The Courage to Fly by Jessie Diamond
Stretched out belly down on a towel about two feet from the water’s edge, I was lazily studying the tiny, colorful pebbles glistening like semi-precious stones in the shallow water. My eyes suddenly focused on a fairly unattractive insect creeping out of the river onto the wet sand. It was yellow-gray, with a segmented body, primitive and a bit intimidating. It lumbered heavily and wetly to about 5 inches from the river’s edge and rested in the heat of the sun, less than two feet from my curious eyes. What kind of insect was this that could leave the world of water to breath and survive on land? I was even more spellbound when the shell of its spine began to split open. This was good enough for National Geographic or Discovery, and I had a front row seat!
Slowly, a very different body began to emerge from the clumsy carapace, a long slender, wet and wrinkled creature with what I guessed might be wings crumpled tightly against the length of its body. Its effort to emerge was as compelling as any birth struggle. Finally free of the old shell, the little creature rested, dried and somehow filled out in the hot sun of the beach. I began to see a bit of stunning peacock blue along the tail, then watched the hopelessly wrinkled wings slowly relax down and slightly outward from the body. Slowly, a pumping motion began and the wings began to inflate; I could actually see blood moving through the lacework of veins. What was before impossibly crumpled expanded into four incredibly beautiful, silvery wings.
I then recognized it. This was a nymph, changing inexorably into a dragonfly, one of billions of dragonflies, moving from the world of water to the world of air to fulfill its destiny in a one-day lifespan.
The nymph’s wings were still close to its sides, and I waited with anticipation to see how they would assume their position perpendicular to the body. With an audible snap and so fast I almost doubted that I had heard it, the wings took their flight position. It was the sound of a damp sheet snapping in a brisk wind, only a much faster and tinier sound. It was a stunning moment to see those beautiful wings for the first time. Now fully developed, the dragonfly rested again, allowing its damp wings to dry to a vibrant blue. I would have the privilege of witnessing its maiden flight.
We rested there on the beach together for a brief two minutes or so; then it launched and disappeared into the sunlight. I was filled with elation—a tiny and seemingly insignificant moment for the world perhaps but a huge moment for that tiny creature, and for me. I had learned so much from my childhood adventures on this river, and once again Nature was reminding me to fully appreciate the wonder and significance of life, of my journey and the journey of others—even the journey of a dragonfly.
A Therapeutic Metaphor
I often think of that dragonfly’s transformation and flight in my work as a therapist. The benefits of the therapeutic process always involve transformation of some kind. Such transformation comes in all kinds of packages, sometimes subtle and sometimes, as in the case of that dragonfly, dramatic and beautiful. It is both my job and a source of personal fulfillment to counsel clients through the transformations they desire or feel compelled to make.
I recall a 23-year-old woman, Janine (not her real name), who came to me for counseling. She was in an extreme state of anxiety and resignation. She had recently committed to a serious relationship with her partner, and now felt as though she had lost her sense of freedom and autonomy, as well as her sense of who she was. She was feeling resentful of her partner and his expectations of their relationship and feeling more and more alienated from her dreams for her life. She felt lost, scared, confused, and angry.
As we took the time to unfold Janine’s story, she came to see that the problem was not her partner or the relationship, but rather an automatic script that had kicked in once she believed herself to be “married.” The script derived from a childhood impression of her parents’ marriage. She did not recall the union of her parents as being particularly horrible, but she knew that she had experienced very little joy or happiness in her childhood home. She also recalled how her mother had had little or no independent existence outside of marriage and homemaking, was dissatisfied with her life, and had often told Janine and her siblings about sacrificing her own dreams for their sake.
That shadow of captivity and self -loss came over Janine the moment she committed to her own adult relationship. Unconsciously, she had shifted into her mother’s old “casing”. But once she recognized the pattern as not belonging to her, Janine could be free of its power. She was able to understand and feel compassion for her mother; and ultimately, to forgive, releasing both her mother and herself. Finally she felt free from past conditioning, free to claim her own life.
I had the privilege of assisting and witnessing Janine’s transformation. She had the courage to emerge from the old casing. She had also developed some tools and the understanding to begin her next transition with more ease and confidence. She expanded her wings and flew away from me to more fully live her unique destiny. It was beautiful.
Unlike the dragonfly, we humans usually struggle with transformations. Dragonflies don’t linger on the beach, too emotionally burdened or paralyzed with fear to take wing. They push out of their old “baggage” and move on. Birds and other creatures don’t opt out of migrating because the journey may be too difficult or cost them their lives. They simply take to the air.
It is we humans who get comfortable with a state of being, a state of living—even a miserable state. Often, we resist moving out of the “river” to that strange new land of our more fully matured selves. Fear can hold us back from the discovery of our “wings”—our inner resources, our creativity, our possibilities. Most of all we are often too terrified to launch ourselves in free flight to whatever is next in our lives.
Unlike the dragonfly, however, we have the opportunity to make conscious choices about the direction and substance of our transformations. We also have the love and support of others to help us along the way as we heal our relationship with ourselves and with others, and as we make changes necessary to our health and our growth. We need only remember that we can move through the fear if we have our heart set on the destination. We need only accept each stage of our journey—its beauty as well as its risks. If we try to stay in the “river,” or stick to the “land,” we lose our aliveness; we lose our possibilities. We have this opportunity to emerge as our true selves, breathe life into our beautiful wings, and fly.
Jessie Diamond, LPC, NCC is a Relationship Counselor in private practice in Portland. She has 15 years experience working with individuals (including adolescents), couples, and families. She provides insight, guidance, and compassionate support to people who want to improve the quality of their lives and their relationships. She also facilitates a variety of workshops and talks that focus on personal empowerment and self-actualization. Her office is located at Common Ground Wellness Center, 2917 NE Everett St. She can be reached at 503-997-7910, [email protected]