May 17 – Chasing the Butterfly – Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening
In release, we begin.
Once when I was six, I chased a butterfly halfway through the reservoir before cupping it in my boyish hands. I had the beautiful thing, but couldn’t see it. To see it, I had to let it go. I kept my hands cupped as long as I could, past nose itch and leg jiggle, and then the dark flitting against my palms made me open and magnificent plates of colour lifted against my will.
It was too delicate a story to tell over dinner, and soon there we books and assignments and model cars to glue and arguments and anger, and I forgot there was ever a butterfly. It’s only now, some forty years later, that it awakens in me like a revelation placed in the hands of a pilgrim long before he knew enough to believe. Now chasing the butterfly seems a way of life: afraid to lose or be left out, we chase and cling, and cloning, we are lost. It seems so obvious once living it.
Now I can see that during my illness, this was the difference between fear and faith, between terror and the presence of God. Landing in a hospital bed, I chased the beat of everything I faced into my heart and tried to cup it in my boyish hands, burying my head. Of course, I had the beautiful think beating like that butterfly, now trapped inside me. As long as I kept all of that beauty and power of raw life cupped – in my chest, in my face, in my hands – I couldn’t see it. To see it, I had to let it go.
Just as when a boy, I held it as long as I could, until the pounding made me open and this magnificent sense of life lifted out of me against my will. I now know that what I held so tightly within was the presence of God, which held in felt like pain and fear and terror.
Over forty years to learn this vital lesson: that the deepest things beat within, made dark and fearful by our holding, only uplift the instant we let go.