Butterflies know: the past is no big deal

Butterflies can fly because their whole modus operandi is to travel lightly. You’re the same now. You have no intention of making a bigger deal than needs to be made about anything.

 There’s a lightness about those sentences, don’t you think? As a lover of words, I know it’s partly because some of them trigger visuals of nearly weightless things – like butterflies fluttering from one flower to another, seemingly blown about lightly by the wind. The word “flight” itself even conjures up the notion of not being earth-bound.

That was my horoscope a few weeks ago. It captured my attention because, as a good newspaper horoscope intends, it’s vague and universal enough to cause you to think and reflect and find meaning in its words. The way I figure it, whether you follow astrology or scoff at it, these snippets help you find new insights and generate awareness. And that’s a good thing, as Martha Stewart would say.

Let’s take my butterfly analogy as an example. For a couple of days before I picked up the paper and read it, I’d been wrestling in my head with some past negative events. I’ve gotten pretty good at letting stuff like that go, but sometimes – usually when I’m stressed or overworked or preoccupied – it’s not as automatic and before I realize it, I’m enmeshed in that past. I really do think John Milton (Paradise Lost) said it best nearly 350 years ago when he wrote:

 The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’n.


I’ve decided there are fine lines between inspecting the past for its insights and reliving that same past. The past is the past: dead, cold, done. But we’re human. We seek meaning and understanding in all we do, so we tend to treat the past as a living, breathing thing.

After all, that’s where great memoirs come from. Stories like that make great reading and can be cathartic for the storyteller. We may be able to find meaning for ourselves inside that memoir, too. But in the end, it’s just a memory, something we can allow to continue controlling the story we live today or something we can place firmly on the bookshelf, noting that the last page says, “the end.”  It doesn’t mean we didn’t find it enjoyable, enlightening, maybe even painful. We just don’t let it write our story now.

And I realized my horoscope reminded me of the difference, which is where the lightness appears. Most of the time I’m living more in the moment and less in the past. After all, the only moment that truly matters, that I’m guaranteed of having, is right here and right now.

I write my story every moment with every choice and every thought and every action I take. That’s it. That’s my story. Each moment is written in indelible ink, and each one is followed by “the end.”

What the butterfly drives home is this: it’s when I allow the past into my present – when I revisit the angst, the fears, the decisions I may regret, the actions of others that hurt, the pain of betrayal, the embarrassment of mistakes, whatever it may have been – I’m handing my pen over and letting them craft my story, the one that’s happening right now, the only one that matters. I let them color my current reality and tell my tale.

So that returns me to the butterfly (you were wondering, weren’t you?).

 You have no intention of making a bigger deal than needs to be made about anything.

 Ha! I get it. I know why this one resonates. When I look back at the memoirs I’ve created moment by moment, some happy and some angry, some excited and some painful – I know I can choose to relive those and let them paint my life today. Or I can choose to merely revisit them, turning up the ploughshare to look, with curiosity and without any recrimination. I can also choose to simply read them, noting those two words after each one: “the end.”

It’s my choice, my intention, that gives my life the lightness of the butterfly. I choose to not make it a big deal. And like the butterfly, I can fly lightly through a life that’s already too short to do everything I want. Why would I want to make it a chore?

A quick word about butterflies. They don’t flap their wings to fly. The muscles in their thorax push the wings in a figure-eight pattern, which pushes air back from the body and provides forward motion.

Think about that for a minute. They push current air back – to the past, you might say – which propels them forward – to their future. So they use the power of the current moment – not the past – to move through life. Here’s one more. We’ve all seen a butterfly hover delicately above a flower. When it does that, it’s using its wings to hold itself in place, much like a helicopter. You might say it’s savoring the moment – not the past and not the future. That very moment.

There’s a lesson in there for all of us.

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