A number of years ago, my family and I visited the Boston Science museum and spent some time in their wonderful butterfly garden. While there is much to see and do inside, the highlight of the visit is the chance to have a butterfly land on your hand, head or shoulder.
What made the whole thing so fascinating to me was noticing the different strategies people employed in an attempt to get the butterflies to land on them. Some would chase the butterflies around the garden, perhaps in hopes of catching one and placing it on their shoulder long enough for a picture to be snapped and a memory to be created. Others seemed to be determined to get through the garden as pure observers, without ever having to touch or be touched by what it was they were observing.
The most successful group by far were those who did their best to connect with the world around them — that is, to stand relatively still in and among the flowers and enjoy the beauty all around them while waiting for a butterfly to grace them with a landing.
The nature of the transformative coaching work that I do is based on facilitating insights — those wonderful “aha” moments when you are able to see something about yourself, your work or your life in a whole new way. People often call these “light bulb moments,” because we see things in a new light that allows us to handle them with greater ease and grace than we could even moments before.
These are the insights which let us see straight through our problems until suddenly, we know what to do and our next action becomes crystal clear. Metaphorically, they’re the moments where the “snake” becomes a piece of rope and the “Wicked Witch of the West” goes back to just being an annoying neighbor named Almira Gulch.
In the years I’ve been doing this work, I’ve noticed that insights are a lot like butterflies — while there are things you can do to make them more or less likely, it’s ultimately not up to us when they land.
- If you try to chase them through meditations, exercises, brainstorming and other forms of “figuring it all out,” the activity in your head seems as likely to scare them away as draw them near.
- If you try to ignore your own wisdom and only learn through books, teachers and other forms of other people’s insight, you are very likely to succeed — at confusing yourself in a myriad of conflicting ideas about what it “really” takes to be happy and successful.
- If you are willing to simply enjoy spending time “in the garden” — the quiet, reflective state of mind that occurs naturally for most of us while standing in the shower, watching the sunset, or lying in bed on a weekend morning, insights will often show up and land with a grace that takes us straight into a quiet knowing and a deeper feeling.
Sometimes it’s hard not to chase after an insight, especially when the answers you’re seeking seem to always be just out of reach. But as Franz Kafka said, no doubt in a moment of quiet contemplation:
You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait. Do not even wait, be quite still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked. It has no choice. It will roll in ecstasy at your feet.
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