Interpretation of the Tale of the Butterfly

For those of you who read my recent post "The Tale of the Butterfly," the following is a breakdown of that spiritual allegory. Of course, if you liked reading it the way it was and don't want this added layer of intellectualism, then don't read this. Here's a link to some sweet sound healing instead.

Lost in Illusion
We meet out heroine, the butterfly, lost in illusion. At its core, this is the state that most of humanity is in. The butterfly is so lost to illusion that it's impossible for her to realize that she is not a bee or that there is another way of living other than the way that she is currently living. And yet, this life makes her miserable. She's terrible at it, but she struggles to continue doing it. In a deeper way, this is her gift. Because she doesn't like where she's at, she is more likely to accept a chance to be different. For people who are not only lost in the illusion, but feel that they're good at "making honey," they are even less likely to break-free of the hive and their lives.

So, here is one of those important themes in a lot of people's awakening experiences: pain. The butterfly's pain is part of what will help her to let go of her current life and to embrace a new one.

The Turning Point: The First Meeting with the Beloved
The butterfly's meeting with another butterfly is a turning point. It's that point in our lives when either we realize that something is wrong or something in life shakes us up. She denies the truth told to her by the other butterfly, who is acting in the image of the beloved. The Sufi master, Rumi, talks about the beloved and lover, and here I'm using this in a physical sense. Later in the tale, I move this imagery into the more subtle and therefore, truer sense. So our protagonist is enamored with the other butterfly and his beauty. But she is so lost in delusion and denial that she can't even admit this to herself. She can't even speak to him, and if he doesn't engage her, then she'd actually have missed this opportunity. The fact that he does engage with her is the element of grace that works in her life. Sometimes in our lives, grace comes and gives us an opportunity that we could not have consciously created. On a deeper level, we create most of the things that come to us in this lifetime (I'm not a big fan of believing that we create everything--I think that's too ego-centric of an idea). So, the subconscious level of the butterfly is already trying to break her out of her illusions, hence the dreams she has at night. In that way, a part of her would have been trying to draw out the beloved.

For most of us, we need an external representation of the beloved because our delusion is so bad that the understanding that we hold both the lover and the beloved within us is beyond our current grasp. So too, the butterfly draws in her beloved as another butterfly, and of course, she isn't ready for him. Many of you who have written to me have talked about meeting a significant other whom you weren't ready for. You turned him or her away to stay with the relationship that you currently have or to stay single. You probably had lots of rational reasons. The butterfly's reasoning is that this other butterfly is frivolous and stupid, but all he's done is to reveal truth. In this way, many people turn away from truth because they are lost to delusion and can't even acknowledge truth. She's quite rude about it, and later on in the story, she obviously regrets it, as she seeks him out.

The Misery Grows Heavier
Yet, this initial connection isn't enough, so she continues with her life. But a part of her has been activated by the beloved. This may be like when some of you have met a soulmate. A part of you that has been dormant is now ignited. You can't ignore it, and that ignited part draws energy away from all the things that you are doing that are not true to you. In this case, it's the butterfly's work and living situation. It seems outwardly absurd for a butterfly to be trying to be a bee living the life that she's trying to live, but that's the power of metaphor and allegory. So many people in life are trying to do things they don't love because they're just trying to make their honey or should I point it out more and say "make money." It's why the question of "What would you do if money was not an object?" is such a powerful one. Money is, however, one of several reasons that people stay in miserable situations that don't honor them.

The butterfly still won't take ownership of her life, so life takes ownership of her. She gets sent away from the hive, which in the external world looks like a cataclysm. On the spiritual level, it's actually her very first triumph. But she doesn't know it yet, which is why she tries to go back to that lifestyle again and again. We all have done this, have we not? We are such creatures of habit that we can't imagine that we could live a different way. The other bees she meets are even more confused by why she'd want to work and live with bees, so she doesn't get another chance to live in another hive. This too is yet another triumph, as her life is being transformed for her. This is another act of grace that helps create more misery to force her to the moment of truth.

The Illusion Breaks and the Second Meeting with the Beloved
The clear pond is the clear sight of living in the real world. The butterfly has finally been forced to stop moving. That's why a meditation practice is so powerful for all of us. It's us voluntarily stopping the outward movement to cultivate this clear sight. She doesn't know what's happening initially, but she's in awe of how perfect everything is through the lens of the clear pond--through the lens of true sight and seeing things as they truly are. This is the start of a profound opening, and for many people, they get stuck here. When she looks at her reflection--which is the image of the true self--a couple of important things happen all at once. For one, she's meeting herself and seeing herself as she truly is. Secondly, this is a meeting with the beloved in a deeper way. The image of her beloved is no longer being projected on another, and as she reaches out to it, we have the diminishing distance between the fullness of her self. Her two halves are coming together on one level. In another way, she's transcending duality. The separation dissolves into oneness with the realization of who she truly is. She's a butterfly.

The Search for the Teacher
What follows after that is the classic flailing of the untamed mind and the remaining old ego. Having done no preparation for the spiritual path, the butterfly thinks she needs someone to teach her how to be what she already is. She immediately presumes that the other butterfly would know, and perhaps he would. But now, he's no longer the image of the beloved. He's the projected image of her own truth and inner teacher. So she goes on her quest for the teacher.

This has probably happened for a number of you who try to get back that relationship or situation that you could not handle before. Perhaps you can connect with it again. Perhaps not. A lot of times, these things serve a one-time only purpose, and when you find a beloved again, suddenly, they're not the image of perfection you thought they were. You may suddenly find out that you don't even like them. A lot of things may happen, and in this case, the butterfly's quest is a failure. On the level of the beloved, she's already merged together. There's no outward beloved to connect with again in the way that a part of her intellectual programming thinks she needs to. What she needs is the teacher, but also not in the way that she thinks she needs it.

In the quest, I'm also making fun of the gurus who live in caves, mountaintops, and ashrams in one of the sentences. You get the sense of the ardent devotee searching high and low, and she doesn't like what she finds or can't find what she thinks she wants. Her mind is fixated on the image of the other butterfly, and until she gives up and lets go, she's not ready to meet the teacher. In truth, she doesn't even really know what he looks like, and her image--her mental container for what a spiritual teacher is--is too small. When she does let go, her container can expand, and she can meet the teacher in the form of the toad.

The Master Speaks When the Student Is Ready to Listen
The toad can only appear when the student has burned out the external world focus, or if the teacher is going to preliminarily help someone, then that teacher helps the student burn out that focus until the student can truly listen and be present to what's important. Most students still think that spirituality is out there even if they intellectually understand that all their knowledge and everything of the most important nature is already within. Once the butterfly has gone through this phase, she can meet the teacher, and the teacher can tell the student that there's nothing to search for and nothing to do. The toad tells the butterfly that being a butterfly has nothing to do with doing anything. Now because she's finally willing to let go, she can hear this and embrace the truth. She is now ready to accept being, and she knows that there is nothing to accomplish to become a butterfly. It is what she already is.

From the reader's point of view, this seems like an obvious thing, right? Of course you don't have to do anything to be a butterfly, but I have to do something to become a doctor. Certainly, outward professions require training, but if you are truly a healer, that's something you already are. That's what you've been doing in your own way from playing pretend doctor as a kid to helping putting bandages on your siblings knees from playing too hard. From this standpoint, what this tale is also talking about are the core archetypes that we naturally hold that are part of our gifts to share in this world.

Back to the story, the toad leaves to find more food and nourishment. The idea here is that the toad is only interested in things that nourish it. On a deeper level, that nourishment is also love, truth, and wisdom. The toad isn't seeking as such; it has nothing it needs to gain. But it is engaged with the world, which is why it goes on looking for more nourishment to sustain it. What the toad doesn't do is go seeking experiences or getting involved in things that don't nourish it. That's an important distinction to understand about the spiritual teacher. The teacher has cultivated his or her awareness to know what nourishes and what does not nourish him or herself, which are the next steps of the butterfly's path of self-realization.

Embracing the Fullness of Being
The last phase of the butterfly's growth in this tale (there are other phases; perhaps I'll write some more stories like this if people like them) sees her embracing her natural talents and who she is. Things are initially difficult because she has not cultivated these things, and that happens for a lot of people who have to overcome the inertia of their lives. They've spent so much time living one way that they don't how to live in tune with themselves. Your story may require more time to learn how to fully "open your wings," but in this story, it happens very rapidly. From that, she finds the joy in the fullness of being who she is, and she realizes that no one can tell her who she is. In this last part, this is when we fully connect with our inner truth. In that connection, we can never been shaken. While things may be difficult or pleasant in life, we know who and what we are. And that's a powerful place to take action in the world through as well as a profound place of being that allows us to be as we are.

At last, the butterfly knows who she is and can fully live her life. The illusory separation between herself and her beloved has dissolved, and she has achieved the internal oneness. Now she can fly anywhere she chooses. What a beautiful thing to be able to do. Such a natural thing to be able to do all in accepting herself just as she is.

I hope you enjoyed the story. Feel free to leave comments and questions if something arises for you.


  1. thanks for the story and all. its a process am going through in my life. i realize i am not comfortable. God bless .

  2. Thank you for your site, I have been reading your articles frequently these days and find great comfort in them. They are the best written online by far.
    This story speaks to me in a couple of ways. I was adopted as an infant, and for me, finding my own way without the genetic benefits was a unique way to travel and feel confident in finding a path to actualize. Growing up and finding myself was I think an arduous but, knowing what and who I am had been intuited
    and acted upon, but while trying to satisfy external ideas of who I should be became a very confusing, demoralizing, full of failure, misfit years.
    Not until recently at 39, have I begun to live and express my integrity as a unified unified process that has few to no second guesses. I feel a great weight lifted and less going against the stream of my life. I'm within it now.. I feel able to go for what I want and in my own time frame as never before. And I know I will have a degree of success internally no matter how the external outcome may differ.

  3. Beautifully clarified. Interestingly, I did not realize that I had met the 'someone' you described until you mentioned Soul Mate. I met him online and he changed my entire life and then we separated. I am now in the continual learning and growing phase. It feels great when an epiphany occurs every now and then. Thanks for your insights.


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