“You know the butterfly room at the nature museum?” my therapist asked me, a little out of the blue.
We’d spent most of the session discussing my anxiety coping skills —stuff like mindful breathing, connecting to the present moment, and holding strong emotions gently — so this was an interesting plot twist.
She continued: “Go there and just sit. Be mindful. Take everything in. If you get to hold a butterfly, notice how gently it sits on your finger.”
“Uh huh…” I said, nodding along.
“That’s how gently we can hold our thoughts and emotions. So they just sit in our hands, delicately, and then they fly away.”
“Butterflies,” I write in my notebook, before our session comes to a close.
I now have my homework cut out for me.
I will… no, I MUST play with some butterflies.
Fast forward to the weekend
I walk into the butterfly room at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum here in Chicago. Walking in with the intention of being mindful, my five senses are all a-tingle.
I sit on a bench. I observe. I get present.
I see colors. So many colors. The green of the foliage. The orange of a monarch flitting past my field of vision. A yellow butterfly moves across the room like a badly thrown dart, wobbling up and down til it gets to its bullseye on a flower.
There’s also a balding, unshaven guy sitting on a bench over there — oh wait, that’s just me in the reflection of the pond. Never mind.
I feel the bench against my butt. I touch a leaf. It feels waxy. I sense the humidity of the room against my skin. It’s a welcome feeling on a cold-as-hell day. I feel ensconced in this warm feeling as if it’s an invisible Snuggie.
Dank. On account of the humidity. But not, like, unfinished-basement dank. More like humid-day-in-forest dank.
The calming shhhhh of a waterfall flowing into the pond in front of me. Kids being loud and frazzled parents letting out sighs.
The crunch of a butterfly.
JK I don’t eat a butterfly. That’d be weird.
Sitting… Waiting… 20 minutes later…
I see other people oohing and aahing as butterflies land on their shoulders and hands. I want that, too. That’s why I made this trip. And yet, nothing’s happening.
There’s a butterfly perched on a plant in front of me. Maybe I can force this butterfly situation. I put my finger up to the butterfly, to try and get it to hop on. But NO DICE. I try with another butterfly. Again, not budging.
“I’m trying to force this,” I suddenly realize.
It hits me… I can’t make these butterflies land on me. I can’t force them onto my hand. I can’t make them do what I want them to do.
And it’s a big obvious metaphor for life: You can only control yourself, you can’t control what others do. Certain situations won’t go your way, and trying to force it to be otherwise is futile and frustrating — you’re better off accepting that that’s how it is, then figure out an action plan for what’s next.
It’s also about expectations. If my metric of success is “I must interact with butterflies or else this will have been a waste of time” vs. “I can just be present and open to what the situation presents and go from there,” which is a more realistic expectation? It takes a lot of pressure off. I can just be.
So I decide to do just that: Just be. Don’t force anything. Leave the butterflies alone.
A few minutes later, still no butterflies.
And I’m okay with that. I take a deep breath, and decide to be on my way.
As I’m getting up, I hear a nearby kid say “Whoaaa look!” He’s pointing down at my sneakers.
At the bottom of my jeans, where they meet my sneakers, I notice two butterflies linked together, almost stacked on top of each other. And yup, they’re mating.
Who knows how long they’d been there. Maybe they were there the entire time as I was trying to get other butterflies to land on me.
Regardless, I unexpectedly got what I was after, without even trying.
I watch them, these metaphors for my anxiety and other emotions, boning away on my leg. Then, I cup them in my hands, hold them gently and delicately, and place them on a leaf.
Not only did I get a butterfly to land on me, I got something way more than what I expected. #ButterflySex.
Sometimes life happens like that.