I am sitting in a cab that rushes at 80 kms an hour. My gaze is fixed on the clear azure sky, but my mind is muddy; the noise in my head is deafening. The driver sings along to a retro song that is on the radio. On any other day, I would have smiled the moment the driver started crooning. I would have discussed his favourite songs and flaunted my love for Tamil songs. Today is not such a day. I feel numb. Exhausted. Soulless. Dark. I am too tired to search for my smile.
Through the window behind me, an orange butterfly glides in, flutters by my side as though politely demanding my attention. I drop my phone to say hello to the tiny, beautiful attention-seeker. The fellow-traveller lands on my shoe, continues to flap s. l. o. w. l. y.
I am desperate to take a picture of the guest who is lounging on my shoe. The car shakes violently; I swallow the urge to ask the driver to take it easy. The idea to click a picture of the cheerful visitor is dismissed.
There are other people in the cab. But the orange butterfly and I share a private moment. The little one is not perturbed. I begin to feel content for I am trusted.
My new friend keeps waving and in that rhythm, I feel my heartbeat, I find my smile again. In those orange wings, I find my… peace.
As I take a deep breath, the butterfly takes off from my shoe, exits the car through the other window. For the first time, I suspend my disbelief. I don’t cram my head with questions about the moment that brought me back to now, and the butterfly’s disappearance doesn’t make me sad.
After ages, I appreciate the beauty of transient moments. Pure presence.
“I do believe in an everyday sort of magic — the inexplicable connectedness we sometimes experience with places, people, works of art and the like; the eerie appropriateness of moments of synchronicity; the whispered voice, the hidden presence, when we think we’re alone.”
— Charles de Lint
From that day, I spot an orange butterfly every day. Sometimes, more than one. Sometimes, even virtually.
While having lunch at work, I look down at the garden only to find an orange butterfly or a group of white ones whizzing around a young tree. If I am lucky, I would spot a black beauty too.
For a long time, I wanted to keep my mysterious rendezvous with butterflies a secret; a possession that belonged only to me. Maybe, I didn’t want its essence to be diluted with cynicism. But I realised that the world has to be filled with thoughts which have the potential to make one smile. I told my friend, and on the same day, she spotted an orange butterfly. Why was I surprised at all!
“Ten times a day something happens to me like this – some strengthening throb of amazement – some good sweet empathic ping and swell. This is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness.”
— Mary Oliver
These days, I look forward to running into one butterfly every morning. While it’s unfair to become crestfallen when I can’t spot one, I can’t help myself much. On days when I can’t find real butterflies, they come to me in unexpected forms:
A colleague shows her new ring which is an enormous golden butterfly.
A friend shares pictures clicked by her mother in their garden. A massive moth. (Forgive the antennae please.)
A special person stops me on a busy day because she can’t hold a thought — “Deepika! Do you believe in signs? I have been spotting white butterflies every day,” she says nonchalantly. But I lose my faculties when she relates her experience for she doesn’t know about my encounter with the butterflies.
I wore the Freudian hat to figure out why I see butterflies. The Internet threw my favourite phrases — transformation, a sign of things going right, and… peace.
It dawned on me that it’s just not enough to spot them but seize the moment to heal myself. (Many thanks to the Zen master Thích Nhat Hạnh!). When I see a butterfly these days, I take a deep breath and release a thought — a thought for all the times I hurt my family, a thought for a friend whom I abandoned, a thought that says I forgive myself, a thought that says I am thankful for the moment, a thought that is a vow to continue basking in the little things in life, and a thought that floats out as a wish for the world to be filled with love and peace.
I stumbled upon a post on Facebook that read, “Synchronicity is universe’s way of winking at you.” My little darlings, the universe’s messengers, wink at me, unload my baggage, and make me feel as light as themselves.
In those fleeting moments, I am free. I take flight using their wings.
“I believe the universe wants to be noticed. I think the universe is improbably biased toward the consciousness, that it rewards intelligence in part because the universe enjoys its elegance being observed. And who am I, living in the middle of history, to tell the universe that it-or my observation of it-is temporary?”
— The Fault in Our Stars by John Green