BUTTERFLY MEDICINE / The Art of Patience
By Tara O’Grady
Today I watched birds land on my new bird feeder. I did nothing else. I didn’t even shower. I haven’t seen anyone in days, not even the mail carrier. Being isolated like this during a global pandemic in the winter months makes me wonder about scientists in remote northern posts, and widows on rural farms, and monks in monasteries, and astronauts in space, and anyone who is mostly alone and doing the same tasks day in and day out.
I am waiting for this crisis to be over, waiting to shake someone’s hand or kiss them on the cheek, waiting for when I can perform in front of a live audience again and go back to work. I feel like I am waiting for Godot.
I’ve always been an impatient person, but ever since the world shut down I discovered the secret to getting through this ordeal – bird watching. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Adopt the pace of nature: Her secret is patience.”
This discovery did not come overnight. When the pandemic began last spring, I lost all my gigs and had to stay inside because I caught the dreaded virus. During quarantine, a band member mailed me a box of live caterpillars. The directions in the kit explained that these five creatures were going to morph into glorious butterflies. Over the course of three weeks, as I nurtured my own well being, I watched and waited for my butterflies to be born. When they suddenly emerged from their cocoons, I began to share my oranges and bananas with them. As a non-pet owner it was marvelous to have other living beings in my dwelling besides plants. They brought me comfort and joy, and I was both excited and disappointed to let them fly off into the uncertain world. But there was so much more for me to explore beyond things with wings.
Over these many months I have made myself aware of the cycles of the moon. I delight in each lunar phase and journal how my energy and emotions react to its changes. The other night I anticipated the moonrise as others might watch a sunset. It was the full Wolf Moon of January. It rose in the sky like a bubble in an ocean of shy stars. The light from the moonglow was brighter than any streetlamp and it painted long diagonal shadows across the snow. The naked trees stood in a cold silhouette bathing in this light that is often ignored or unseen due to modern distraction.
Many of us feel impatient waiting for vaccines and for life to return to some sense of normalcy and familiarity. Impatience leads to stress, stress leads to anxiety, and anxiety leads to suffering. We’ve suffered enough. It has been a challenging year for everyone. But learning the art of patience is the way forward. And like any art form or skill, it requires development. I’ve been developing this skill for almost a year now, and I’m actually getting good at it. I know this because I feel peaceful watching the birds at my feeder. Waiting with purpose and witnessing the unfolding of life, that’s my new occupation. Slowing down and surrendering to time, there is power in that. There is power in nature. I have adopted her pace, the pace of patience.