Beyond belief

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I have fairies at the bottom of my garden.

No, I haven’t lost the plot. Yes, they do look rather like bees, bugs and butterflies. Outwardly at least. But actually, in the reality I have chosen for them, they are fairies. They are creatures of earthly impossibility. Creations, it seems, designed almost to prove that the impossible is possible… and its unlikely realisation a truly magical and beautiful thing.

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I wrote about butterflies once, how their journey through life, from mobile stomach to beauty incarnate, speaks to me of our own journey and the transformations we undergo as we travel through the changing landscape of the years. You could be forgiven, musing on a summer day, enveloped by the warm-honey fragrance of a buddleia covered in their painted delicacy, for wondering if their mere existence serves a higher purpose… that of simply Being There, to make us think and ponder, to allow us to wonder… or just to celebrate Beauty in life.

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Bees, now, they are a different kettle of fish. Symbolically they have been of incredible importance to our race throughout history and across the globe. From the symbol of Merovingian kingship to that of the Mother Goddess, from a creature that bridges the worlds to a symbol of industry in this one… we have seen in their lives a reflection of so many facets of our own.

They are objects of fear to many people. Irrational, perhaps, but to those with a fear or phobia, that doesn’t matter. The reaction is deep and instinctive. Bees, of course, are armed with a sting, and honey bees will defend their hive…they seldom use it otherwise. But to most of us they are busy little things, critical to the planet’s survival and the pollination of flowers, buzzing through a summer’s day collecting the raw materials of life, and, in the case of honey bees, transforming them into liquid sunlight.

Have you watched the furry little body of a bumblebee struggle to take flight, pouches so heavily laden with its burden that it seems impossible that it can achieve lift off? Yet it does. Have you considered the aerodynamics… or lack of them… of that rotund form and the tiny wings? Have you heard the story that aerodynamically their flight is impossible? It isn’t, of course. How can it be? They fly.

garden 2012 006I’m no more an aerodynamicist than the majority of us, but even without the equations and ratios it is fairly obvious they shouldn’t be able to fly. Watching them reminds me of the depictions of the bird-men with their homemade wings, flapping in hopeful futility on a cliff edge. Yet these little creatures fly. It is true, you sometimes see them really struggle, so much they have stuffed into their pouches, so heavy the burdens they have chosen to carry, but they fly nonetheless.

Science informs us, quite coldly, that in order to achieve this seemingly impossible feat, bees beat their wings around 200 times a second. I looked it up. Wiki says: “Their thorax muscles do not expand and contract on each nerve firing but rather vibrate like a plucked rubber band. This is efficient, since it lets the system consisting of muscle and wing operate at its resonant frequency, leading to low energy consumption. Further, it is necessary, since nerves cannot fire 200 times per second.”

‘Efficient’… of course. That’s okay, science says so.

Really????P1120064Think about that for a moment. Can you even conceive of ‘200 times a second’? And for a biological organism….for a fellow creature… to operate at this speed? If you are trying to get your mind round this figure… as I did… it is possibly best if I don’t mention the annoying little midges we swat away that beat their wings at over a thousand times a second….…..!!!

We are constantly surrounded by concrete fact that we simply accept as the norm, yet a moment to really look at the unthinkable, incredible reality of, say, a neural message in your own body travelling at 120 metres per second as you read this, a mother waking before a child cries several rooms away, the navigation of migrating birds or the oak tree waiting in an acorn… suddenly the world is a place of wonder.

If a miracle can be defined as ‘a highly improbable or extraordinary event, development, or accomplishment’ then we are surrounded by them. .. we are even one of them…And for something to be truly impossible it is going to have to try very, very hard….

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P1120129‘Which is the greater blessing,’ someone once asked, ‘to have the sublime unity of God to centre and save the universe? Or to have the concrete immensity of the universe by which to undergo and touch God?’ Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

In many cultures the butterfly has been seen as the symbol of the soul. It is, in many ways, an excellent analogy, and no less so for being much used. From the earthbound caterpillar that munches its way through the garden, feeding the physical body by consuming its environment, much as we do with the emotional, intellectual and sensory input we receive, to the imperative that sets it to build the cocoon. It does not know what is coming, but it has no choice. It is a change of state that is inevitable… like death… and the small, soft body responds to the inner command, building a place in which, to all intents and purposes, it will dissolve into its component parts, becoming nothing at all like the caterpillar… yet the essence, the life force that animates those glorious wings and takes flight above the earth, is the same. What was the caterpillar becomes the butterfly… they are the same creature, but wholly different in their appearance, their abilities and their goals.

Can it feel, in some vague, instinctive way, that inner call? That desire to fuel transformation through its environment? Is the squishy little body aware at some level of what is to come? Does it glimpse a passing butterfly and yearn for wings and a reflection of that beauty? Does it recognise something akin to its own nature in the glorious creature that flutters around it? Maybe it recognises at some deeper level that this is its kin, its parent… the one who laid the egg from which, long ago, the caterpillar emerged. Or is it simply consumed by the desire and need to consume?

Why caterpillars anyway? Why not just lay eggs that become butterflies? I do not know, but I have thought about it a fair bit… my mind wanders down some odd pathways sometimes. I think it is about the fuel. The butterfly is already inherent in the caterpillar, yet the mechanics and beauty, the colour and complexity of the design takes a lot of creating. Think of trying to make a caterpillar… even from clay. It is a simple design… simply a mobile feeding tube. In terms of engineering it is quite basic… and its functions are minimal. Now, try sculpting that butterfly… and make it a working model.  The time, effort and energy to do so is far greater. So I think that is why caterpillars. A neat package… a simple egg, that hatches to feed and grow itself, learning its environment, consuming it, experiencing it and carrying the programming to make the butterfly itself once it has grown enough, fed enough, matured enough….

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It follows the dictates of its own nature and, by obeying the inner imperative, is transformed, in one of the most incredible moments of glory, into sheer beauty, taking flight under the summer sun.

As an analogy, I’m not sure we can beat it.

We are not so much different, I feel. Though how you interpret that depends upon your own perspective, of course. We do consume our environment, taking in all the stimuli and information in our need to grow, both in time and in understanding. And there is that odd nagging set of questions about the why of it all.

It is a touchy subject this, this debate around the nature of the world and our spiritual place and purpose within it. Or should it be, its spiritual purpose around us? Many, possibly all those amongst us who seek, have asked so many why’s and probably each of us has come up with different answers. That’s fine, and, I feel, as it should be. The relationship in which we see ourselves with however we conceive of Divinity… even if we reject the very concept… is, and should be, a personal one.

Some feel the world should be overcome… that we should be able to transcend its call, its desires, the flesh itself. Some feel no call to another level of being… they are here, now and that is all that matters. Some see the world as an expression of the Being of the One and thus see all as sacred, even our faults and flaws part of a higher purpose.

But regardless of our beliefs, or the way they shape us all, the inevitability of that moment of transformation we call death awaits us all. As we approach that inescapable leveller where king and pauper are alike, we have only our beliefs and hopes and that still, small voice that whispers within. Do we simply return the elements of our physical bodies to the earth and cease to be? Are our hopes of survival merely fears of annihilation? Are we nothing more than a body? Am ‘I’, are ‘you’ just this flesh? Is there more to being who we are than appears when we look in the mirror? Or is there within us the butterfly waiting to emerge, nourished by the experience of living, fed by what we have consumed in life, awaiting that transcendent moment of dissolution and transformation when we fly free?

Me, I’m with the butterflies.

butterflies 025First published August 2013