Last week the valley where I live was filled with travelers on their way to a warmer place. Those journeying appeared tireless in their lighthearted flittering— joyful even through the exhaustion of their migration.
These were no ordinary pilgrims. They were the Painted Lady butterflies. And they have been migrating south in massive groups larger than what we’ve seen in years past. The flutter of butterflies, also called a kaleidoscope (!!), was so dense that the doppler system actually picked it up on radar.
The “blob” that was approaching Denver was initially thought to be birds, but was soon seen for what it truly was: a gigantic kaleidoscope of Painted Ladies.
Normally I would be delighted at the sight of so many butterflies. And at first I was. My smile lit up brighter with each one I noticed, reflecting back their seemingly inexhaustible effulgence.
But as they wove haphazardly along the road that follows the river on my way to town, they kept veering suddenly my way, meandering toward me with no concern for my vehicle, getting swept off the side of my car at the last moment, carried by their lightness in the wind to narrowly escape death by headlight, or not.
My face soon reflected horror as I must have smashed into at least five of them in less than one minute.
Photo by Elizabeth Marcus-Sonenberg (http://www.instagram.com/pure.o); Post-production by Brea Fisher
Just a week prior, while consoling a friend as she plucked a lifeless Monarch off the grill of a random parked pickup and placed it honorably on her dash, I had told her tenderly:
I brake for butterflies.
But here, when faced with this many vehicle-oblivious butterflies it seemed impossible to hit the brakes for all of them.
I slowed way down, which helped, but it wasn’t until I remembered to ask, that I was able to stop my butterfly murdering.
I relaxed my body and calmed my mind, drove slow, and spoke, out loud, in request:
“Dear, sweet Painted Lady friends, thank you for being here today as you voyage south. Please be aware, I am moving quickly on this road. I ask that you stay clear of my vehicle so that your journey can continue safely. Thank you.”
And with that, I envisioned a big, soft, bubble of light surrounding my car by about five feet on all sides, which to my awe and delight, began to bounce the butterflies away from my car as if on the whim of the wind.
I didn’t hit another butterfly the whole way to town.
Now, this sort of experience isn’t new or extraordinary for me, and if you are also one who speaks to animals, insects, plants, and rocks, you know as well as I do that they have a way of understanding and communicating back.
But the part about this that really stands out to me is a timeless lesson we can all benefit by remembering:
Ask and you shall receive.
Without posing the question, declaring what it is your heart desires, you leave no space to be given an answer.
Most of the time I’m guessing you won’t be asking butterflies, but people, which for most of us, are easier to hear when they respond. And even if those people end up saying no to your request, it feels really good to give them that opportunity, and to give yourself the chance to receive it honorably.
We all know how it feels to have a burning question and to hold it in without asking.
When we don’t ask for what we need it hurts the heart.
If you need help and you are too afraid, too embarrassed, or too whatever-is-holding-you-back to ask for it, it’s a very direct communication with yourself that you are unworthy of that help, false premise though it is.
Even if it’s uncomfortable at first, it always feels better to ask for what you need because doing so is a heart opening act of self-worth.
Acknowledge the discomfort of having to ask for help, then let it go and ask anyway. You’ll feel better than holding back because by asking, you open your heart to receive and that is an act of love.
Everyone has something they’ve been holding back asking for. You know what your’s is, even if you have to get quiet a minute and bring it up to the surface of your consciousness.
Go ahead and take this moment to do that now.
When you have your question, determine to whom you can or need to ask it. Maybe it’s just one person. Maybe it’s a few people. Maybe it’s a bunch.
And then ask.
Whatever answer or answers you may get, commit to receiving them gracefully and with gratitude— even the no’s.
Look for the relief and the lightness of heart you feel simply in the asking. That’s you telling yourself you’re worthy.
And the next time you need to ask for what you need, go for it again; and again; and again.
An open heart helps light up the world because asking for what you need inspires others to do the same.
If all of humanity suddenly began to consistently ask for what we needed, we’d find that sometimes people say no and sometimes people yes, and we’d all be totally okay with the no’s because we’d know that there are just as many yeses out there for us, too. (This, by the way, also makes saying no to others easier to do when that’s what you need to do.)
It would be a brilliant kaleidoscope of asking of those who are willing, able, and happy to give, and offering to those who are open to receive from us.
Sometimes we’d be driving fast vehicles and sometimes we’d be flitting along a riverside road, tired and beautiful and blissfuly unaware of cars… until we were asked to be so.
Now it’s my turn to ask.
Many of you have asked me how you can support my work and up until now I haven't initiated any methods to receive contributions. I'm really excited to announce that I now have two ways for you to become a patron.
For you, who are new to my work, and for you who have been following me from the beginning, I am so deeply grateful to you. Not a day goes by that I don’t feel appreciation for having you here in witness to what I do.
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I can never tell you too many times how much I appreciate you being here with me. My gratitude for you is a forever-fluttering kaleidoscope in my heart.
With the deepest of bows,
When you begin the hike down, weaving back and forth between switchbacks on the sloping footpath that leads you into the great mouth of the caverns, its steep grade initially gives you a sense of instability and insecurity. It’s an unfamiliar place to put yourself, hiking 750 feet down into the earth, and the body senses this.
750 feet seems an arbitrary measurement since we don’t typically find ourselves walking that distance straight down. Even so, without knowing the exact distance before I began the descent, as I placed my feet one and then the next, my knees bracing lower to stay grounded, and my eyes reaching into the darkening depths for what’s to come, I knew I was going down, and I was going down deep.
But soon enough, as my eyes began to just barely adjust to the growing darkness, I began to trust my feet on the hard to see ground below them, and there came into my body a softening to the unknown, and a vulnerability in the embrace of something much larger than myself.
Photograph by Brea Fisher
There is not a thing in the human-made world that can give you exactly what you need more precisely than what can be given to you by the more-than-human world.
What you need can absolutely be found in things like a particularly nutritious conversation, a challenging yoga class, or a good cry with a friend, but what the spirit connects with most deeply, most penetratingly, most directly, and most potently, is a good dose of being in nature*.
The intelligence of nature really does soothe your soul; it stimulates your mind, swells your heart, and nourishes your body in ways that humans are just not privy to understanding at this point in the infancy of our existence.
So when I went down, and I soaked in the dark, and I slunk among the cold pools and the dripping mineral chandeliers, moving like a deep sea creature swimming in purified air that once was water so many millions of years ago, I got a treatment from those caverns, like nothing I could have gotten from above.
I went to Nature and she gave me an acupuncture treatment, specific to my needs.
Photograph by Brea Fisher
*Since humans are of nature, using that term to describe something apart from us is inaccurate at its root; however, since most can agree that the word connotes the apart-from-civilization wilderness that the plant, animal, and mineral kingdoms offer inherently, I will use the word nature interchangeably with the concept of the more-than-human world.
I needed to go deep. I needed to go inside, to dive into the dark before my eyes had time to adjust. I needed a revival of memories from the womb, and of the collective primal field. I needed to remember I am not a body only and to do that I gave my body fully to the internal organs of the earth.
Nature gives you exactly what you need.
It hones in on your current state and presents to you a remedy specifically designed to treat your afflictions, your areas of disharmony, and your places of most tenderness.
Nature gives you yourself.
Nature is neutral, and that neutrality is what creates the space for you to see in it exactly what you need. It reflects back to you your inner wisdom and reveals it to you in a way you can receive.
Photograph by Brea Fisher
And that’s what it does for all of us, whether we’re attuned and listening, noticing it doing that work for us, or not. Your work is to make space for connecting to nature more often so that nature can more often make space for your connection with yourself.
The truth is, the natural, more-than-human world is available to you at all times.
You don’t need to travel to caverns, hike up to secret mountain springs, make daily pilgrimages to a hidden forest clearing, or even live in a home with a backyard.
Nature will find you wherever you are if you open yourself to it.
Say you are in a habit of compulsively buying things online. Grab a big bottle of water, an apple, and a book and spend an afternoon sitting in the grass at the park. Nature will show you that you already have everything you really need.
Imagine you just got in an argument with someone you love and now things feel broken. Let the day become night, turn off the lights, power off your phone and all your devices, and stand outside with the moon or the stars, or the plain darkness of eternity.
Or maybe you feel stuck. Open all the windows of your house and let the wind wash through it. Watch it whirl dust bunnies out from the corners, rustle paper piles, and dance in the drapes. Or stand on the crest of a hill, whether field or street, sensitizing yourself to the air moving across your skin, in your hair, and through your clothes.
Are you letting yourself receive Nature? Do you take time to slow down with it? Do you notice how it is speaking to you— directly to you, with specific messages written just for you?
Whether you do or not, more of this is always a beneficial practice, so your assignment is to go deep with it.
Going deep doesn’t mean you have to hike down into a cave that was formed by an ancient inland sea. To go deep means to open yourself to the primal wisdom of the earth, the sun, the moon, the stars, and the planets.
Go deeply into following the flight path of a butterfly.
Go deeply into listening to the song of the wind in the leaves.
Go deeply into the process a cat takes to clean itself, or the shape of an apple, or the touch of an insect’s tiny feet on your arm.
And then acknowledge that whatever the natural world is giving you as an experience is medicine for you.
The caverns gave to me exactly what I needed and I happened to open myself to their offerings. But I could have walked down there, admired its beauty, snapped a couple shots, and then hiked right back up to handle all my stuff in the same way I had been— and that hadn’t really been working for me. (And believe me, I’ve missed my share of messages from the natural world plenty of times.)
But this time I gave myself to the caverns. And so the caverns had a chance to give me myself.
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