Allowing our inner butterfly to emerge

Tue, Jul 17, 2012, 01:00

MIND MOVES:Sometimes we need to take time out for ourselves, writes AOIFE PRICE

IT WAS one of those conversations that tends to happen at the end of the week, when everyone is giddily looking forward to the weekend. While we were sitting around the table having a cup of tea, one of the girls asked: “If you were an animal, what would you like to be?”

I decided I would like to be a butterfly. On the rare occasions when I cross paths with a butterfly, I am always struck by their elegance, beauty and the sense of freedom I feel when I am near one.

I don’t know why, but the conversation sat with me for the next few days. I began thinking about how people are similar to butterflies.

The butterfly starts off as an egg just as we do. The egg then hatches to become a caterpillar. When I think of a caterpillar, I think of a slow and sluggish creature, requiring lots of effort to move but not getting very far. This is something I believe we can all relate to: having periods in our lives where we make lots of effort with little progress to show for it. The caterpillar later withdraws into a cocoon and takes time before emerging as a butterfly. Like the butterfly, we too need to take time for ourselves.

The life cycle of the butterfly follows a set pattern. People’s lives, on the other hand, are constantly changing, and life throws up unexpected challenges such as illness, bereavement and stress. There are times in our lives where we become dependent and vulnerable, the pace we want is not always the pace we are at, and there will be times in all of our lives where we need to withdraw from the chaos and take time out for ourselves. We all have different levels of resilience. Some people find a simple walk, when they have time to appreciate everything around them, such as the trees, flowers and shape of the clouds, is enough to allow the butterfly in them to cope with everyday stresses and strains.

A walk in the park may not work for everyone, but it’s important to find what works best for you. I am most relaxed when I’m painting. Both my body and mind become immersed in what I am creating. Knowing that each stroke contributes to the finished piece allows for full concentration and in that space I don’t think or worry about anything else. Painting is one of those things where you are allowed to let everything go and make a mess.

These daily experiences contribute to overall wellness. However, there may be other times in our lives, particularly in times of stress and upset, where this level of cocooning will not sustain everyone’s needs. Some people need to take longer periods of time out: similar to the process of the cocoon, they may need to take days or months and will need the support of others to help their butterfly re-emerge.

Butterflies are fragile and if not handled with care they will be damaged. Their wings are often thinner than a sheet of paper. It’s obvious to the naked eye just how delicate they are. With people, this may not be as apparent. And that’s why it’s important for all of us to be aware of our own fragility and that of others. We can never be certain of what is going on in anyone’s life or how they may be feeling at any time. How we treat others may make or break them. If we swipe at the butterfly we may damage its wings, leading to disastrous consequences. The same can happen with the people we encounter in our daily lives.

I have learned more about myself in my caterpillar times, and those quiet times have helped me to flourish and fly. Taking time and having patience with ourselves enables us to feel the full spread of our abilities and appreciate what we bring to the world.

Often in times of distress we lose sight of our inner strength. But it’s important to remember that no matter how hard life gets, we all have the potential to re-emerge as a butterfly.


Aoife Price (23) is a Headstrong youth adviser

Tony Bates in on leave