Setting Your Butterfly Free…The Power of forgiveness

Lessons in "Letting Go" we learn from the butterfly life cycle

Letting Go means learning to forgive

Last week was a difficult week.  The massive senseless violence left me shocked and dismayed.  I also found myself rethinking the struggle of the “soon to be” butterfly within his cocoon as he struggles to break free. (See my previous blog entitled “Lessons From A Butterfly”).  As I struggled with my own negative and sometimes judgmental feelings about the events in Boston and the explosions in Texas, I began to realize that we humans are all, in some way struggling within our own self made cocoons of misery. It seems to me that many of us are trying to change our lives, “let go” of old belief systems that no longer serve, “let go” of anger directed toward our culture and/or those who have hurt us, “move on” to something better and healthier.  But I think we get stuck.  I know I do.  This  “Letting go” thing can be really hard.  I know it is for me, especially when I feel really justified about what I believe.  Problem is, feeling “justified” does not mean feeling happy, or feeling “at peace”…and that’s what I really want.  So, what can we do then?  How can any of us help our own selves move through the anger, the anxiety, and the angst that feels so real within us. I have a couple of ideas to try out on you.

My first idea draws upon a verse from the Bible.  This is a very familiar verse, memorialized by the Byrds in their famous song “Turn, Turn, Turn. It is actually from Ecclesiates verse 3 of the Bible.  Here’s how it goes :

To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.

A time to be born, a time to die

A time to kill, a time to heal

A time to break down, and time to build up

A time to laugh, a time to weep

A time of war, a time of peace

This is just a small part of the entire verse, but it goes on in a similar vein.

For me this verse offers comfort at times of great turmoil because the message is that all our life experiences are part of the whole, and there is an appropriate “season” for them to show up in our lives.  Perhaps the concept can also be extended to the people who show up and then die, or people who leave us in cruel and unimaginable ways…or horrifying events which make no sense at the time they occur.  It can be easier to grasp the meaning of an event after some time passes and we get some perspective. This is when we may get an ”aha” moment and appreciate the lesson learned, but at the time the event is happening our struggle is to just accept it.

In the meantime, I would like to offer  one other idea, which can be a very powerful spiritual practice for dissolving anger, guilt, resentment, and other toxic emotions that can keep us in the “deep freeze” of arrested emotional growth.  This is of course, the practice of forgiveness…the ultimate “letting go”.  Its easier said than done, of course, but I think if we can consistently practice all parts of it, it can be really effective.  The idea is to spend quiet time within your own mind, on a regular basis and repeat these three forgiveness intentions:

  1. For all those I have harmed, knowingly or unknowingly, I am truly sorry…forgive me and set me free.
  2. For all of those who have harmed me, knowingly or unknowingly, I forgive them and set them free
  3. For the harm I have done to myself, knowingly or unknowingly, I am truly sorry.  I forgive myself and set myself free

So, that’s it.  I think the three parts are all important,  as well as the inclusion of “knowingly and unknowingly”.  Truthfully, we don’t always know how we have hurt people, nor do they know they have hurt us. Also, we often don’t acknowledge the harm we do to ourselves. Nevertheless, the hurt is done…and needs to be addressed

I’m hoping I can take this practice into my own healing this week.  I hope you can too.








“Letting Go….Lessons from a Butterfly

Lessons in "Letting Go" we learn from the butterfly life cycle

Lessons in “Letting Go” we learn from the butterfly life cycle

I heard a great story recently about the life cycle of a butterfly.  As we all know, butterflies start their lives as caterpillars.  The caterpillar builds a cocoon and then emerges some time later as a butterfly.  The butterfly life cycle is of course a great metaphor for metamorphosis. A caterpillar is literally transformed into a butterfly.  It becomes something altogether different from what it was. What I only learned of recently is the enormous struggle that goes on for the caterpillar inside of the cocoon. During metamorphosis the “caterpillar” is neither caterpillar nor butterfly, but rather some kind of primordial goo of undifferentiated imaginal cells.  Only very gradually does the cocoon become to small for the “soon to be”  butterfly.  In his own time, the butterfly “pushes out”, and flies away

In my view, the most important thing about the butterfly story is that if there is any interference from the outside, that is any attempt to “speed up” the emergence of the butterfly, that butterfly will die.  The butterfly needs to struggle to fully emerge as a butterfly.

In many ways the butterfly story is the struggle of every parent who has ever had trouble “letting go” of his adult child.  It could also apply to “letting go” of a loved one in the process of the death transition.  Hard as it is, we simply must let our loved ones leave us to continue on their journey…when they are called to do so.

As a parent, it has always been difficult for me to watch my child suffering as she struggles to do things “on her own”.  This is especially true if I think I can ease the suffering.  Similarly, as a sister, it was difficult for me to “let go” when my older sister was dying.  In truth, my sister was “reconciled” to her death before I was reconciled to her leaving me.  But it wasn’t my “call”.  It was hers. If I’m left with unfinished business…that’s my work.

My challenge now is to think of “letting go” as a process of allowing both myself and the person I am letting go of,  to expand and grow beyond what we now are. The opportunity is there for both of us to “reach up to meet” whatever is next.  In doing so, I strive to honor and cherish the past, be fully in the present, and look forward to the uncertain but exciting unfolding of the future.




Now Is The Time..Reclaim Your Unlived Life

The third “Act” of our human lifespan is hopefully a time of sitting back to assess where we are, where we have been, and what the future holds.  It can be a painful time for some of us.  We may have regrets, leftover resentments, and unhealed emotional wounds. We may need to forgive, and/or want to be forgiven for something in our past.  This time can also be a time of grateful reflection regarding all that we have accomplished, and appreciation for the relationships that we cherish. For most of us, I suspect that we feel a little of both of these things.

Recently I ran across a book written by an Australian palliative care nurse named Bonnie Ware.  Entitled, “Inspiration and Chai”, the book chronicles the dying “epiphanies” of people living in hospice care during the last weeks of life.  Ms. Ware spent many hours listening to the final thoughts of her patients as they confronted the ending of their lives.  She then faithfully recorded these thoughts and found the clear and unvarnished truth that emerges when people no longer have anything to lose. “Inspiration and Chai” reveals that at the end of life, people are remarkably similar in the way they regard the life they are soon to leave behind. The author discovered that with a little “prodding”, dying patients talk about what they would “do over” in their lives if they had the chance. These “do overs” fall into five main categories.  Here then is the list of regrets most often cited by hospice patients: (stated in the first person)

  1. I wish I had the courage to “be myself” more
  2. I regret having worked so hard (the author notes that it used to be men who said this more often. Now both men and women say this)
  3. I wish I had risked more and had the courage to express my feelings (the author notes that this wish is most often expressed by people with illnesses associated with repressed and bitter feelings)
  4. I wish I had kept up with my friends better
  5. I wish I had let myself be happy

So, there you have it.  Reading this makes me want to set the intention to live out my life fully, to be courageous, to choose happiness, and to nurture my relationships. How about you?

It’s never too late….

The secret is, I have come to believe, that for each of us the “unlived life” is already alive in us, just waiting to be claimed. You know what it is because it lives in the stirrings and the longings of your heart….  Its what you really want anyway, isn’t it?

Just listen…pay attention…and choose it….Now is the time


So..What do I do about my “monkey mind”…(The female brain revisited)

After my last posting, (Just be curious, good advice for the female brain), I received some feedback that leads me to believe there is more to be said on this topic.  As was pointed out to me, it is all well and good to bring yourself out of your emotional brain and into your prefrontal cortex….however, your “monkey mind” will not always allow you to stay in a calm and dispassionate place.  “Monkey mind” is a Buddhist term that refers to the constant chatter our mind engages in seemingly against our will.  Unfortunately “monkey” chatter is often negative, self sabotaging inner dialog, and it seems relentlessly intent on finding all evidence possible that our lives and our very selves are worthless and catastrophic. “Monkey mind” is quicksilver fast, and will be merciless in its ability to draw upon our vast reservoir of negative core beliefs and assumptions.  So, there you are back in your emotional limbic brain.  So, what do you do now?  Here is one exercise you might try.  It has several steps, so don’t leave any of them out!

  1. When you find yourself caught up in one of these inner dialogs that is going around in circles and ending up in the same place, first just STOP…I mean just tell yourself to stop, either out loud or silently.
  2. Try to identify the negative core belief underlying what you are telling yourself.  The belief could be for example, “I’m just always so stupid, or “I never stick up for myself”…(“always” and “never” are key tip offs to negative core beliefs)To begin to dissolve this belief, its important to examine it carefully.  I like to use the “Inquiry” process developed by Byron Katie, called “The Work”.  Here’s how to do it:

(a)       Ask yourself, “Is this belief really true, and how do I really know its true?

(b)       At this point, you will hopefully come to the conclusion that you can’t really know that its true, (you can really know much of anything is true), and you can imagin who you might be without that belief…so you are ready to–

(d)      Gather all the evidence you can find, past and present, that actually supports the opposite belief to this one…and visualize yourself in as many situations as you can where you are this version of yourself!..that is the version that does not have the toxic belief.  Some situations might have happened, maybe some didn’t…but it doesn’t matter…the brain does not care.

What I propose is that the brain will eventually accept whatever version of your story you decide you want to give it.  The key is to present a new story, and reprogram your mind over, and over, and over again..but don’t take my word for it…try it yourself