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Butterfly At Rest

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By Alyce Barry

When I think about my totems, it seems to me that some of them are so symbolic of the work I have to do in this lifetime that they will be with me my entire lifetime.

My lifetime totems include spider — a powerful totem for a writer who wants to weave a web for the reader to fall into — and squirrel, who helps me be prepared by storing nuts of wisdom for later. (Squirrel must be the one who's helping me deposit money for emergencies in a savings account!)

I've come to believe that other totems appear when I need to learn what they teach.

During the six years I lived in Colorado, I saw a lot of eagles, particularly when I lived in a little town called Lyons in the foothills of the Rockies. I learned a lot from eagles about soaring and reaching my most spiritual places, nearest the sun. An eagle means to me I will be put to the test, and if I succeed, how I will love to coast down from the heights I'm capable of reaching.

Eagle helped me imagine achieving great success with the book I was writing that became Practically Shameless. I often needed that high-flying idealism to keep going with what was a far more difficult task than I'd imagined.

Then I lived in the town of Longmont for three years, where I rarely saw eagles but saw dozens of turkey vultures on an almost daily basis because they nested in a large tree a block from my house. I learned a lot from turkey vultures about making do with what I had. It happened twice that a turkey vulture swooped in front of my car as I was driving to the store to buy something which, upon receiving this message, I realized I didn't need.


Since returning to Illinois last year, I've seen a lot of butterflies.

Several weeks ago, I was at the health club, on the walking track, letting my heart cool down from an aerobics class. I paused beside the track to stretch my legs and look out the window.

I noticed a large butterfly on the branch of a nearby tree. As I watched, it flew toward me and landed on the windowsill outside, where it stayed for at least three minutes. I don't think I'd ever seen a butterfly sit still that long before. It faced into the breeze, hardly moving its wings, which were pale yellow with blue spheres along the bottom.

Normally when I see a butterfly, the words that come to mind are, "You will be transformed." A butterfly is a symbol of transformation because it goes through multiple stages, from egg to larva to cocoon to butterfly, a thing of beauty and grace.

I had a close encounter with a butterfly in 2004. while living in a neighborhood in northeast Boulder, Colorado, called Gunbarrel.

It was morning, and I'd already been up for several hours writing. I wasn't sure of myself or the direction I was going with the book. I wanted guidance and felt a bit desperate.

I went for a walk, as I often do when I want guidance, believing the Divine will send me messages via animals and birds.

As I walked toward the trail that leads up Gunbarrel Hill, I asked silently for a particular message.

"Please send me a hawk," I asked, "if I'm going in the wrong direction." Hawk symbolizes a messenger telling us to pay attention.

I continued walking, with my eyes upward, scanning the skies for any sign of a hawk. The Boulder area is a great place for spotting hawks, they seem to be everywhere.

But I didn't see a hawk. Instead, as I walked along, a large butterfly flew toward me. It flew all the way around me in a circle, and then flew away.

I had asked for a judgment — "You're doing it wrong" — and had instead been given a blessing — "You will be transformed." I stopped walking and stood and cried for a moment.

Although it would be four more years before I finished and published the book, I already knew that the process would grow me, though I didn't know how much. That's probably a good thing: if I'd known what lay ahead, I might not have had the courage to move forward. There were many stretches of time when I did more Shadow Work® than writing because writing such a personal book brought up pretty much every issue in my life.


As I think about the butterfly I saw at the health club, I am struck by the fact that the butterfly was at rest, as if enjoying the breeze, and for what seemed like a relatively long time.

From this butterfly sighting, I take a slightly different message: "You will be transformed, and you can rest along the way." At the time I was pushing myself really hard and not getting enough rest. As a result, I'd been sick a few times.

My life's become very full with caring for my elderly mother. I can't say I do Shadow Work® with her, so that's another way in which I'm a butterfly at rest. I do sometimes use the shame-lifters that we use with clients. And I help her figure out what she wants and, occasionally, what's at risk for her to get it.

Lately she's been pushing me away in an unconscious way, and pushing away others as well. Maybe she, too, is letting her wings rest in order to prepare for the flights of angels that will sing her to her rest.

She's been more independent. So it's a good time for me to focus on getting more rest. Because who knows when the next butterfly will fly rapidly by.


Alyce Barry is a Certified Shadow Work® Group Facilitator and Coach in Evanston, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. She is the author of Practically Shameless, on's Bestseller list of books about Jungian psychology for more than a year. The book is available in paperback and on audio CD. Read more about Alyce.

This article originally appeared in our free email newsletter in August 2010. To subscribe, visit our subscription page.

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