A long time ago, a lot of years ago, I visited a Mayan shaman. I had been the victim of a violent crime and sought treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and my therapist suggested I see this practitioner, who was a colleague of hers, for some more traditional healing.
This shaman presented an intriguing mix of esoteric wisdom and childlike wonder. Before I even opened my mouth upon meeting him, he diagnosed me with an unrelated medical condition, which he then proceeded to fix. I’m not even making this up. I came to him for psychological help and somehow he intuitively knew about this other issue, and after the session, I did not have this problem anymore.
At the same time, his treatment method involved copious quantities of tequila, some of which he ingested himself, and after our session, we fell to to talking, in the process of which he locked himself out of the house. Then he passed out on the porch.
I relate this part of the story to highlight that place where brilliance and innocence overlap, where what can be great and astonishing can, at the same time, be small and ordinary. This guy was a metaphor for everything real in the world.
We also took a spirit journey together, or, more accurately, he took a spirit journey and I sort of followed along. There were 4 main points of interest along the way, 2 of which made immediate sense to me, and 2 of which took many years to resonate into clarity. In fact, 1 of them really only started to take on meaning as I began writing this blog post. But the other one (and yes, here comes the point) regarded the butterfly, a symbol of transformation, but also a symbol of inspiration.
Why does it mean to follow the butterfly, I wondered. It is to pursue that which is beautiful, but also elusive, but also metamorphic, meaning that the butterfly can initiate change. While slow human eyes might see a caterpillar as a separate creature, apart from the dazzling winged creature it will become, they are one and the same. The caterpillar is the butterfly; the butterfly is the caterpillar. The caterpillar may be an ugly little creature chomping all the leaves off your citrus trees one day, but after a brief period of transition, it’s a flying jewel. Everything is transitional, and everything has the potential for great harm, or great good.
The tao of art isn’t some kind of garden party; it’s a trek through the jungle. Your guide is this ephemeral, elusive wisp: a butterfly, a muse, a feeling. An interior faith that an invisible compass points true; that the exterior magnetic compulsion is trustworthy.
For me, this is the way of the butterfly. There’s the belief that the butterfly exists, that it is a real thing even though you can’t capture or contain it, and there’s the belief that the butterfly represents what you feel it should represent. In other words, there are 2 voices: the snake says “stop,” the butterfly says “go.” The snake crushes; the butterfly expands. The snake prevents; the butterfly compels. The artist has to own these creatures, and decide which one to privilege. One most likely yells rude epithets constantly, but most often when it’s likely to trip you up. The other whispers all the truths and secrets you long to hear, but only when you are listening.