Grief is a sacred journey

Butterfly Dreams: Saved by Synchronicity and Soul

My body droops into a familiar sinkhole. Hatred fueled killings and threats. Jailed migrant children. Climate catastrophe. Political nastiness and injustice grow worse as politicians rule by fear and rage. It’s all too much to bear.

My shoulders hunch forward, tears ooze from my eyes, hopelessness invades every cell until I remember the typed pages on the couch next to me. “Let’s look at my dreams,” I say to my therapist. “They always have a different perspective.”

Monarch soaring

I glance up as she begins reading the printed copies of my dreams. Looking out the window, I notice a small movement in the sky. Something flies toward us from high over treetops and buildings, not flapping wings like a small bird and not a drifting leaf, but outstretched wings sail on the wind. A butterfly heads toward the top floor of the building where we meet, toward the windows where we sit, toward me. As it nears the glass, it swoops up and over the roof, flashing orange and black, proving its identity with a streak of grace.

A Monarch. A friend. A symbol of transformation.

Stunned by what I’ve just seen, I read the first dream since our last appointment:

6 Monarch caterpillars (open image to find them)

I’m in a messy hotel room filled with used mesh butterfly crates. I see fresh plants in one crate and 2 multi-colored caterpillars of a type I’ve never seen. I hear construction noise. It’s a mess in this room. I want to clean up but don’t want to hurt a hidden chrysalis or caterpillar. (9/21/18)

My therapist recalls the dream we discussed at my last appointment, three weeks ago.

In my weedy garden, 2 large multiflora sunflowers are loaded with buds. I pull weeds away to free the plants and see a tired milkweed plant with new growth at the top and 5 or 6 Monarch caterpillars eating fresh leaves. I cut the plant tip and carry it toward the house with caterpillars riding along. When I’m inside, I hear men’s voices in the yard. I don’t want them to stop here. I want to feed the caterpillars. (9/10/18)

The Monarch sighting mixed with the dreams about caterpillars brings a surge of joy. I remember again why butterflies are symbols of Psyche or Soul. The dreams present new kinds of caterpillars and more Monarchs to tend, so I’m not done with this transformation. The dreams also make it clear that life is messy and disturbing. It’s not easy to stay focused and protect what’s trying to emerge.

I sometimes overlook synchronicity, a meaningful coincidence of inner and outer events that brings a message or new perspective. Meaningful is the keyword. Synchronicity is one way for Soul or our transcendent self to send a message to a stuck ego. Because I’m in my therapist’s office, I can’t dismiss this synchronicity as nothing.

I pause, let go of my lament, and take in the wonder of the Monarch. We talk about my dreams and a frequently quoted C. G. Jung’s synchronicity story:

Rose Chafer, Flicker, Public Domain

A young woman I was treating had, at a critical moment, a dream in which she was given a golden scarab. While she was telling me this dream, I sat with my back to the closed window. Suddenly I heard a noise behind me, like a gentle tapping. I turned round and saw a flying insect knocking against the window-pane from the outside. I opened the window and caught the creature in the air as it flew in. It was the nearest analogy of a golden scarab one finds in our latitudes… the common rose-chafer which, contrary to its usual habits had evidently felt the urge to get into a dark room at this particular moment. (C.G. Jung quote from Jung Currents)

The beetle and butterfly come as synchronicities and symbols of hope. I vow to write about them to honor and respect the gift. Maybe I’ll paint Monarchs or make a photo collage of the life cycles I witnessed this summer from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly.

Monarchs lingered in the early October fields until the wind shifted from the north so they could hitch a ride to Mexico. They’re migrants, too.

In the outer world, they’re gone for this season, but the inner dreamer reminds me to keep unfolding their message. For now, the joy and wonder of this moment is gift enough.

butterfly pin

***

Friends just gave me an exquisite beaded Monarch pin. What surprising gifts have come your way to ease these hard times? For another article about Monarchs, see Mothering Monarchs, Mothering My Soul. For another article about synchronicity, see A Message from the Moon: Synchronicity as Inner Guide.

24 Comments
  1. Dear Elaine, How wonderful it’s been to read your butterflies dreams, above and below, on this autumnal day. I agree, butterflies (and beetles too!) are not only delightful reminders of the soul but synchronistic nudges too! This summer it’s been a treat to follow your Monarch butterfly tales (I’ve learnt so much!) whilst my kale plants were stripped being stripped bare by thousands of caterpillars … still I can’t complain as a new poem emerged.

    That messy hotel room makes me think about the relentless busyness of your life that was underway around the time of your dream. The empty crates may represent the exhausting work you put in with Virginia as she underwent her own transformation. The construction noise I feel is something new being put up, how exciting … hmm, I wonder what’s being built? In nine months’ time it will be about midsummer so I guess we’ll find out then!

    In your second dream taking the new growth “within” feels just right. The garden appears to be flourishing, only the ego will make a judgement about weeds, the soul loves growth however it arrives in our lives. Caterpillars riding, wow, what a poetic image! So much to unpack there … I’m thinking the animus outside could be arriving to continue constructing what they began last month? In the meantime the feminine principle needs feeding.

    And what of those new caterpillars? New transformations, unseen and unrecognised as of yet … something new is inching its way towards you I’m sure. I love how you recognise that by writing about the butterflies and beetles you deeply honour them … this is how I write my poetry, especially when I venture out to the woods. What a beautiful brooch, I love it! Thank you Elaine for such a lovely, warm-hearted post! Much love and light, Deborah.

    • Deborah, the late in the season butterfly sailing the wind toward the window would have been exciting enough, but considering we were about to look at a dream filled with butterfly caterpillars, it was stunning. It’s common for me to be in hotel rooms or convention halls in my dreams–amusing considering my usual silent country life. The other common theme is a sense of things being rebuilt or torn down and reconstructed, either road construction or house construction or a very messy home or building site.

      There was that change a month before I had this dream with Virginia’s death. It’s been a relief to have fewer obligations with her and no midnight phone calls from the nursing home, but I’m not sure that’s what the dream construction is about. The new growth on the spent milkweed plants feels hopeful, including that butterflies were hidden in sunflowers, another wonderful symbol of showing up in life in a solar way. Maybe, just maybe, there will be an emergence from the underworld.

      After the dream, I had a long workup with my audiologist and otolaryngologist and I’m now in the queue for a cochlear implant. I have a day of testing in late November and then they have to convince the insurance company. It would be no risk to what little hearing remains because the implant would be in the L dead ear. This could change my life dramatically. It could also be rejected because of remaining the small amount of distorted hearing remaining in my R ear, but since it makes me dizzy to wear a hearing aid for long and my default mode is to live in silence, my doctors think they have a convincing argument for insurance people. Having reliable hearing could move me out into the world, but it will also be a big construction project. I’ll know in time if the dream refers to that.

      For me, caterpillars are “Precious Transformers.” Something is in the works. Time will tell us just what. Thank you for your dream reflections. They’re always helpful. Sending love and light back to you.

      • “I’m now in the queue for a cochlear implant.” Oh Elaine, this is surely the transformation! You heard voices from out in the yard, in this dream. Would you be able to do that, in waking life? I remember how the air in between me and other people seemed to swallow their voices, back in my hearing aid days. It is a profound transformation, as you said. It’s hard work once they activate you, and you must train yourself to hear all over again, like a baby learning to crawl. The hearing test to come is the one test you want to fail, as I was told back in 2010 when I embarked on the journey. And I’m glad to answer any questions if/when they arise.

        • Thank you, Joe. I’ll know in time. I have a CAT scan and hours of testing in late November. Yes, it’s the test I want to fail. Getting the implant before complete loss of my R ear hearing (it diminishes over time and is in bad shape, too) would be a gift because I could depend on the R ear as I adjust to the new sound. Because I still have some correctable hearing in one ear, the insurance company needs to be convinced. Because I have Meniere’s Disease in the completely deaf ear and have vertigo and other difficult symptoms when I push the small amount of hearing that remains, my otolaryngologist thinks a cochlear implant would be a big help. He wants to go for it, and he’s very experienced and knows when it’s time. I’m ready. Sound is so challenging now but somehow I manage in most situations as long as I can read lips. It’s exhausting, but I won’t give up. I know an implant will be challenging in new ways, but most people are relieved to have reliable hearing. I don’t expect to enjoy music or love sound as I once did. I just want to understand what’s being said. One step at a time. First to get approved. Thanks for being willing to answer questions and thanks for your enthusiasm. I’ll post updates.

  2. Butterflies are also migrants – I love this! Any moment of synchronicity brings about a flutter in the region of my heart or even an expansion of my blood corpuscles. I know that they are meaningful. A recent example for me was when I was drafting a post about prayer and I saw the tiniest praying mantis on my set of keys. It being on my ‘keys’ was also not lost on me –

    The bejewelled butterfly clip is beautiful! What craftsmanship must have gone into it! It makes me think of dreams that are crafted and constructed from our depths.

    The upcoming testing for a cochlear implant is exciting! I remember many years ago wearing an alice band kind of construction on my head with an instrument behind my left ear as part of the testing to see if I was a suitable candidate, which I wasn’t because of ‘reasonable’ hearing in my right ear. But the stories I’ve heard of lives being transformed by the implanting of a cochlear … and as I write this I love the idea of ‘planting’ because that is what it is.

    Have a lovely weekend. And thank you for this lovely post.

    • I saw that praying mantis–so tiny on your key ring. I couldn’t find it until I followed your directions about where to look. I feel like that sometimes. Small, fragile, and praying. The woman who made the beaded butterfly pin had never created a butterfly before. I don’t know here, but my artist friend does. The artist got every detail, all in tiny beads. It’s exquisite. I leave it on my altar when I’m not wearing it.

      I love thinking of this surgery as a planting. I hadn’t thought of that, but of course! An inward planting. I hope I qualify. It will be months before I know and then I may wait because winter driving will be upon us and the hospital is two hours from me in a place with lots of snow from one of the large Great Lakes. Vic had his stem cell transplant in that hospital in January and it snowed every day. One step at a time. First the testing.

  3. Sitting here in Lancaster,England,looking out of the window on this autumnal morning . For some inexplicable reason there are about a dozen seagulls flying up and down our street, along with a couple of magpies and crows . The world can be so beautifully mysterious when we remember to look . Then I read your posting and remembered a poem with butterflies. I’s good to hear your reflections. Best Wishes Gary

    Ask and you shall receive. (26/5/2018)

    This vessel is older than the world
    it waits
    for you
    to hear
    the whisper

    In a cave far away
    deep inside
    in dust and debris

    A jar
    bigger than a man
    cracked and chipped
    made from the clay
    of the earth

    Remove the lid
    see the sounds
    touch the words
    sparking like stars

    reach in and hold
    these words
    dancing in your hand

    throw them to the sky
    and watch them
    carress the winds
    like butterflies

    • Thank you for the poem, Gary. It’s exquisite. Are you the author? I assume so. Wow!! Such a magical inward journey for the treasure of those dancing words.

      My fields are being cut which means it’s time to fill the bird feeders and watch the winter birds. There were too many squirrels eating and storing the seeds, and I didn’t want them moving into my cellar, so the feeders have been empty a few months. Out my windows, I see large black crows having a small convention. I’ve seen more majestic red-tailed hawks this season than I have in a large time. There are many seagulls a few miles from here on the lake, but not on my land. We don’t have magpies in this part of the United States.

      • Hi Elaine, Yes it is one of my poems, I’m glad you liked it. The place you live sounds like a very blessed place, thanks for the things you share. Best Wishes Gary

        • It’s exquisite, Gary. Always good to ask and challenge our assumptions. I just re-read and love the sense of inner listening for the whisper within the silence.

  4. Dear Elaine, I so enjoy your soul work and sharing this to confirm the synchronicities of life. Through you I’ve met another gift on this path of transforming power that Mother Earth has to offer. The Butterfiy has been a symbol for me over the past few years. Life has brought forth many trials, the hanging on as the caterpillar often does, clinging and pushing its way to anew. Upon recognition of its small self, it becomes a truer form of beauty. What was once inside has come out to provide certainty in uncertain times.

    My dreams have lead me through my own inner transforming with the help of my spiritual director who also serves as my therapist. I walk and am in nature, a lot. For the longest time I was followed and visited by the smallest white and yellow butterflies. Now, this late in the season your story reminds me of my own meeting, I’ve been visited by several monarchs most recently and one 2 days ago, on Halloween. Much to my surprise however a beautiful reminder that my work is never done, it’s a long life process of seeking and paying attention.

    Your story, in my inbox this morning was yet another synchronistic moment. I shared with my spiritual director that I believe my spirit animal is a butterfly. Thank you for reminding me of the path, the journey, of reconstructing and transforming my own life.

    I’m a Hospice Social Worker, I was having lunch a few weeks back while working at one of our inpatient units in our lunch room gazing out the window at a large construction site. Much to my surprise out of the mess and rubble, I saw a beautiful monarch floating back and forth as if to say, hey look at me, this, too is your life’s path. Reconstructing my inner life, as messy as the inner and outer world may be, the butterfly reminds me of a quote by Maya Angelou “we delight in the beauty of the butterfly but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty”. Bless you on this current path and contracting a new way to hear, your sight and soul are doing some amazing work.

    • Renee, your waking experience of the construction site and monarch reminds me of my dreams. I dream of construction sites inside and outside the house–and now the Monarchs are beginning to appear. In the past, there have been other guiding animals. When the bluebirds arrive in March, I’ll be fascinated by them. There is so much beauty in this world–and so much pain.

      I love the way the caterpillar hangs on in your life and mine. I love watching them move from one leaf to the next, carefully getting a grip with many feet before letting go of where they’ve been. Slow careful transformation. And the chrysalis seems even slower although magic is happening inside. I don’t know where you live, but I have many small yellow and white butterflies, the first to arrive each season and the last to disappear. They flit and move with such speed that I rarely get a photograph. I’m glad you have someone who can share inner worlds and dreams with you. It helps to have a companion on the path. My post was supposed to go out Tuesday night, but there was some computer chaos with the program that mails the blog to subscribers–and while I fretted, you received it at the time you needed it. Another lesson for me in patience. Thank you for the Maya Angelou quote. It’s one I love, and I’m glad to be reminded.

      Since you saw a Monarch on Halloween, you might enjoy this magical video of the Day of the Dead (today in Mexico) celebration when the Monarchs return to their small wintering site in the Mexican Mountains. It’s under 4 minutes. Nov. 1 is the Day of the Innocents. Nov. 2 is the Day of the Dead. The video is like a beautiful dream.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SMvE2uaqhV4

      • Thank you, I will watch, listen and pay attention to the video, I do love this type work albeit not always easy but I’ve learned to welcome and the fruit does appear in due season. I live in Lexington, KY, and we are in the midst of real change; from political chaos to fall foliage, cool temps, falling back as our time changes and nature tucking herself away. Many blessings to you.

  5. You mingle the physical, spiritual, and natural so beautifullyl in your posts. During these tumultuous times, you are writing to heal, your soul and those of your readers.

    Thank you for posting pictures of the caterpillar and butterflies. I’ve seen some of them on Facebook. Here you’ve given them a meaningful context of synchronicity and dream interpretation. The beaded Monarch pin is indeed exquisite and will carry you as victor through what comes next. I love the idea of Monarch as migrants ~ and to Mexico of all places. Ha!s

    I rejoice with you at the prospect of a cochlear implant. I see so many signs pointing in that direction. Yes, the ear test is one I hope you won’t pass.

    What surprising gifts have come my way? There is consensus among readers about my title choice on this week’s blog post. It was a little scary to make a final decision, but I can’t move forward without a firm title.

    Blessings upon you as you continue to write and maybe even grab a paintbrush to express the poetic power of transformation you’ve witnessed.

    • I’ll read your blog tonight and put in my vote. “I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date.”

      I love the caterpillars and butterflies as you know. I also love the idea of monarchs as migrants. No wall will stop them, although climate change might. At a time when so much of nature is under stress, the monarchs have increased in the northeastern US, just like the bluebirds were saved a few years back when DDT was outlawed. I’m still swirling with the butterfly heading at me through the window. It jars me when such a thing happens.

      The weather has been drab and photography feels less inspiring, but I see some reds trying to emerge, including ripening red raspberries. In November? It’s a strange season. This week I wished the red-tailed hawks would fly closer for a better photo.

      My book title fell into place fairly easily after the book was written and I had a publisher. I had names and words spread out on counters and tables and then it felt clear. That’s it! You can trust your intuition on this one (but it’s also nice to ask your friends and I did that, too).

  6. Butterflies are free and flying to Mexico, where I look forward to joining them this winter. Beautiful post Elaine. I know the rhetoric is alarming and disheartening. Let us pray for next Tuesday for law and order to begin. 🙂

    • Yes, prayers for the Monarchs and prayers for democracy in this country. I’m glad you’ll be in warmth again this winter, probably a long distance from the Monarchs, but in the same country. I think, no matter what happens in this election, we have more disruption ahead and I hope healing. When such darkness is released, it leaves deep wounds.

  7. Hello Elaine,
    Thank you for sharing some beautiful snapshots of your “slow, careful transformation… with all the magic that is happening inside.” Those words make me think about what will be happening with your cochlear implant, hopefully before too long. May you fail the hearing test with great joy and continue to swirl with amazement at the butterfly heading at you through the window.

    • Thanks for your good words and wishes, Anne. I begin the testing after Thanksgiving and then my doctors will submit results to the insurance company which, unfortunately, has the last word except for the wealthy who can pay out of pocket. I’m hopeful and moving ahead with the small amount of correctable hearing remaining in one ear. It still feels surreal to lose my hearing since no one in my family was deaf–but then Vic’s cancer felt surreal. Our egos easily forget how temporary these bodies are.

      I’m obviously enamored with Monarchs. I’m now trying to learn something about the indigenous pre-Hispanice rituals, but so far I’m not coming up with much information. On Nov. 2, the Day of the Dead, I saw a Monarch on the trail. A thrill of the sighting as the straggler lifted to the sky mixed with the stab of knowing it hatched too late for the migration, either on my land or somewhere north and traveling through. They need to be out of here before mid October. It was a warm day, but there are no flowers left in the brown fields for nectar and the wind was strong from the south so it couldn’t ride the wind to a warmer place. It floated away on those orange wings, but not before I had a fantasy of mailing it overnight express to Texas. Ah, Nature, you can be so cruel.

  8. Your words, “Our egos easily forget how temporary these bodies are,” resonated with me. I recently hit the one year mark since I was diagnosed with a chronic illness, and I am becoming increasingly aware of the additional suffering created by my ego’s sense that “this can’t be me.” I remind myself over and over again that all bodies age and die, and this particular body-mind with which my ego is identified is doing it in this particular fashion.

    Your sighting of the Monarch straggler is certainly another reminder of impermanence. I love the “both and” with which you held it. And the thought of you fantasizing about mailing it overnight express to Texas made me smile.

    • The butterfly soared away. If I could have caught it, I might have mailed it. Companies mail live butterflies overnight express all the time. People release them for weddings, I’ve heard. I might have… I wasn’t given the chance.

      I’m sorry you’re struggling physically. I know how much this links with our psychological suffering. I get, “This can’t be me.” And yet it is. These bodies find unique ways to crumble. Deafness isn’t the worst. It doesn’t cause pain. I’m grateful for that each day. Hearing loss began for me about 20 years ago, so I should be used to this by now, but it goes in stages with new noises in the ears warning of new losses. Each loss requires an adjustment and modification in what I can and can’t do. My “go to Italy” money goes to updating hearing aids. I lost the joy of music a long time ago and that’s one of the hardest losses. Hard to grieve or dance without music. Now, it’s about hanging on to verbal communication and being able to give a talk or a workshop. I’m stumbling along hoping that cochlear implant is approved. And my dreams promise transformation. As always, I’ll see what happens next.

  9. How is it possible your post slipped by me? Perhaps because I wasn’t ready to fully absorb its message. The word synchronicity keeps popping into my life, the word, not so much the concept. I struggled before your post with distinguishing it from serendipity. Read the definitions; still, it escaped me. Now I am clear. Intention, purpose, higher power, message: none of these are present with serendipity, which has more of the accidental to it. It is a strange, rainy, overcast day filled with gloom. I am heartened to know our Monarchs are safely on their way south.

    • Janet, there’s a lot going on in our world and our lives. It’s a wonder we ever catch up with each other or ourselves. Thanks for staying tuned about Monarchs. Today I spoke with my therapist about yet another Monarch dream and I understand that, for me, they’re Bringers of Joy as well as many other things. An antidote to depression and grief. Today, I felt the word Joy and wanted more of it. That means more Monarchs and milkweed next season.

      The key feature of synchronicity is meaning. When people told Vic about synchronicity experiences (they often did because it was the topic of his first book), he invariably asked, “What does it mean?” or “What did it mean to you?” or “What was the message coming through?” Sometimes we don’t know immediately, but have a feeling that we want to know or must know. We often have experiences of oh-wow serendipity, but with synchronicity, the unconscious is trying to make an important point and change our perspective. There’s a sense of being touched or blessed or in contact with my higher self. If you want more information, you can read this article Vic published in Quest Magazine in 1996 called “The Challenge of Synchronicity.” http://www.vicmansfield.com/jungian-psychology/the-challenge-of-synchronicity/ The last story is about him–and us. (Not anonymous anymore.)

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