Tag Archives: transformations

thoughts on a Sunday morning


It’s sunny this morning. I sit comfortably on the couch in the living room, watching steam rise from the roof as I gaze outside the window. A manic little fruit fly is insisting that it do a kamikaze nosedive into my coffee mug which rests upon, along with my feet, the wicker chest across from the couch. The sky is still a rich blue, not yet washed out by weeks and months of rain. The trees, some of which have been spewing leaves for at least a month, are still mostly green leafed, though some have been nipped by the chilly night air and are showing signs of yellowing. The sun feels warm against my skin, bits of leg exposed between where my flannel pyjama pant ends and my knit slippers begin.

My cat, unimaginatively named “Kitty”, restlessly paces from room to room, mewling quietly in frustration; she wants to be let outside, because the rain has stopped and it’s sunny, but I can’t risk her coming up the back porch, which is still tarped and received another layer of plastic coating recently, requiring 48 hours to set properly. Soon the view from the rear of the house will be restored. All is quiet and still in the house, besides the cat, but street noises filter in through the slightly cracked windows: a car alarm, emergency vehicle sirens (I have never been able to distinguish the separate agencies), the acceleration of buses and the shushing of tires against pavement, the squawking of crows and geese spearing their way through the sky in arrow formation.

I have things to do today. Chore things, and things that I’ve signed up for that I haven’t done, like reading pages of a book, and spending some time on self-contemplation and journaling, and to make moussaka (which will probably be made very late, because I only remembered to thaw out the frozen ground lamb trays at 4:15 this morning while sitting on the toilet contemplating what it was that I would have to do today because yesterday I mostly did nothing).

I wanted to write, too, to work on my story (or one of the many), and this is where I balk. Which one? Where to take it? I’d rather read some more on technique and how-to and endless pages of online text and blogs and Facebook wall posts than sit down and figure that out. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s because I really don’t know, or the inkling is so faint that it will take too much work to unearth, and there is already enough work that I have to do, isn’t this supposed to be the pleasurable part?

And then I think of pleasure, that kind, the kind that is mostly absent from my life and is otherwise self-inflicted if it happens at all. I miss it. I love the textures and the smells and the feeling of skin against skin and coarse pubic hair and how a person tastes and of course the obvious things as well, but it always has been more for me than plugging things into orifices -it’s a means of connecting with a person in physical and superphysical ways- and it’s obviously not that way for others; not all others.

The kettle has boiled and I’ve moved from coffee to tea. A stream of engine rumbling comes in from outside, perhaps a motorcycle procession, with lots of horn honking and intermittent whistle blows. I’m tempted to go outside to see what is going on, but I’m not sure which direction it’s all coming from, and I am, after all, still in my flannel pyjamas. I open the back door to see if the coating on the deck has set – it has. I let the cat out and she listens to the rumbling for a moment and decides she wants back in.

The rumbling persists, along with the honking and the whistle blowing. I am finally intrigued enough to move off the couch.

[* * * Pause while I go to the end of the street to investigate, in my flannel pyjamas and knit slippers slipped into my Birkenstocks. * * * ]

It turns out that there is an annual Vancouver Motorcycle Toy Run that starts from the Coquitlam Centre parking lot and rides up the road by the house up to the PNE. Mystery solved.

I resume my position on the couch with my wireless keyboard set cross on my lap and my iPad propped up on my knees. The cat wants onto my lap and decides that the iPad will serve as a suitable object to rub against, for the lack of a hand. I observe the little clumps of cat fur that litter the living room floor.

The cat has taken to yanking out tufts of fur with her mouth. This started shortly after her run in with another neighbourhood cat that ended in our living room and with her limping around for the better part of a week. She seems fine now, physically, but she is a tender thing, neurally, and it takes her lengthy stretches of time to come to terms with things that rattle her.

I find it difficult to ignore the mirror she holds up, parallels in our behaviour, since under high stress I have always reached for my hair and yanked, not figuratively but literally. During a particularly trying time in my early twenties I’d fully razed a whole area along my temples, so much so that it hurt to the touch, it had become so raw. It was then that they named it for me, this thing I was doing: trichotillomania. Along with the lip biting and inner cheek chewing, I’m sure they all relate to how I’ve learnt to deal with anxiety, and they all have fancy names in the DSM for body focused repetitive compulsive behaviours.

But the tufts of fur are yet another reminder of the growing list of “things” I must attend to but tend to ignore until I don’t. There’s laundry to be done, too, and dusting. I can’t seem to find it in me to do these things routinely. I used to. I was regimented, which perhaps had been worked into me by my mother despite them being unnatural inclinations. I love spatial esthetics and tidiness, but the clean part doesn’t bother me as much, not anymore (though truth be told, I will admit to being a bit of a germophobe, so while dust and cat fur balls don’t really faze me, I’ll wash my hands a gazillion times while preparing food, and will scrub the sink out to make sure that it doesn’t become a petrie dish of sorts).

Much has changed since I’ve ventured off on my own, without eyes to judge the places I fail to live up to invisible expectations. After her death ten years ago, while I missed my mother terribly (still do), as time went on it was as though a weight had been lifted from my shoulders, as though I could finally be who I really was and wanted to be.

It’s been a messy ball of yarn, this untangling of self, this figuring out which part was me and which part was conditioning and which parts I wanted to keep and which parts could use a fresh coat of paint. I never imagined that it would be so… complicated… but it has been.

This slow unfurling of self has been good, though, allowing for mindful and gentle observing, because if we can’t be that way with ourselves, how can we be that way with the world? It all starts with ourselves, it seems, no exceptions, otherwise we will judge the world and those in it as harshly as we judge ourselves, whether we admit it or not, and that is an epic fail, in my opinion. It hobbles us emotionally and keeps us from being able to connect with each other in meaningful ways, and what else, besides connection, is the highest goal of human life?

On moths and transformations…

“Yield and you need not break

Bent you can straighten

Emptied you can hold

Torn you can mend”

(Tao Te Ching)

There has been an influx of moths in my place; sometimes they follow me around. After smooshing several of them, I began to wonder whether they were harbingers of some sort, and smooshing them without acknowledging their message was doing each of us a disservice.

So I researched the mythological implications of moths. These are little white or beige moths, the kind that like to work their way through your wardrobe like a buffet, thoughtfully leaving little holes here and there in your wools and silks. However, I’ve discovered that moths do indeed have stories to tell, or rather, there are stories about moths that seem to fit with my current circumstances, so perhaps their appearance is, after all, not a coincidence.

from the insects.org site:

Beauty of Color, Shape, Pattern, Symmetry

Lo, the bright train their radiant wings unfold!
With silver fringed, and freckled o’er with gold:
On the gay bosom of some fragrant flower
They, idly fluttering, live their little hour;
Their life all pleasure, and their task all play,
All spring their age, and sunshine all their day.

Butterflies and moths are “Nature’s canvases with the gift of flight.” Even in death, their mounted beauty can remain intact for centuries. Nature’s genetic paintbrushes have “painted” hundreds of thousands bilaterally-symmetrical butterfly and moth works of art. When one considers that both the topsides and the undersides of these specimens are “painted” with equal skill, and that smaller, isolated sections of these masterpieces can be viewed apart from the total specimen, one becomes aware of the virtually unlimited number of artworks in this “traveling” art show of the air.

To some artists, the butterfly and moth only symbolize beauty: the beauty of symmetry, pattern, color, shape. These artists don’t require their representations of these creatures to be interpreted. They copy these insects, some as faithfully as the Photo-realists would copy a still life, a figure, a panorama, and only ask the viewer to observe their beauty.

The Abstractive-Naturalists don’t even require the viewers to know their subject is a butterfly or moth. They enlarge small, rectangular sections of wing and present them purely as designs. Examples of this usage are represented in Kjell Sandved’s Butterfly Alphabet Posters.

Ugly and Negative

Shall mortal man be more just than God?
Shall a man be more pure than his Maker?
Behold He put no trust in His servants;
And His angels He charged with folly:
How much less in them that dwell in houses of clay,
Whose foundation is in the dust,
Which are crushed before the moth?

Although fantastically beautiful moths exist, many of them live in the tropics. Uncommon, beautiful moths such as (the Polyphemus, Cecropia, Luna) do reside in the United States, although commonly encountered moths are small and drab brown. Compare this to the many beautiful butterflies easily observed in almost any part of the world.

For this reason the moth always comes out second-best in a “beauty contest-opinion poll” against butterflies. Coupled with the stigma brought on by the misdeeds of the clothes moth, these little denizens of the closet are responsible for the tarnished reputation of moths everywhere. It is little wonder that the moth has become the unwilling symbol for that which is ugly and negative. Some of the other symbols identified with moths (like insanity) have also contributed to the moth’s position of low esteem.


Ancient Mexicans considered the butterfly important enough to dedicate an entire palace to it at Teotihuacan, just outside Mexico City. This palace is called the Palace of the Mariposa.

Teotihuacan is the oldest metropolis in Meso-America, and is the only one to possess a continuous history, from the archaic through to the purely classical period.

Historians do not agree on who the founders of Teotihuacan were; some say the Olmecs, others the Toltecs, but most agree that it was at one time the capital of a highly civilized culture later conquered by the Aztecs, the foremost of the Nahuatal Tribes.

The butterfly represents flame in the symbolism of this culture. Often pictured with the signs for water, it becomes clear that the “vision of Earth as a paradise is based on the dynamic harmony between water and fire.” The same concept is exemplified by an image of Tlaloc, god of rain, pictured on a vase bearing a butterfly motif. It is interesting to note that the butterfly is used as symbolic representatives of both the fire and rain god.

Finding no information as to why butterflies symbolize flames, Indians might have observed the many butterflies whose wings are red, orange, yellow, or combinations of all three colors. A cloud or “cumulep” of fire-colored butterflies taking off from a mud puddle after drinking, could easily be interpreted as being flame-like.

Mexican Indians might also have witnessed a “magna-cumulep” of millions of orange, monarch butterflies migrating to their over-wintering grounds in the mountains near Mexico City. A “cloud of flame” would definitely have entered their minds. The flapping of the wings would even approximate the flickering of the tongues of flame. The moth has also come to be associated with flames, although not as a symbol of fire.

A small yellowish moth which flies about the fire at night is called ‘tun tawu by the Cherokee Indians– a name implying that it goes in and out of the fire. When it flits too near and falls into the blaze the Cherokee say ‘tun tawu is going to bed.’ Because of its affinity for the fire it is invoked by the Indian doctor in what they call ‘Fire Diseases,’ among which sore eyes and frostbite are included.


It may be somewhat difficult to understand why a moth or butterfly could symbolize sensuality, and the symbol does trace a rather circuitous route. Because a moth is physically attracted to light, and because sensuality involves physical attraction, the moth has come to symbolize sensuality; it physically succumbs to seductive light. Also, because butterflies represents femininity, and females are most often associated with the word sensual, the butterfly has also become associated with the word sensual.

Impermanence, Fragility

A page of the wind in the book of the sky,
the fragile butterfly

Another characteristic of both moths and butterflies is their fragile nature. Their thin wings and antennae, their powdered color that comes off on your fingertips adds to their stature as a symbol of impermanence.

Indian Watcher, Big Boss

In the book, Navaho Indian Ethnoentomology by Wyman and Bailey, contains a paragraph relating to the butterfly (or possibly the moth) as some kind of “Big Brother.”

“Mixed up [as to sex] on them real classy ones, supposed to be the head of all moths, they don’t fly but stay in one place and all moths pile up around him which makes me believe moths have their boss.” The Black Swallowtail “is the big boss, he watches Indian.” The work did not explain in what reference, whether as a god or as an everpresent insect, or just how this butterfly watched Indians. It is possible that the eyespots or “ocelli” present on the wings aided in the impression the Indians had that this butterfly could watch them.


The sorcerers of the Yaqui Indians of Mexico refer to the moth as a symbol of knowledge. In the book Tales of Power by Carlos Castaneda, the moth is such a central figure it is included as the major character on the cover of the book. It is revealed by Don Juan, a Yaqui sorcerer, “knowledge is a moth.” He expresses metaphorically that “the moths are the heralds, or better yet, the guardians of eternity,” for some reason, or for no reason at all, they are the depositories of the gold dust of eternity. He continues, “the moths carry a dust on their wings, a dark gold dust. That dust is the dust of knowledge.” “Knowledge comes floating like specks of gold dust, the same dust that covers the wings of moths.” “The moths have been the intimate friends and helpers of sorcerers from time immemorial.” Don Juan adds, “Moths are the givers of knowledge and the friends and helpers of sorcerers.”

The association of the moth with knowledge coincides with the Blackfoot Indian belief that the butterfly “is a little fellow flying about that is going to bring news to someone tonight.” In addition, the Yaqui associates some danger with the moth and its knowledge. The Navaho Indian also feels that “moths and butterflies, especially moths, are very dangerous.” The Yaqui feels the powder on a moth’s wings is knowledge. The Navaho associates the powder on lepidopteron wings with insanity, the drive to commit incest and the power of an aphrodisiac and the power to run fast. The old adage “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing” is quite applicable here.

From www.theroselabyrinth.com:

THE SILK MOTH: is a multicultural symbol of rebirth and reincarnation. It is also connected with metamorphosis, as it changes from the caterpillar to the moth after a period of silky gestation. Admired more than many common moths for their symmetry of pattern and colour, and the preciousness of their fibres, they are also connected with the night and the flame, creatures of secrets and illumination. The silk worm feeds on the mulberry, so ingests wisdom. However, the continuous fibre that they weave is ultimately to their own doom, as unravelling the thread will kill the insect.

The expression “like a moth to a flame” also tells of a feeling of inner compulsion, the will being powerless to alter what is inherently felt. But the sensual moth, drawn to the heat of the flame, is also identified with the opportunity for transformation. Moths are female in symbolism, less giddy and pretty than butterflies; the silk moth is strongly associated with the Bassano family (see their family website, www.peterbassano.com/shakespeare).