Imagine you are in a small clearing surrounded by three trees. These tall, massive, ancient trees have thick trunks with large, dark hollows and deep crevices. They are not imposing or intimidating to you, though, here in the center of the clearing, where you are on your back in a comfortable, soft patch of grass and wildflowers. You have no allergies today, and the temperature is perfect.
You were attracted to this patch by a butterfly you saw flitting around, who came to land in this clearing. As there was a perfect combination of a warm– but not hot– sun, filtered through branches so it won’t burn you, and a cool– but not cold– breeze, you decided to stop for a moment to catch your breath and maybe find a little peace here, in this perfect little place, sheltered from everything, and naturally calming.
You sit down in a patch free of bugs, animals, even dirt, on a soft grass that feels almost like fur. As you recline you feel yourself sinking further and further into the cushion of these springy, forgiving plants, knowing they will spring back up as though you were never here as soon as you stand and go on about your life
Not now though. For the next thirty minutes, you have nowhere to go and nothing to do. For the next thirty minutes, you have no one you have to be, no roles to play or obligations to fill, aside from being the recipient of breath and peace.
As you’re debating whether or not you want your arms out to the side or if you’d be more comfortable with them crossed on your belly, you notice a spider come out of the dark crevices of one of the trees, the one with broad, wide shiny green leaves, like a mulberry, but impossibly old, thickly girded with former sprout-lings that long-ago intertwined around its trunk. You are not pleased, as you have a bit of a fear of spiders, but you think it will not come far enough to bother you.
You ignore the spider and get back to placing your hands on your belly (starting to feel the need to be close in, now that you’ve seen the spider.) In fact, now that you’ve seen the spider, you’ve noticed a bee buzzing around one of the other trees, something that looks like an oak. Although you aren’t allergic to wildflowers today, you begin to doubt that extends to your bee allergy. Still though, too far away to be a problem, and besides, bees are only a threat if they feel threatened themselves. It could be worse: it could be a wasp.
You have not noticed, here in this clearing, that you are now distracted, both by your surroundings and your racing mind, which is now making a list of why bees are cool but wasps are the devil incarnate.
You close your eyes. You take a deep breath. You feel something land on your hand.
You sit upright, scream a little, and waggle your hand trying to get whatever may or may not be unpleasantly squishable to relocate. Then you remember your training from childhood and try to be cool, in case it’s our honey bee friend. (Partly because of their rapid population decline and partly so you don’t get stung and maybe die.)
You look down and see it isn’t a bee. It’s the butterfly you followed into the clearing. And it is not interested in shooing. It stays affixed to your hand.
You decide to ignore the butterfly and lie back down. You close your eyes.
You open your eyes again, tilt your head until you can look down at your hands, and continue to stare at the butterfly. It stares back.
It can’t really stare back, actually, but it has huge eyes on its wings. It is slowly opening and closing its wings in the strange way landed butterflies do, that slow, hypnotic alternating movement. Open. Close. Inhale, Exhale, you think. You close your eyes. Your breathing slows.
You hear a buzzing. Not a friendly honey bee buzzing either. You could ignore it, but instead your brain strains to determine what it is and where it’s coming from. Your breath becomes rapid and shaky. You open your eyes and sit back up.
The last tree looks like a eucalyptus tree. Its leaves are fragrant, even from your distance, and keep triggering memories of cough medicines and allergy ointments from the past. It’s distracting, but that’s not what is bothering you right now. Right now, you can’t help but notice the wasps nest. You begin to calculate the distance of the tree, the likelihood of harm, and as you do the nest gets angrier, more frenzied, and the number of visible wasps increases.
As you start to debate your perfect little spot, you notice that maybe your grass isn’t quite so comfy. Maybe there’s a rock, or root under there somewhere. You squirm a bit, causing your butterfly to start flitting about. As your eyes follow it you notice another two spiders coming out of the tree you’ve decided to label mulberry. As you waffle between determination and resignation, you notice two more bees are playing with the original friendly Mr. Honey Bee.
Your butterfly lands back on your hand. You are hesitant to abandon your newfound friend to these hazards. You lie back down.
The threat is distant. Your calm breath returns. You close your eyes.
You hear a buzzing, closer than expected. You jerk your hand involuntarily, dislodging your butterfly friend. You open your eyes, but see that the bee is still far off, and your butterfly lands back down immediately. You look at each other, eye-to-wing-eye.
You close your eyes and try to rest. You hear wasps, getting closer. You crack open one eye, wary but calm after the bee freak out, not wanting to scare your butterfly friend. The wasps are flying high overhead and although loud and annoying, not a threat. You return to your breath. As you close your eyes, your butterfly is calmly opening and closing its wings.
You feel something on your leg. You crack open one eye. It’s a spider. You are deathly afraid of spiders. You freeze in terror.
You hear more bees. They seem closer now. You can’t turn to look at them and you don’t know how close they are. Your butterfly, sensing your paralysis, gets worried, and begins to walk along your skin. It is walking toward the spider. You are worried. The bees are getting louder, and your butterfly begins to flit around a bit from chest to belly, shoulder to arm, and back. You don’t want your butterfly, with whom you’ve recently bonded, to fly into what sounds like a swarm of bees just a few feet away.
You take a deep breath and try to ignore the sensation.
Now there are three spiders. And they are all crawling on your skin. One is near your neck. One on your ankle. The other on your thumb.
You take a deep breath. Ignoring doesn’t work. You try to change the sensation to a tickle, imagining that you are feeling kitten whiskers or somethingelseohnoisthatanotherspider…
Your butterfly is scrambling across your hand, agitated.
You take a deep breath. Changing it into something it wasn’t didn’t work. You take another breath and accept that there are spiders. You might even get bit. They aren’t anything poisonous, and you aren’t allergic. You accept that there are spiders and decide to pay more attention to the bees instead. They sound closer, and if your butterfly takes off, it might fly straight into a swarm. You try to recall any factoids you might possess about what happens in a butterfly vs. bee combat situation but are distracted once again by the wasps nest, which seems to be getting more active.
You return your focus to the bees, trying to think of a way to twist around without upsetting the butterfly or making the spiders bite you. You realize you can’t. Although, if they aren’t right in front of you right now, you reason, maybe they aren’t really an issue.
It suddenly occurs to you that the only way to get out of this might be to lie still and just breathe until the bees go away.
You look at your butterfly as it’s wing-eyes wink at you in agreement. As it opens and closes its wings, you draw your attention away from the scratchy-itchy sensation of spider legs (now down to two from three.) You notice you breath syncing up with the timing of the opening and closing of wings. What itching remains reminds you of the sensation of the butterfly on the back of your hands, folded again across your belly, and you find curiosity rising up.
This is not the intellectual curiosity of a scientist, trying to determine the species of butterfly or calculate the distance between butterfly and spider. It is the playful curiosity of a child, discovering a world around him or her for the first time. You begin to compare and contrast the sensations of spider and butterfly, neither one greater than or less than. You notice that one feels heavier, but only slightly, and scratchier, but only slightly. Sometimes it is almost impossible to tell how slightly unless you really focus…
You realize suddenly you haven’t heard buzzing in quite some time. You can’t investigate that now, however, because only one spider is left. Since spider number two wandered off you realize that your time to fully experience the difference between butterfly feet and spider feet is nearly over and you want to savor the moment.
Eventually your spider wanders off, and it’s just you and your butterfly. You consider opening your eyes, but it doesn’t seem worth it. You reach your ears out to your surroundings and note that there isn’t a hint of a buzz, only the rustling of leaf-waves you’d forgotten about. You imagine that your butterfly friend is still in time with your breath. You vaguely recall that you’re not allergic to bees, it was your cousin, and you just thought you were too because you were only four when she got stung, and you got confused. It arises not as a thought, but as a balloon, floating wordlessly up and then, not popping, but almost indiscernibly dissolving as soon as it arrives.
As you hear the leaves blowing in the light wind, softly and gently, you discern the difference between the different types of tree leaves. You detect the scent of bay leaf and realize you’d mistaken the leaves of the eucalyptus and just thought you smelled it. Isn’t is funny how memories and perceptions can go so wobbly? Your brain momentarily shimmies, trying to determine which tree is making which noise based on deducing the surface area and shape of each leaf, until you realize how utterly you don’t care right now. Perhaps there’ll be time for that later, after the listening. You take another deep breath.
You lay there, on that soft, fuzzy grass, in that perfect weather, listening to the cool– but not cold– breeze in this perfect little place, sheltered from everything, and naturally calming. You feel yourself sinking further and further into the cushion of these springy, forgiving plants, knowing they will spring back up as though you were never here as soon as you stand and go on about your life.
Not now though. For the next three minutes, you have nowhere to go and nothing to do. For the next three minutes, you have no one you have to be, no roles to play or obligations to fill aside from being the recipient of breath and peace.
(You’ll have to try again tomorrow.)