A Unique Learning About Power

Ten-year old Ann is playing outside on her family’s patio. There’s a bush at the edge of the patio with a funny-looking hanging sack attached to it. Ann watches as the sack seems to swing back and forth on the branch.

After some time, the sack breaks off the limb and falls on the patio, rolling and jumping about on the slate. Ann stoops to look at the fallen sack. Then she runs purposefully into the house . . . and a minute later back out onto the patio with a pair of scissors in her hand. Ann picks up the sack, holds it gently, and begins to carefully cut open the sack length-wise. When the opening she makes spreads wide, out flies a beautiful creature, deep orange in color with black markings. Working its wings, it rises in the air, as though taking off, and then . . . crashes to the ground.

A look of horror on her face, Ann starts screaming for her mother. “Mommy! Mommy!” she shrieks, “come help me.”

Her mother races out to the patio, scared that Ann is hurt, to find Ann safe and sound, though sobbing, and a beautiful butterfly dead on the patio. Taking her daughter into her arms, Ann’s mother looks around and sees the butterfly, the sack with its opening, and the scissors.

Mom calms Ann, “It’s okay, sweetheart. I see what happened. With your big heart, you thought whoever was inside the cocoon was trapped inside and was struggling to get out. You didn’t want to see it suffering, so you found a way to help it out. But there’s an important thing you didn’t know – all that movement of the sack is really the way the butterfly strengthens its wings so it has the ability to fly and sustain its flight. When you cut open the cocoon to free it, you actually interrupted its strengthening exercises. That’s why it crashed to the ground … its wings just weren’t ready.

Ann relaxed a bit into her mother’s comforting arms in response to her calm voice, her understanding what happened, and her knowing that Ann didn’t hurt the butterfly on purpose. Still crying, though, Ann looked at her mom and moaned, “But I killed the butterfly, Mommy!”

Her parent acknowledged, “Yes, the butterfly is dead, sweetheart. But you didn’t mean to hurt it. You didn’t mean to kill it. You didn’t understand. It was an accident. What if you tell the butterfly that you’re sorry . . . and then you and I will bury it?”

“Okay, Mommy. Come with me?” Ann climbed out of her mom’s lap and went over to the butterfly. She lay on her belly on the patio with her eyes very close to the butterfly. “I’m so sorry, beautiful butterfly. I thought you were trapped. I thought you were trying to get out. I felt so sad for you. I wanted to help you get free. I didn’t know what was really happening. I really didn’t know you would die. I won’t do that ever again. I promise.”

Ann and her mom buried the butterfly, said a prayer for it, and sat together in silence for a bit before going hand-in-hand back into the house to prepare for dinner.

**********************

Living in today’s culture, in which people are so afraid of feelings, sadly the usual response to other people is the equivalent of cutting open the cocoon.

Are you like Ann? Do you feel such compassion for the struggling and suffering of people in pain that, without realizing it, you do something to stop their pain . . . and in so doing, interfere with the development of their deep strength?

Sometimes the best use of our power is to be silent and still. . . and to allow what is occurring to unfold naturally. This is true with butterflies. This is true with midwives assisting in a birth. This is true with our journeys of healing and becoming our deepest selves.

It takes being able to go through your own pain. It takes being able to utilize your pain for healing and growing. It takes trust, and being able to take leap after leap of faith . . . in behalf of yourself, in behalf of others, and in behalf of our world!

NOTE : I heard this story years ago. I don’t know who first wrote it or told it. Whoever that was, I give them thanks.

© Copyright 2009 by Judith Barr, MS, LMHC, therapist in Brookfield, Connecticut. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Grace

    Grace

    August 28th, 2009 at 4:27 PM

    This is a beautiful story. It actually brought a tear to my eye and reminded me of a story from my childhood very similar to this little girl’s. It really does seem like we as a society have a great fear of feeling, whether it’s happy or sad or whatever, we try so hard to dull down our feelings about ourselves and others however we can, recently it seems like medication is the big thing. No one wants to feel anymore, so they get a doctors note.

  • Lacey

    Lacey

    August 28th, 2009 at 4:55 PM

    I’m a compassionate person and do my best to help people when I see them hurting. I never considered that it could be interfering with what they needed to do for themselves, at their own pace.

    Thank you for the food for thought Judith.

  • Amy

    Amy

    August 29th, 2009 at 4:12 PM

    That is a beautiful story. sharing with everyone that I know so that the circle of learning a powerful lesosn will continue even for people who are not reading on this site.

  • themuse

    themuse

    August 30th, 2009 at 12:36 PM

    This story makes me wonder how often I’ve hurt when I intended to heal… I’ll think before I speak more now.

  • Brandi

    Brandi

    August 30th, 2009 at 9:41 PM

    oh my goodness that made me fill up. I wish silence came easily to me. Thanks for sharing the story Judith.

  • Jonathan

    Jonathan

    August 31st, 2009 at 1:41 AM

    this was the most awesome revelation about the misuse of power I’ve read. I think misplaced charity is just that – misplaced.

  • Kylie

    Kylie

    September 1st, 2009 at 4:11 AM

    I wish I didnt know that one. I dont know whether I totally agree with that. I think helping people is a far better thing to do than sit back and watch them struggle. Yes it becomes a double-edged sword but I am still a giver.

  • Seth

    Seth

    September 2nd, 2009 at 4:47 AM

    Good article!! Power is such a complex thing. I dont think I know anyone including myself who doesnt like to enjoy the power of exercising their opinion.

  • Judith Barr

    Judith Barr

    September 3rd, 2009 at 8:03 AM

    Thank you all for your insightful and enheartening comments in response to this article. So true, that often when we try to “help” we end up hurting…and I am so glad to hear that it sparked insights in each of you and inspired you to keep this in your mind and heart while helping those in your lives!

  • Judith Barr

    Judith Barr

    September 4th, 2009 at 5:45 PM

    To Kylie: Being “a giver” is a wonderful thing and the compassion you have for others is touching!
    Sometimes, though, in helping others in struggles they need to undergo (particularly struggles of the heart and mind,) we can actually be preventing them from growing and transforming in ways that can be beneficial for them. Another example could be a parent, who, rather than guiding a child through a difficult homework assignment and giving them the support and assistance they need, will actually do the homework for them. It is often similar when we see or experience another in emotional pain: rather than being a support and guide in his/her time of healing, we may (from a fear of what his/her pain brings up in ourselves) attempt to immediately “relieve” the pain by teaching him/her to “manage” or “control” the painful feelings, or to distract him/her from the feelings, or, in extreme cases, advise him/her to medicate the feelings away. Much like the child who hadn’t done his/her homework, who has learned nothing and will now have to struggle twice as hard in school, this person now has healed nothing, and will have to struggle twice as hard to manage these feelings as they rise again and again. . . until they are finally brought to the time of healing. Hope this helps you in becoming an even better “giver”!

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