The Butterflies of Ephemera

“We become so consumed with chasing the butterflies of ephemera that we forget to stop, sit and focus on the eternal.”

– Tim Shead

Photo by Frank Bruder

Mr. Google having been less than helpful, I’m not exactly sure just who Tim Shead is — an Olympic swimmer, perhaps? — but I certainly love his quote, with its clear distinction between ephemera and the essential. But there’s ephemera and ephemera—

Our world contains a multitude of  “natural” ephemera, the real deals, cherry blossoms, sunsets, childhood.  One purpose of ephemeral things, according to Japanese aesthetics, is to heighten our appreciation of phenomena. When cherry blossoms, so beautiful! are also so vulnerable to the slightest breeze, we must, if we are to enjoy them at all, enjoy them right now.

Cherry Blossoms, Osaka: Photo by Kazumi Ueyama

In recent years, though, our lives have thickened by an additional gaudy, tawdry layer of ephemera: Facebook, Tweets, texting, the latest sensational headlines that vanish by sunrise. Many, maybe most? of us lead driven lives, no time to pause and reflect, no time to savor, no time to rest and refresh. Perhaps most significant for the future of our selves and our world: no time to sort out what’s really important from what doesn’t matter. A butterfly existence, always flitting.

I suppose that metaphor is fueled by a myth that butterflies live the briefest of lives. Well, yes and no. Some species live only a week or two, others exist for a year, in butterfly terms, a good old age. I’m fascinated by butterflies, most specifically by the fact that although every language (obviously) has a word for butterfly, these words aren’t cognate in any major language group. They’re each totally different: butterfly, papillon, mariposa, farfalla, schmetterling, babochka, psyche, cio-cio-san, on and on. Highly individual perceptions from one place or region or language group to another.

What is eternal then? The concept, butterfly. The Platonic butterfly. Your butterfly, my butterfly, your eye, my eye. To guard the integrity of the individual, to develop our own self, our own ephemeral self (for we too will die, albeit probably not in two weeks), takes time. So, ironically, the next time you see an ephemeral butterfly, maybe it can be a reminder to take time, to stop, to sit, and to focus on the eternal.

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This entry was posted in Challenge, Etcetera, Japan, Life and Death, Mindfulness, Quotes, Wisdom and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to The Butterflies of Ephemera

  1. I have had to stop and ponder existence since reading this………..marvelous. Thank You.

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  2. all the craziness of a rush, rush, world, vanishes in a moment. All that remains is that which is eternal and matters most.

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  3. reb says:

    This was the most beautiful post you’ve ever written, in my humble opinion. All these things, I so often think about, even though, so far I haven’t thought of it in terms of butterflies. I will now, though. I focused on one today! Hats off to F. — it’s a gorgeous shot!

    Once we’ve sorted out within ourselves what it is that really matters … things perhaps get a little clearer.

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    • Touch2Touch says:

      We have a very wise (but also fun!) friend, a monk, who is often saying about a situation, It’s not clear yet.
      We joke about it, but he is absolutely right. If you wait, and things settle, they become clear, and all the extraneous drops away.
      So happy you liked the post, Rebekah.

      Like

  4. reb says:

    …oh, and I forgot to add «fjäril» for the Swedish butterfly

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  5. Yesterday was my 73rd birthday. This blog had great meaning for me; it has made me more thoughtful about the “flitting” moment of our existence.

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    • Touch2Touch says:

      We humans participate in both the ephemeral and the eternal. No wonder sometimes we have trouble maintaining our balance! Which could be looked at as a challenge, like dancing is a challenge.
      Glad the post wound up as a birthday greeting for you!

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  6. “Und Schlag auf Schlag! Werd ich zum Augenblicke sagen:
    Verweile doch! du bist so schoen!”
    ‘If ever I to the moment shall say: Beautiful moment, do not pass away!’
    though:
    “Was glaenzt ist fuer den Augenblick geboren, Das Echte bleibt der Nachwelt unverloren.”
    ‘What gleams is the moment’s, born to be
    Soon lost; true gold lives for posterity.’
    J.W.Goethe, Faust

    Thank you, Judith, for this marvelous post!
    Amicalement, k

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  7. tms says:

    The shadows on the wall echoing the pattern on the butterfly’s wings. Things are connected, and though Frank captured a fleeting moment, his picture seems to aim at somthing more essential … your post offers a great text to go with Frank’s wonderful photo.

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  8. Madhu says:

    How I wish I could!

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  9. Pauline says:

    Fleeting and eternal – life’s enigma so beautifully illustrated by Frank’s photo and your words. I find I have to remind myself to live in the moment though I’ve been doing it for so long now I think I’m getting the hang of it.

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  10. Gilly Gee says:

    A beautiful reminder to stop and smell the flowers.

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  11. Patti Kuche says:

    The gentle art of pondering with the kiss from a butterfly! Definitely worth stopping for, thank you!

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  12. Technology offers us, as you say, a never-ending supply of brief moments of interest. It does concern me that these become our first choice in any window of idleness in a busy day, as though doing ‘nothing’ were an intolerable option! I include myself in this tendency, which makes your post a gentle reminder to consider other options 🙂

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    • Touch2Touch says:

      You certainly lay it out clearly, Karen.
      Perhaps I’m so drawn to this side of the discussion because doing “nothing” has been attractive to me all my life. Once upon a time it was called day-dreaming. It was frowned upon in just the same way by most people.
      But I’m drawn to this couplet, usually attributed to Goethe:
      “Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it.
      Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it!”
      For me, and I believe for many many people, the dreaming comes first. Make way for Nothing —
      🙂

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  13. Here inside – where everything whirls and beeps and dings at my attention – I rarely stop. Except to eat (during which I am doing something) or sleep (during which I am probably thinking of doing something). But when I walk into the woods, it stops. This week, for example, I found myself simply amused by a turtle, laughing with ospreys and…watching a butterfly dance about. Ephemra(l) indeed.

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