The Spiritual Practice of Catching Butterflies

June 30, 2020

Filed in: C'est la Vie

[Written in quarantine but published now. I wonder if my questions have been answered?]

It was a bight, strong, mid-morning spring sunshine that had me squinting. He was running into the field, zeal punctuating each footfall, after a butterfly. I didn’t bother crawling under the barbed wire to follow; he was already a hundred meters away.

“Marissa!! Marissa!!” he called. “I caught it just for you!!!”

His arms were raised in victory the entire sprint back to the fence; the joy on his face was immense. His eyes shone, and a large smile revealed his slightly buck teeth.

We were on day three or four of butterfly catching. The day before, I had caught my first butterfly, earning me a permis de chasse aux papillons — a butterfly catching licence. It was well earned as I sprinted through the field, in a sort of half-run, half-hop on the uneven terrain in the same fit of maniac zeal. He later presented me, that afternoon, with a handmade license in his French schoolchild cursive.

It hasn’t been uncommon for us to spend the entire morning after breakfast on the hunt for a papillon. And this is just one of the ways in which I have been learning the practice of presence. Ever since my internship ended the week before, I have had zero obligations to be anywhere or do anything, except entertain my charge.

A friend recently remarked that it is refreshing to be free to not have to be anywhere. Of course, we can always choose when we want to do things, but the pressure is high to be busy when everyone else is. Now that movement is heavily restricted, we — I am — are feeling more at liberty to take it slow.

Before the quarantine, and my whole life really, I had always felt the pressure of the next to-do. This is not great for concentration, but I often found myself thinking of the next responsibility or the next place to be. It’s difficult to be present when we’re always thinking about the future.

But, now, with this quarantine, no more internship, and literally nothing demanding my time, I have found the sweetness in practicing presence.

If he wants to spend the morning chasing butterflies, we’re going to do it. If he wants to spend the afternoon “hunting” birds with a bow and suction-cup arrows, we’re going to do it. If we want to swing gently in the hammock and listen to the birds, or play badminton until we’re out of breath, we’re going to do it. I’m going to savour it. I want to savour the feeling of being and of spending time with one of my favourite little little humans. I want to revel in his joy when he catches a butterfly, I want to feel the awe when we see the delicacy and intricacy of the wings. I want to listen to the chatter of the birds, and hear the children talk about all the far-flung places they’d like to visit some day.

In these moments, I am listening. I am being. I am not worried about where I need to be next, and that makes it so much sweeter.

I don’t know what life will look like after quarantine. Will we have learnt that slowing down won’t hurt us? Whatever the world decides, I know that I will keep practicing presence.

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