Cultivating a Garden for the Elusive Extraordinary

I recently dropped by someone’s house where I encountered something very special. From the exterior, the house was typical for the area: fresh paint, nice lawn. On the inside all was in order, well decorated, calm colors…. There was an entry hall to the living room, an adjoining kitchen and dining room, a hallway leading to the bedrooms, etc.  Also typical for this style of house was a sliding glass door in the dining area that led to a nice sized fenced-in backyard. And this is where things got interesting…..

As I looked out into the backyard, I didn’t see the well-manicured lawn with accompanying outdoor dining furniture on the patio as I expected. Instead, much of the space was taken over by large patches of various combinations of rather wild and unruly plants…some being about 2 meters tall. The plants weren’t vegetables. Many of the them did have simple blooms, but they weren’t exactly organized for a floral display…Had this couple just “forgotten” to take care of their backyard?

The woman of the house noticed me staring through the sliding glass and said, “Oh yes…that’s my husband’s butterfly garden.”

“A butterfly garden?” I responded

“Yes….he planted specific plants in the backyard that will attract the butterflies of this region….the kinds of plants where they prefer to lay their eggs and where the caterpillars that are hatched will eventually spin cocoons and emerge as butterflies themselves. Don’t ask me any more than that…..that’s all I know”

Then I began to notice them – several butterflies fluttering about from plant to plant. Within the next few minutes, I counted about 5 monarch-types and three other smaller varieties. The more I gazed out the window, the more sensitive I became to spotting them among the blooms and springtime foliage .

ButterflyWhat a beautiful thing! I pondered this for the rest of the afternoon…..The gardener purposefully cultivated a garden that attracts a wide variety of these most curious, mysterious and beautiful creatures….butterflies….THE essential metaphor of metamorphosis…..change from the inside out. It’s brilliant! And all it took was a patch of dirt hidden within a typical neighborhood, a little research and a bit of gardening – et voilà…butterflies! Not at all rocket science.

My pondering continued….what an example for the rest of life! Shouldn’t we be able to cultivate a small patch of ground within our lives where beauty and mystery would enjoy coming for a visit….and even laying their eggs? And what would that kind of space look like? Like my friend’s butterfly garden, this would also take a bit of research and some gardening.

Externally, This touches on the space where we live:  design, wall and fabric colors, fresh flowers, real art on the walls, weeding out the clutter, simplicity, etc.

But also, internally….what would it take to create an interior soul space where butterflies fluttered about on a regular basis?

  • First of all, some of us need to find the soil. This space in our lives is so grown over it could take a massive effort, to chop back all of the distractions, busyness, negative habits, past traumas and future worries. Again I quote John O’Donohue quoting Meister Eckhart….”So, there’s a place within you where no one has ever got to – or damaged, and that’s the ground of your soul. There in that place, you have confidence, complete poise, courage, elegance and complete tranquility.”  This “ground” is the place we need to find and uncover within ourselves and, with God’s help, start living from that place.
  • Secondly, we need to learn about the plants that attract the butterflies that we want. As for myself, I want to plant things like: peacefulness, thankfulness, faithfulness,  goodness, kindness, patience, creativity, love, grace, etc.
  • Now we must plant these things into real life. But how do we do this? Two things: First we must find regular time for our souls….time of quietness, meditation, prayer, reflection. Then, we must choose to plant these seeds through out the day. Seizing tiny moments to scatter tiny seeds. When you see something beautiful, stop and enjoy it for a moment. When something small happens for which you are thankful, then say it…express your thanks. When you face the clear decision to be kind to someone or gruff, simply be kind. When temptation arises, choose faithfulness. When you meet someone who needs to talk, just listen.
  • Continue to plant and cultivate. One thing is for sure. This interior gardening takes continual work. It is not decided upon and implemented in one day like a business transaction. It takes practice. And as the word practice implies, the more you do it the more natural it becomes.

Tbutterflyhe payoff is the presence of butterflies. If we do the preparatory work, they will appear…..     so look for them. Remember, however, that butterflies are elusive…there one minute and   gone  the next….they are delicate and fragile, we can’t grab them.  We are not talking about materialism here: cars, houses and bling…..Instead, it’s the deep interior stuff that makes      life beautiful, joyful, peaceful, graceful….that makes life enjoyable….that makes life worth living. We too can experience metamorphosis.

Oh, one other thing. We won’t be able to control all the butterflies that come our way. They can easily fly over the fence into the neighbor’s yard and down the street among the shops. In the same way, others will enjoy the butterflies we cultivate in our soul space…                                   But after all, isn’t that what it’s all about?