Lessons from Julia Butterfly’s Talk at Hart House

It’s hard to describe how lovely Julia Butterfly’s talk was at Hart House this evening. I was a bit late coming in, but I found myself drawn into her story and her beautiful lessons despite craning my neck to see her speak. She was powerful and compelling, and I think everyone’s throat got a bit lumpy at times as she detailed her journey of 738 days living in a tree called Luna to protect it from being cut down.

For me, I came to the talk after an intense week school-wise. I’ve been struggling to find new ways and concepts to express the ideas I’m trying to explore with my thesis, and while I’ve been trying to keep positive about the opportunity for learning, I’ve also been feeling very overwhelmed by the current gaps in my knowledge. Over the past couple of days I’m been telling friends at lunch that I feel like a caterpillar. Intellectually it makes sense that if I stay committed to learning and keep striving, eventually I’ll turn into a butterfly, but a caterpillar is so far removed from a butterfly that transformation seems a far-fetched possibility at the moment.

And then during the talk  Julia spoke about the liquefying process caterpillars go through, and it made me feel so much more optimistic about the learning challenges (or opportunities!) ahead. Normally I always come to lectures with a notebook, but today I didn’t, so I took notes over the top of my evaluation card. As a result, this is not a complete set of notes (far from it!) of the lecture, but it does give a sense of what happened.

  1. Take a breath. It’s a miracle we are able to do that. What will you do with your life that honours this unique miracle? That honours this gift?
  2. I am a mirror. If something resonates with you, only because of something that is already within you. It means I’ve been a good mirror. If you don’t like something I say, don’t trash it, compost it and let it create new energy. We throw away things too easily.
  3. If people can identify with you, can relate to you, then it is harder for them to hate you.
  4. The way that we work towards a goal is as important as the goal itself. We have to model what we want in the world. (There was a beautiful story later on in the talk about loggers who helped rebuild the tree Luna when someone attacked it with a chainsaw, and when asked why they helped out, they said it was because “Butterfly, you always dealt with us in an honourable way)
  5. Whoever we are is exactly who we are meant to be. Society teaches us to feel like we’re not enough, that we need to change, and so we buy more stuff and more silly magazines and feel like we aren’t enough as ourselves. But we just need to learn to direct the all of who we are to the right channel. For me, it was not about changing who I was, it was about sculpting the core of who I already am. Our mind is usually our biggest obstacle. Can’t control what life sends us, but we can control how mind relates to what life sends us. We need to engage our hearts.
  6. We all love butterflies but we don’t want to liquefy. But a caterpillar literally has to liquefy itself to become a butterfly. It’s like when we go to the gym and we look at the machines. We want the results but we don’t want to do the exercise. And so during those 738 days with Luna, I would ask the universe for strength, and things would literally get harder. And I would say, hey, can you give me a break? And the universe would say, you didn’t ask for a break, you asked for strength, and so here you go, here is an opportunity to get stronger. Everything about me had to liquefy in order to turn into a being who could find strength where there was no external strength. When things were so intense that I had frostbite on my toes and had to prop my sleeping bag up off my feet because the pain was too much. We are so attached to outcomes, but if attachment to outcomes was all I had, it would have killed me.
  7. People would ask me when I was up in the tree what I missed about being on the ground, and when I was back on the ground people would ask me about what I missed about being in the tree. It made me realise that we are tricked constantly to be anywhere but here where we are. The question is always what do you miss and not what do you appreciate about right now? Instead of missing what is absent, why not be grateful and present to what is here and now?
  8. Love is a taskmaster that demands me to be a better person than the person that I know myself to be. It’s easy to talk, difficult to communicate. Communication is about asking someone’s opinion and caring about the answer.
  9. Julia told a beautiful story of an evening with loggers shooting at her, and having to take a deep breath to reach within and engage with them with humour, and then those same loggers bringing her organic fruits and vegetables a few weeks later. And then Julia said “this doesn’t always happen, but it can never happen if we don’t stay committed and model the world we want to live in.
  10.  It’s important to ask: who am I authentically in this moment and how can I learn, how can I grow in this?
  11. In each moment, we stand on the shoulders of those who came before. But we too are ancestors of the future.
  12. Pessimism, hope, these are just stories, not facts. I’m pessimistic, but I don’t let my pessimism get in my way. All I’ve got is right here, right now, and the question is, how doI honour this time? I can’t control anyone else, but I can control myself.
  13. It’s about a lifetime of offering ourselves. Nature isn’t sustainable, nature is regenerative.
  14. What is your passion, what is your gift? What do you want to do to co-create the future?

Question Period Take-Aways:

Love is a verb.

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