care for through all this. What to do? Where to start?
We live in such a quick-fix, instant gratification culture. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of thinking we need to DO something about this. Right away.
But is that really the most constructive thing to do?
When the ground underneath us falls away like this, we’ve got an open invitation to break out into something new. But creating a new life is an organic process. It has its own natural stages and pace. We can’t rush it.
And Kathryn has been working with that process beautifully. More than anything else, she’s understood that she needs to take time for herself. And get to know herself better. She’s recommitted to her daily meditation practice. And her daily writing practice. And gardening. All these things make her feel grounded and whole. For the first time, she’s allowing herself to quietly savor what comes naturally to her, without guilt.
It’s true this isn’t doing much about solving her big dilemmas. Not yet at least. But that’s OK. More than OK. It’s a great place to start.
If you’re thinking she’s just avoiding her problems – that’s not the case at all. While gardening or meditating, all sorts of fears come up. Could she make it on her own? Will she be poor forever? Will she be stuck in this small town? The big questions swirl around in her head. And she sits, mindfully, being present with it all. She’s deliberately NOT taking any steps to change things yet. She’s just sitting with herself, and taking in all her hopes, fears, disappointments, and sadness. It’s hard, she says. But it’s stretching her in a healthy way. And it feels so honest to be facing her reality in this way.
We can’t hurry through something like this. Every birth of a new life form needs a gestation period. We can’t skip it because it’s uncomfortable. Because skipping means skipping out of the process altogether. Without clinging to the past, or grasping toward the future, we sit and let the shaky, formless, icky stuff take shape on its own. We have to trust that the answers will come out from this mess. Because they always do, if we’re willing to wait and watch.
I’m reminded of the story of the boy who watched a butterfly struggling to be born. Out of a wish to help, he took his scissors and cut away the outer shell of the chrysalis, hoping to help the butterfly break free. But to his horror, it came out as a shriveled thing. It never opened its wings, and died. What he didn’t know is that the struggle serves a purpose. By squeezing through the tiny opening, the fluid from the emerging butterfly’s body gets pushed out into the wings, giving them the moisture they need to open. In his impatience, he had killed the butterfly.
So often we kill our own butterflies with our impatience. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If we really want to transform, there are times when the best thing to do is just sit still.