Girl with the Butterfly Tattoo
enclosure, magnification, emergence
It’s been a while. You might not even remember who I am or what Spirit is about. That’s okay. There’s a lot of noise out there, and our email inboxes get too full too fast. I started Spirit because I wanted to share ways that I cultivate mindfulness to live a more spirit-filled existence, which nourishes my writing life and inspires my creativity. Contemplative spiritual practices, like meditation and journaling, sustain my ability to be a writer.
I write memoir. I run Writers’ Studio, a donation-based creative writing education center. My day job is teaching English at Del Mar College. I’m the girl with a butterfly tattoo (more on that later).
I’ve just finished a period of incubation. I spent the last few months making the final manuscript edits on my first book, What Will Outlast Me? (Unsolicited Press 2023). Periods of retreat from the world and time in solitude are vital but hard to honor in our culture. To have the time and mental energy to devote to my book, I cut myself off from social media, and said “no” to everything I could (and felt like Emily Dickenson who said, “Don’t you know that ‘NO’ is the wildest world we consign to Language?”).
Everything in creation has cycles.
“It’s natural and normal to sometimes be in a state of taking in, sometimes putting out, sometimes producing, sometimes incubating. These cycles are baked into nature itself,” writes novelist Jeff Vandermeer in Booklife.
This mirrors Carol Lee Flinders’s discussion of mystics like Julian of Norwich and Teresa of Avila when she describes having “undergone that three-phase cycle of enclosure, magnification, and emergence, and she has learned to trust it” (from At the Root of This Longing: Reconciling a Spiritual Hunger and a Feminist Thirst).
The archetypal image for this transformative cycle is the butterfly. In my early twenties, just before I quit a fundamental Christian college to transfer into a creative writing program, I got a butterfly tattoo on my bicep. At the time, I was transfixed by the butterfly parable from Nikos Kazantzakis’s Zorba the Greek. The narrator stumbles upon a butterfly just emerging from its chrysalis. He wants to hurry the process up, so he blows his warm breath over the butterfly, hoping to dry its wings so it will take off in flight more quickly. He’s horrified when his plan backfires and the butterfly emerges with a bloated abdomen, weak spindly wings, and soon dies. The butterfly must strengthen its wings by fighting its way out of the cocoon, I thought back then, in a what-doesn’t-kill-you-makes-you-stronger mentality). But as I reread the passage again, I realized I’d missed a nuance to it. “What it needed was to ripen and unfold patiently in sunlight,” the narrator says. I forget this. Sometimes my writing needs more time to germinate and ripen than I’d like. (I worked on this book for 9 years before I was offered a publication contract). But now, I trust the process more. As Kazantzakis reminds us, “One’s duty is confidently to follow nature’s everlasting rhythm.” Creative work has its own rhythm too.
It’s not a simple thing to attune myself to cycles like this. It’s a slippery balancing act between work and rest in which patience, persistence, and perfectionism battle. It’s learning when to blow hot breath over a project hoping to bring it to life and knowing when to just lay down and sunbathe for a while.
Have you ever enclosed yourself to incubate something? Have you ever felt stuck within a cycle? Do you find your creative rhythms sync up with the seasons?
I’d love to hear about your experiences.
Do you know someone who would like Spirit? Pass it along, please.