Butterflies

To wake at dawn with a winged heart;

To rest at noon hour and meditate on love’s ecstasy;

To return home at eventide with gratitude;

And then to sleep with …a song of praise upon your lips.

Khalil Gibran

 

In the midst of the current human and natural disasters, it seems almost naïve to be optimistic about our collective future. Yet, around the planet there are daily miracles and feats not only by people, but also by some of the smallest life forms.

Butterflies, for example, have been around for an estimated 50 million years. These beautiful insects exhibit the capacity for change more than another living creature. They crawl as caterpillars, cocoon, and then, lightly float away with delicate and colorful wings. Species, such as the Monarch, can travel several thousand miles. They are pollinators for some plants, and indicators of healthy ecosystems, as well as controllers of aphids and other pests.

Across cultures, butterflies represent beauty, renewal, simplicity, keen vision, peace, playfulness, and the interdependence of all life.  They represent individual transcendence from the societal pull toward gossip and dissatisfaction to a mind immersed in humble gratitude, kindness, and joy.

This metamorphosis takes personal effort. There is an ancient story of a butterfly that died when a person, intending compassion, tried to free a butterfly from its pupa by cutting it open.   But, unfortunately, the person disrupted the natural cycle of the butterfly, which needed to build its wings by freeing itself from the cocoon.  Transformation happens from the inside out.

Innately, all of us are butterflies.   We are at different stages in our life cycles. Some of us are enveloped in furthering anger and blame, and others have freed themselves of these patterns. The 19th century poet, Khalil Gibran, offers a sweet reminder that each moment of the day is filled with the grace of unseen love.   For the coming weeks, I will choose to follow the wisdom of Gibran.  I hope you will join me.

Practice

This simple practice brings awareness of the rhythmic nature of your breath. Like the emergence of wings of a butterfly, first there is a symbolic release and then gentle flight.

  • Prepare –
    • Set the intention to go offline for five to ten minutes. Clear your environment of digital and audio distractions, e.g., turn your digital gadgets to airplane mode, remove your wrist watch.
    • Find a comfortable seated position – either on the floor or in a chair – and gently settle into the earthly support beneath you. Your eyes can be closed or open with a soft gaze.
    • Allow the backs of your hands to rest on your thighs.
    • Wrap the fingers of your right hand around your right thumb.
      • While continuing to hold the right thumb, do the same with the left hand. (If you are left handed, begin with the left and then add the right hand.)
      • Lovingly hold both thumbs and breath for a few breaths.
  • Practice –
    • Move your thumb and individual fingers in sync with the breath:
      • Inhale –
        • Gently open your palms, thumbs, and fingers to relax into a soft and open hand.
          • Return to this hand position with each subsequent inhalation.
      • Exhale –
        • Three exhales for each finger, lightly touch the tip of your thumb (simultaneously on both hands).
          • With the tip of your index finger.
          • With the tip of your middle finger;
          • With the tip of your ring finger; and,
          • With the tip of your little finger.
    • Move your entire hand in sync with your breath:
      • Smooth Inhale and Exhale – 
        • With minimal effort, allow your entire hand to gently open with each inhale and relax inward with each exhale.
          • Imagine that your inhales flutter outward from the deepest core of your heart to every cell in your torso, limbs, digits & skull.   Imagine that your exhales quietly settle back into your heart center.
          • Continue for as long as is comfortable.
  • Transition back into your day –
    • Stretch through your palms. Open your eyes if they were closed.  Stretch out through your arms. Return to your day.

This poem is from Mala of Love: 108 Luminous Poems, edited by Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt, page 55 , and published by New World Library.

 

 

Brambles

Cut brambles long enough, sprout after sprout,

and the lotus will bloom of its own accord:

Already waiting in the clearing, the single image of light.

The day you see this, that day you will become it.

Sun Bu-er

 

It is summer in the Northern Hemisphere.   Along the central California coast, the weather is predictably unpredictable, vacillating between cool, foggy days and clear, sunny ones.  Around the neighborhood, delicate white blossoms on the blackberry bushes are transforming into plump, juicy fruit.

On my daily walks, I find myself reaching into these thorny shrubs.  Each time I laugh at myself for succumbing to the promise of a perfect berry in exchange for a few snags on my sleeve and nicks on the arm.  More than once I’ve been caught by the well-honed lure of this persistent plant.  It prompts the memory of a sweet flavor squirting in my mouth, and in turn that memory fuels my desire for one more tasty bite of berry.

Sun Bu-er, a 12th c. female Daoist master, gracefully reminds us that brambles, such as blackberries, are like unwanted thoughts and habits.  They masquerade as generous friends with the invitations of pleasure.  Yet, their true intent is their own tenacious survival by overtaking anything in their way and creating impenetrable, tangled masses.  Their sprouts are hidden beneath the surface, thus making it difficult to stop their growth.

Once the brambles are stemmed, they become extinct. Sun Bu-er offers a beautiful poetic glimpse of bramble-free consciousness. She lets us touch that awareness: It is always there, waiting to welcome our awareness. She allows us to see without seeing, and to know without knowing. And, she seems to bless us with luminous, unhindered clarity.

As the summer progresses, I will continue to notice how easily subtle enticements and distractions lure me from the path of clearing into the thicket.  I hope you will join me.

Practice

This practice supports letting go in your hands.  It can be done seated or reclined.  

  • Prepare –
    • Find a comfortable seated or reclined position. If reclined on the floor, rest on your back, drape your legs over cushion, and allow your heels to rest lightly on the floor.
    • Stretch wide through your palms and fingers. Then, gently shake the hands.
  • Practice –
    • With the backs of your hands resting your thighs. If you are reclined, rest them on the floor. Allow your palms to softly open toward the sky.
      • Invite a smooth, calming, gentle inhale and exhale.
      • From the tip of each finger, release and let go of unneeded tension across the finger and palm to the wrist.
        • Begin with the little fingers on both hands, i.e., simultaneously letting go of tension in the little fingers on both hands.
        • Then, repeat with the other four fingers: your ring fingers, middle fingers, index fingers, and lastly the thumbs.
      • Keep the sense of having let go in the fingers and palms, all your hands to roll over so the fingers are now turned downward.
        • If comfortable, silently speak to your hands. For example, “completely relax. They are free to do nothing but let go.” “I appreciate all that you do to care for me. You help me wash, nourish myself, navigate, communicate, create, give hugs…and much more.”   “For now, I make no demands on you. You are completely clear and free.”
      • Let the dialogue fade. Imagine as though with each breath, your hands and fingers release just a bit more.
        • Sit or rest quietly.
  • Transition back into your day when you are ready.

 

This poem is from Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems, page 59, Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt (Editors), New World Library (publisher).