By Sibel Ozer
I am a summer person living in Michigan, walking around half heartbroken, not being able to keep myself from anticipating what is to come, which is not-summer for another three seasons. Since I know the value of mindful presence, I look for things that’ll help me stay in the present. Even though I am more of a mammal lover in general, at the moment the antidote to my mind’s tendency to hijack me to the future comes from the insect kingdom as they remind me to be in the present, to savor the magic of the moment, and to contemplate the mysteries.
When I googled butterflies of Michigan, I found a list that includes the Monarch, the Giant and the regular Swallowtail, the Cabbage White, and the White Admiral ,as well as the Silver-spotted Skipper, and the Little Glassywing. Earthy butterflies in their colorscape compared to the airy blue butterflies of Florida. Florida has over 160 butterfly species that are found nowhere else in North America, and 200 species that migrate through the state compared to the total of 26 butterfly species found in Michigan according to the butterfly identification database. The chances of catching a glimpse of a butterfly is significantly lower where we are, and all the more precious because of it.
If you are wondering why suddenly I am comparing Michigan to Florida it is because of a post from a dear friend of a Peacock butterfly. I hadn’t even heard of such a thing, not that that is indicative of anything other than my usual lack of knowledge when it comes to the natural world. I have had such a tunnel vision on the human species most of my life you see, if it wasn’t for our life in Ann Arbor I might never have recovered from my myopic, human centered interests. It could also be related to my more recent ability to relax into life in a way that can only come with aging. One of these days I will write about the incredible gifts of aging, which often go underrated compared to the more superficial downsides.
Once I got over gawking at the Floridian peacock butterfly, which is (angelic) white compared to its (flamenco dancer) red European cousin, I realized that I never seem to have time to take a photo of the butterflies in my backyard. And since I am often thinking about mindfulness (an oxymoron in case you missed it), I thought that this might not be a bad thing after all; not only because the internet is filled with better photos of every imaginable species than I could ever take, but because the taking of the photograph would interfere with the savoring of the fleeting presence of the butterfly.
If only we were taught to stop all thinking when encountering a butterfly from a young age, so that we knew to prioritize, giving them the full attention and adoration they deserve. I’m aware some people take this adoration to another extreme pinning butterflies to a backboard and then framing them to be viewed as desired, which kills not only the animal (unless you are lucky to come upon a dead one!) but also the entire thrill that comes from the transience of the moment. Human nature unfortunately so often stands in opposition to humanitarian values.
As one contemplation leads to another I started thinking of how our increased need to document life on a continual basis interferes with being in the moment, and actually savoring life in a way that is only possible if we allow ourselves to relax into it without the overbearing activity of the thinking mind. How can I possibly be enjoying the presence of an encounter with a butterfly if I am thinking of rushing to grab my phone, so I can then post it on one of the many social media sites, which then cause me to focus on the responses I might or might not be getting, that in turn offer the validation of the value of the moment I mostly missed?! Imagine the lost opportunities to savor precious encounters or true resting when all rejuvenating activities need documenting!
It is easier for me to recognize the downsides of social media as a Gen X person who didn’t grow up with it. It would be unfair to expect the newer generations to recognize, let alone stand against, the many hooks that are intentionally used to get people addicted to their devices. The symbol of the butterfly is often associated with girls, and as a result with uncool over-emotionality. Those that go a little deeper are stunned by the profound journey of a butterfly that includes three distinct stages, all filled with relevant metaphors of human transitional experiences. In reality, there is nothing frivolous or superficial about the existence of a butterfly.
For the sake of our lives that include so much time spent in the virtual world, I’d like to add another metaphorical consideration to the butterfly: that it be recognized as a symbol of the value for being in relationship with the world around us with presence, without being lost in the thinking mind. A butterfly will only let you see it briefly, and if you are not fully present and able to focus on its offering, you are bound to miss a special experience of wonder. Something the human soul is in need of to bring balance to the inevitable suffering that accompanies the harder experiences of life…
Another day I was busy getting down on myself for not being as productive as I ought to be when I caught a glimpse of a White Admiral. I allowed myself to follow it for the short while before it vanished into thin air. My mood had shifted from self-deprecation to elation so quickly it could have given me a whiplash. As the elation was shifting back to a more neutral emotional state I couldn’t help but ponder what the butterfly equivalent of my initial mind space would look like.
I imagined a butterfly in the cocoon stage, a caterpillar banging its head against the walls of the cocoon giving itself a hard time for not having turned into a butterfly yet. Much has been written about the metaphor of this stage before, of course, and yet I couldn’t help myself contemplating it in view of my recent discontent with myself.
I know I am not alone in the curse of evaluating my behavior in terms of productivity (as a member of a western capitalistic society) on a pretty regular basis, coming short more often then not even though I am a working mother, who by all outside measures ought to pass the test of hard worker. The problem with the daemons of the evaluative mind is that they are dormant while I am working and producing, and seem to start evaluating me the moment I sit to rest or move into another state of being (Dionysian states of enjoyment).
I think I am going to get a tattoo of a butterfly where I can see it easily as a reminder that being (not thinking or doing) is good; that it is not only good, but necessary to bring balance to the doing, to increase its efficiency when it gets its turn. Then again, Mother Nature is generous with its reminders, plenty in each season, if only we are paying attention.
Sibel Ozer is a licensed professional counselor and board-certified art therapist currently doing private practice in downtown Ann Arbor. She started her career as a clinical psychologist working with earthquake survivors in Turkey. She continued her work in the United States in hospice, hospital, and private practice settings further specializing in grief, loss, and trauma. She is a certified EMDR practitioner and a graduate of the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland. She gives experiential workshops nationally and in her country of origin (Turkey) on different art therapy topics. Visit www.sibelozer.com, call (303) 905-1109, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.