I’ve collected them over many years, so there are a lot of them crammed in that box up there.
They flap their wings to try to get my attention.
They all have a voice and are always talking to me.
They tell me stories of the past, stories they have told me so many times before.
They sound so familiar I forget their voices are not my own.
Sometimes they ask questions about the future.
“What will happen?”
"What if this doesn’t work out?”
“What will you do?”
“What if you can’t cope?”
Some of the oldest ones with tattered wings can seem quite mean.
“You should have tried harder.”
“You should know better.”
“You should have everything sorted by now,” they tell me.
But I remember they are just telling me old stories they heard from other people a long time ago.
Sometimes to get my attention some will squeeze out of the box in my head and into my throat or into my chest or my stomach.
My throat will feel tight, I will feel a pressure in my chest, and my stomach will feel uncomfortable, but still, I forget that I have a box of butterflies in my head, so I try to ignore the sensations or push them away... but this only makes them worse.
When I have forgotten, I want to get away from their constant voices, but the more I try to ignore them, or tell them to be quiet, the louder they get.
Then I do remember that even if I can’t control the sensations or voices, I can control my arms and legs, no matter how I feel or what the voices say.
I realise the voices get louder and the sensations are at their worst when I haven’t been doing the things I care about.
Instead, I’ve been listening to the voices, arguing with them, trying to solve their problems, trying to find a solution to every question or concern.
I remember that some problems don’t have answers.
I move my legs and grab my coat and go for a walk, I take some deep breaths of fresh air, and gradually I become aware of the rhythmic pattern of my feet on the well-worn path.
The box in my mind slowly starts to open, and the butterflies stream out, scattering in all directions, up, down, all around.
Some fly high up into the sky, I look up and notice the beautiful shade of blue and spot a tiny glint of silver as an aeroplane passes far overhead.
I notice the shapes and textures of the clouds and two dandelion clocks as they drift by on invisible currents.
I feel the warm embrace of the evening sun and the gentle breeze as it tenderly brushes my cheek and plays with my hair.
I remember times as a child where I wouldn’t have thought twice about just laying on the grass and watching the clouds pass by.
As I look for more of my butterflies I notice the wind ruffling the long grass, I hear a distant train passing by and see a small bird darting for cover in the hedgerow as other birds chatter.
Feeling rebellious I lay down on the path, a few butterflies return and flutter around my head “what will people think,” they whisper “if they see a grown woman laying on the path,” the thought makes me laugh, and I don’t care, while my butterflies are spreading their wings I feel a spaciousness, a glimpse of childhood innocence, a tiny bit of daring of “so what.”
I lay there, letting the Earth support me, watching the clouds drift by, and listening to the sounds that surround me.
Standing back up I see a cloud in the distance that looks like it has been smudged, below it hangs a rainbow of rain.
A small white butterfly returns to me:
“How many moments like this have you missed,” it says
I thank it for its message because I know it is only trying to help me, it just wanted to be noticed and heard, because I acknowledge it ’s free to leave again. Its job is done.
I know that as I return home my butterflies will come with me because I am their home.
They are part of me.
They are my history.
I know they have my best interests at heart and are only trying to protect me and keep me safe.
I know their chatter is only stories, only language.
It’s just when I forget they are only words and pictures, or when I forget they are part of me that they start to struggle and I struggle.
I know I will forget again, this is just the game we play.
To forget and wake up, forget and wake up.
I only wake up when their voices get louder and busier when they get restless when I realise I am wrestling with the sensations or words they tell me.
I wake up and remember it’s time to take action instead.
To be in my body, to be fully present.
To be kind and gentle with myself on this journey.
Then the box in my mind opens, and they can fly free.
I am no longer in the past or future, I am just here, now, in the present precious moment.
In this moment, I remember who I am, I am a whole human, I am not just the stories that the butterflies tell me or the sensations they create.
I am so much more than the box of butterflies I keep in my head.
As precious as they are they are only a tiny part of me.
I always have choices I can make about where I want to go, the person I want to be the path I choose to take.
I am the keeper of the butterflies, they are not the keeper of me.