How to Rescue a Butterfly





butterflies[This post was inspired by a recent dream.]

In my dream, I was traveling with two women somewhere out in nature, we could have been in Yellowstone National Park. We paused at one of the turn-outs to take in the beauty and get some fresh air. I looked over the concrete barrier down towards a tranquil stream. I noticed a gigantic (I don’t just mean huge, I mean, larger than your face) butterfly beating its wings frantically, but going nowhere.

I mentioned this to my two friends – “Look, there’s a butterfly trapped down there! Somehow the tip of its wing is stuck under one of the rocks. We need to save it!” I briefly discussed with the friend to my right how it’s even possible for a butterfly to get a rock stuck on its wing. We came to the conclusion that the swift moving water, and the series of rapids was probably enough momentum to dislodge a rock, and the butterfly just happened to be flying low enough in the exact moment the rock stopped moving to get trapped.

I turned to ask the friend on my left what she thought, and saw that she had climbed over the concrete barrier, and was bouncing down the embankment to the stream. I watched her jump across boulders to rescue this large and precious butterfly. She carefully picked up the rock and the butterfly graciously and gratefully flew away.

But what does it mean?
When I woke up after this dream, I was overcome with emotion. Oftentimes I associate myself with the symbolism of a butterfly, and I felt grateful that at times when I feel low, I have friends who are willing to rescue me. Sometimes removing a rock or a burden can happen in an instant – a positive conversation or a heartfelt hug. For me, personally, lately the ‘rescuing of the butterfly’ has come in the form of validation, acceptance, support, and encouragement from those who have often seen more in me than I was currently seeing in myself.

The symbolism of the dream seemed pretty obvious – hey, we should be grateful to our friends who are willing to help ease our burdens, who remind us that we ought to be free to fly… who can see us in our time of need, and rescue us – even if it’s just reminding us that if we keep beating our wings against the rock, we could cause serious injury. (Believe me, I could go on and on with different interpretations of the meaning behind this dream… but I won’t because if you are reading this, you are capable of doing that yourself.)

But what does it REALLY mean?
Now, you might think that’s a sweet little story, kinda cute, and maybe even a little bit cliche – but it doesn’t end there. A few days later, I was thinking about this dream, and I wondered why I didn’t go rescue the butterfly. In the dream, I was always sitting… sitting in between these two friends. And guess what – I was paralyzed from the waist down. I couldn’t move. I could not have gotten up, crawled over the barrier, down the embankment, etc. because I WAS THE TRAPPED BUTTERFLY.

The dream took on a new level of meaning for me. I couldn’t have saved that butterfly! In fact, the true significance of the message was to recognize that the butterfly (me) needed saving! But, from what? I stopped to ponder why I felt trapped, what was weighing so heavy on me?

And this is where things got really interesting for me.

I was feeling weighed down by my attachment to the outcome of certain situations. I felt heavy and burdened because I was buying into the idea that I needed to do it all, be everything to everyone, be the leader, and the drill sergeant, and the hall monitor. I was willingly dragging other people’s burdens behind me like a bag of rocks and I hadn’t been able to see what it was doing to my Spirit.

Was I really trapped? Did I really need anyone else to SAVE me? Nope. Not at all. Through my dream I was revealing a truth to myself – that I needed to release myself from my own attachments to just about everything… everything that is not in my control to influence, persuade, convince, affect, change… And as I applied this new insight to my life, I instantly felt lighter – free to fly.

What weighs YOU down?
And now I ask you – what weighs you down? What keeps you feeling trapped, stuck, heavy? In what ways do you perceive you need to be rescued, when what you might need is simply a paradigm shift?

by Janet Louise Stephenson

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Cellulite is Beautiful






cellulite-is-the-new-blackIf you’re like most women and maybe even many men, you cringed or scoffed — or both — when you read the title of this post. After all, cellulite is supposed to be unattractive. The cosmetic companies certainly want you to believe that, so they can sell you creams to combat it. And you know the fitness industry makes a bundle off promoting the image that it’s undesirable. Even your besties might tell you it’s gross. Almost everyone thinks it is. But have you ever really thought about where that belief came from?

If this is the first time you’re considering this, your immediate reaction might be that you’ve always known that cellulite was undesirable. But how did you know it? Were you born with the certain knowledge that dimpled fat was not only ugly but somehow wrong? Or did that information come from your mother, grandmother, sister, father, brother, friends, billboards, the Internet, radio or TV? Chances are very good that it was from a combination of any or all of these, and probably other sources as well.

It might interest you to know that people didn’t always view fat this way. Hundreds of years ago, it was actually a sign of wealth to be heavy. In a world where food was scarce for many, you had to have a good amount of money to be what we now consider overweight. Because of this, being skinny was a sign that you were poor, and having ample weight was definitely a sign of your social status. So how did we get to the belief that women being thin is pretty (a rather frivolous view, since world hunger is rampant) and that cellulite is ugly? Especially considering that you don’t just get cellulite from being overweight: hormones, genetics, standing for long periods of time or even too-tight underwear that blocks blood flow to the legs can cause it. (And let’s be clear here: I’m not advocating obesity or being unhealthful. But even that’s subject to perception. I’m reminded of a documentary I saw once about a dance troupe of women who were all in the 250-to-450-pound range. They danced five nights a week and watched what they ate, yet none of them lost any significant weight over the months they spent practicing for their recital. So clearly not everyone is fat because of poor diet and lack of exercise.)

The point I’m making is that we often take on other people’s perceptions, whether they’re about cellulite or virtually anything else you can think of. When you really think about it, how many of your beliefs and perceptions came from conclusions you arrived at on your own? There’s certainly nothing wrong with getting input from others; that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m just suggesting that if you absorbed your beliefs about cellulite without questioning them, what else might you have taken on without giving it much thought?

By: Stephanie Stacies

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How Bias Affects Our Choices





Gershwin-quoteWe may think that our beliefs are based on solid facts and reason, but, in the words of George Gershwin’s old song, “It ain’t necessarily so.” The way our minds work actually limits our ability to discern the truth or make rational decisions. Psychologists have been studying the way we think for many years, and have identified several biases that cause this.

Prejudices and preconceptions
We all tend to pick and choose information that supports our prejudices and preconceptions while ignoring a heap of evidence to the contrary. Right or wrong, climate change deniers provide the most obvious example today, focusing on a tiny minority of expert opinion and brushing aside the overwhelming consensus of climate scientists. Similarly, most of us don’t listen carefully to politicians’ speeches or analyze their policies in detail. Instead we pick up the fragments of information that reinforce our party preference.

This “confirmation bias” even penetrates scientific thinking. For instance, the evidence for the reality of paranormal phenomena is far stronger than the evidence for the effectiveness of many pharmaceutical drugs. And yet most scientists reject out of hand any suggestion that psychic abilities are real because they don’t believe they’re possible. In less-dramatic ways, confirmation bias distorts our thinking and decisions about many aspects of life. Despite my high level of education and career as an academic, I frequently catch myself doing this.

The attraction effect
Another source of bias in our thinking is the “attraction effect.” Imagine you’re comparing smart phone options, and are drawn to the cheaper Basic contract rather than the more expensive Advanced one because it meets your needs adequately. Now suppose that you’ve been offered a third Luxury alternative that costs more but provides no more benefits than the Advanced contract. Research shows that the presence of this third option increases the probability that you’ll choose the Advanced contract. One possible explanation is that the Luxury option makes it easier to justify your choice by claiming you’ve got a bargain — perhaps our decisions are normally biased towards ones we can easily justify rather than what is best for us?

The framing effect
Three decades ago, a third type of bias was identified. The “framing effect” leads us to make choices depending on how the information is presented. In one classic experiment, people were asked to imagine an outbreak of disease threatening a village of 600 people. Plan A would definitely save 200 lives, whereas Plan B would have a 1 in 3 chance of saving An example of how bias affects rational thinking everyone, and a 2 in 3 chance of saving no one.

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Suicide Questions





live-and-let-liveTragedy struck close to home this week with the painful announcement that a family member of a close friend had committed suicide. At times like these, being empathic feels more like a curse than a blessing. I feel acutely the agony of those he left behind — his wife, his daughters, his parents, and all those who loved him. In their struggle to understand the journey that led him to make this fateful choice, they lean on their faith, which is now amplified by the hope of forgiveness, redemption, and a merciful God.

I want so badly to tap them on the shoulder and politely interrupt their mourning to ask them if they would like some insight into this man.
I wonder if it would provide relief or more turmoil for them to know that their beloved did not share the family’s religious views; that he only pretended to because it was easier for him than facing their condemnation. I wonder if the slightest bit of Unconditional Love — the kind that is not predicated on the fulfillment of a pre-defined role or maintaining a certain set of religious standards — might have given him hope to continue living.

Though his family ponders why he would choose to take his own life, I do not. I understand very clearly the depths of his despair. The fear of his family’s alienation kept him trapped.  He spent his whole life struggling to reconcile the glimpses of his inner knowing with the doctrine that was shoved down his throat. He was expected to swallow every bit of the dogma whether he enjoyed it or not, with no consideration for his own personal preferences.
Yes, I understand the torment of a deeply spiritual man who never felt free enough to explore outside of ‘the box’. I do, however, have an entirely different set of questions:

·    How often within the family unit, does one member suffer silently, fearing the judgment and persecution of those  who claim to love her/him the most?
·    When did our culture start withdrawing love and acceptance as a means of punishing the dissenters?
·    Why is the fear of disapproval so much stronger than the courage it takes to trust our own feelings?
·    Why should anyone feel the need to hide their true self? Especially from their loved ones?
·    Do parents and family members understand how damning their condescension and criticism feels? Do they care?
·    Why does it take something as drastic as a suicide for others to consider an alternate, compassionate approach?
·    Is it possible to prevent others from making a similar choice?
·    What would it take?

When I look at this situation, my heart aches for every person who is affected by his death. The loss of a father, son, brother, and friend is tremendous — and when you add the weight of confusion and guilt, the burden may be quite difficult to bear. We can all stand to learn from their experience.

If you recognize yourself as one who is trapped, I am grateful you are reading this. You need to know that you are not alone. Your thoughts and ideas have a basis outside of the limited trappings of religion and you are valued for your uniqueness. There are others who deeply empathize with you and are willing to offer you encouragement and support as you build up courage to acknowledge your truth.

And for the rest of us — we can do more to reach out to those who feel isolated within their own circle of family and friends. Let us extend unconditional love and acceptance to everyone. I invite you to co-create an environment of safety and trust, so that our friends and family members have full confidence they can explore their own questions without fear of condemnation or any kind of repercussion.

by Janet Louise Stephenson

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