What is not flighty but soars? You, Poetry Slow Down Listeners! 

 “Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.” Kahil Gibran

“I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life, as by the obstacles overcome whilst trying to succeed.” Booker T. Washington

“However great the hardship pursue with firmness the happy ending” The Tirukkural

“If you’re going through hell, keep going!” Winston Churchill

“You cannot teach a man anything, you can only help him learn it within himself” Galileo

“Making miracles is hard work, most people give up before they happen” Sheryl Crow

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted” Aesop

 “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the human eye” Antoine de Saint-Exupery

“Everyone thinks of changing the world but no one thinks of changing himself.” Leo Tolstoy

“Now I become myself, it’s taken many years and places, I have been dissolved and shaken, worn other people’s faces” May Sarton

“The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind.” William James

“A man is but a product of his thoughts; what he thinks, that he becomes.” Mohandas K. Gandhi

“I dwell in Possibility,” Emily Dickinson,

 And this is Professor Barbara Mossberg, Hail, Evolving citizenry! You have alighted at the Poetry Slow Down, in our grove of poetry, the news-we-need-in-our-civic ethos.You are an amazing community of our airwaves, O Flight of Listeners, making time in your hurtling day to slow down with poetry, and so gracious, writing me. This is dedicated to Krishna, on her birthday today. So in response to your mail, our show today continues my and your thinking onYour Inner Butterfly, including excerpts from my Chautauqua Address for the City of Pacific Grove, California, aka Butterfly Town USA and our show September 25 2011.

 The epigraphs to our show today, a hodge-podge of global cultural icons whose words have changed the world—imagine this dinner party, around the table Winston Churchill, Kahil Gibran, Booker T. Washington, Sheryl Crow, Galileo, Antoine Saint-Exupury, Gandhi, May Sarton, Aesop, Tolstoy, William James. Each bon mot expresses what I think of as butterfly knowledge. Artist, statesman, philosopher, poet, scientist, saint: the distinctions blur, overlap, fuse, as we see a common interdisciplinary set of observations on the work of becoming. 

Each by itself is an observation in worlds seemingly unrelated, not in the same conversation. But taken together, shaken and stirred, a blended recognition of our lives as journey, of struggle not only in our lives, I think, but defining our lives—known as pain, obstacles, change, being dissolved and shaken, altered lives and minds, becoming, invisibility, as some of our greatest and most enduring thinkers on earth express their own headline news: This is the poetry sound track of being human.

 Aristotle once said: In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous. We should venture on the study of every kind of animal . . . for each and all will reveal to us something natural and something beautiful.” We’ve been talking about butterflies these days, in honor of their incredible desire and ability to migrate thousands of miles—straight here to us on California’s Central Coast. If we consider the butterfly as a marvelous example we can learn from, we see the most improbable story of apparent incoherence and powerlessness—and then miraculous change that occurs from within.

I cannot think of an example of a creature on earth that works so hard at transformation . . . except maybe us, in ways poetry brings to light. Poetry, the language of slowing down, of expressing understanding in terms of other things, the relation of things that don’t seem related—metaphor—analogy—trying to turn thinking inside out, hang upside down, slow down to a stop, seem obscure, give language to thought in its most raw and wild state of knowing and unknowing, as we learn by unlearning, dismantling what we know to construct a new form of knowing. It makes sense, then, to me, that when scientists who were working on emergence theory, called chaos or complexity theory, from multiple ways of knowing, agreed that in such an interdependent earth system, dynamical, any initial force or energy remarkably perturbs and disturbs and changes the system, no matter how seemingly small. When scientists sought a way to explain this phenomenon to the public us, of a little going a long way, of the slightest initial action causing momentous changes over time and space, they called it The Butterfly Effect.


The anthem in the emergent science community, to explain the findings of physics goes: The butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil causes a cataclysmic storm system in Texas. It makes sense that such a powerful outcome would be named for the creature who works so hard to create and reform itself into a being of power, of beauty, of inspiration. Surely the butterfly flapping its wings is not the strongest in the animal kingdom; it does not have a roar; but its flap is heard round the world. It is a symbol of transformation, from blob to ravenous-take-no-prisoners worm to imprisonment; from prison, immobility, to freedom; from writhing struggle to soaring; from dark to light; from solitude to mating and community; from encasement to far travels; and it does this all itself; all its work is inner.

Now you may be thinking, AHA, I recall Professor Mossberg’s title is Your Inner Butterfly. If we go back to Aristotle, he noted, “Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.”

In fact, Aristotle saw the butterfly poetically as a metaphor of spirit. Aristotle named the butterflypsyche, the Greek word for soul.

So our human mind sees in butterfly a transformative power of flesh and spirit. Know thyself, was inscribed on the Delphic temple, Socrates said it, but how, sir? I am thinking of ancient wisdom, more ancient than Socrates or Aristotle, more ancient than the Bible, more ancient than clay tablets scratched with sticks in cuneiform. The Sphinx. The Sphinx standing for  . . . existence. . . a composite creature in stone, four-legged lion, two-legged woman, and winged eagle. This Sphinx can do it all; it is all. When Sophocles is writing his plays in 5th century BC, Oedipus the King, to explain our human situation, he describes the Greek City of Thebes guarded by the Sphinx. You can’t get into the City without passing the Sphinx’s admission test. Now this test isn’t like the MCATs or LSAT or GED or SAT or Driver’s License. It has one question. What walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon, and three legs in the afternoon? Well, that’s impossible, right? Some creature better make up its mind! Who are you, anyway? Well, it turns out, no one could figure it out. And the Sphinx, well, the Sphinx was a hard grader. Strict, really. You couldn’t just take a test and go back, and it didn’t say, well, you tried, come back later, or, good try. No, it throttled you (the Sphinx means “throttler”) and hurled you down the cliff. One day a guy shows up, who was told he would kill his father and marry his mother, and so he leaves home, but on the way, kills a man with his entourage, which he thought was okay, because it wasn’t his dad safe at home, or so he thought; and he answers the Sphinx, MAN, who in the morning of our lives—early on in our day, so to speak, crawls as an infant on four legs, who strides erect as an adult (with Advil) in the prime of life, our noon, and in our afternoon, in the waning golden light, we walk with support of a cane. All of these three stages are being human.  We are changing, and transforming, but we could not recognize ourselves in action, our whole life-long selves. To not see in what ways we are like the butterfly, in fact, is a fatal ignorance. We are not only not fit to live WITH, since we can’t get into Thebes Town, we are not fit to live at ALL. So ancient wisdom held that it was good for our health and our communities to understand and appreciate the butterfly-ness of ourselves—our capacity to transform into something that can powerfully influence and change our world, we, who change our own being over and over.

But Professor Mossberg, how can one person be like this butterfly effect and change the world?

And so I imagine us, each person a cocoon, creativity wriggling inside, working for emergence, and your eyes, your ears, with a destiny of liberation, a message we can take inside our minds, where it will soar. . . And I think of the words in you, that you can say and sing and write that matter so much . . . Because what we do know from human history—FACT– is that words can change how we think, can perturb and disrupt and destabilize what we thought we knew, and erupt in learning, and growth, and change . . . .So we’ll graze on chaos theory and cultural history of butterfly outcomes of global transformation, as we continue to explore your inner butterfly, and we’ll find examples of chrysalis crisis at the heart of T.S. Eliot’s Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and Tennyson’s Ulysses. We’ll hear butterfly philosophy of Wendell Berry, and reprise a little of Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman. We’ll conclude with James Wright, with a new reading of his hammock poem, where he swings in chrysalis preparing for a new soaring life, not wasted at all. It turns out everyone we know has butterfly on their minds, and we are no exception this Sunday. We give the last words to Emily Dickinson, in memory of Steve Jobs, her funeral service to summer, as a farewell and salute to change, “in the name of the bee, and the butterfly, and the breeze.” I hope this lens of the butterfly will illuminate how you see your life in terms of transformation and creativity: it is when things look most not happening, most locked up, when one is invisible and one’s meaning is obscure, that we know we have to hang on, and as Churchill said (winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953), if we’re going through hell we have to keep going! We hear a message of hope and cheer from your Dr. B, and you are sent off with hopes for your innie and outie butterfly to soar. Thank you for joining me, until next week.

c Barbara Mossberg 2011

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