How the Beauty of a Monarch Butterfly Showed Me the Path to Presence

This past Sunday I took a sweltering 4 hour hike along in Prince William Forest Park – one of my favorite spots to enjoy the outdoor beauty of Virginia. Walking along South Fork Quantico Creek, I was immersed in greenery with a brook humming beside me.
For me hiking is a meditative venture in which I try to calm my mind and get present. Usually the physical exercise yields up some type of realization. This time, I was struck by the impact of beauty.

As I walked along the path, I suddenly came into an area of Monarch butterflies. Beautiful wisps of black and yellow flew around me, landed on a flower or on the ground, then flew off again. When I saw the first butterfly, I was instantly brought out of my thoughts into the present moment. The beauty of it was stunning. I literally stopped in my tracks as I watched it, with all my focus on its every move. I wasn’t thinking about how the butterfly got patterned that way, or the butterfly effect, or whether this was the peak of their life this summer (though these thoughts did fleetingly pass through my mind). Rather, I experienced the butterfly. Just being with it and watching it. Since my mind does not yet stay still for long, after a while I realized I had been completely present. The beauty had struck me into stillness. Literally stunned me.

When I continued my walk, I played with this. What if I found beauty in the green leaf that caught on my shirt, the beetle at my foot, the uprooted tree, or the spider’s web across my path. If I saw them as beautiful moments in time, my attention was wholly on them. And thus, I was fully present with them. Beauty, then, is a doorway into to presence.
Appreciation of beauty seems to be tied to an openness of heart. We pour out love and also let love in when beauty is present. This exchange lets us connect and feel present. If you play with this, you will see what I mean.butterfly

When our minds get involved, we may find ourselves unable to be as open hearted. We may feel it inappropriate or not possible because of circumstances. Particularly when we are in a business setting. That is only because of our fears. If you ask yourself how often you open your heart (and I do not mean wearing your heart on your sleeve – I mean openly connecting with others) at work, and answer truthfully, more likely than not you will find the answer to be not often if at all. If you inquire honestly further, this is a direct result of a particular fear of something or someone. Now take a moment to feel how you feel when you are in that state – weak, vulnerable, victimized, unsure.

Now recall the last time you experienced beauty – how did you feel? Did you forget yourself for a moment? Did you feel completely like yourself? Whole. Happy. Self-assured. Just being yourself. Most likely yes. That is because you were fully present and your mind had no place in that experience. It could not utter a word since it was stunned into silence.
So how can one begin to bring these moments of stunning beauty into ones’ life to help build that muscle of open-hearted presence?

An exercise you might find helpful is appreciation of things and people around you. You can start with anything. The pen on your desk. The mousepad. The key on keyboard. The photo of your family. Take a moment (you do not need to dwell), look at it, feel it, smile at it, say thank you to it, appreciate it in whatever way works for you. Then go on to another item, and do this for a minute or two. Do this again whenever you want, even for a fleeting moment, and you may start experiencing some personal changes.

With people at work, home or in the grocery store – as you listen and talk to them, appreciate them. Even if you do not agree with what they are saying. Just the simple mental words, “I appreciate you,” will help your heart open a bit and you will feel more present. You may be bounced out again with a reaction by your mind, but just say that phrase again, and keep practicing. It will get easier. And you may start noticing changes in the communication and relationships you have with others.

As I embark on my next task after writing this post, I take a moment to reconnect again with the presence in my heart (it makes doing work so much easier, but more on that another time), and thank a Monarch of the green for teaching me the depth of the meaning of Beauty.

By Limor Schafman

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