Sacred Rage and the Butterfly

Today something sacred was touched within me. While chopping wood together at the house of an elder Diné (Navajo) woman in helping her prepare for the coming winter, ...

… our teammate Jane called to our attention a little being crawling in the small pile of logs, “Hey look, a caterpillar!” Myself and the three other guys in our team rested our axes and came in closer to take a look. Jane moved a piece of dried pine and the furry creature was revealed. As soon as he saw it, Erich, a young man of 19, in an instance of high energy and slap-stick-like humor screamed, “Kill it!” and before he finished this sentence he had already dropped the blade of his axe on the little one.

“What the fuck are you doing?!! That is life!” The rage I felt was incredible and immediate. It was as if I was only a witness to this stream of fiery energy pouring forth into the world. Though it was as if the words came through me rather than from me, it was clear that at each split-moment while I roared at him there was no wish of harming him. In fact, there was no personal emotion at all- there was no Benjamin and no Erich in that moment, there was just pure rage for the unnecessary killing of an innocent being. Somehow, there was a strict form of love that accompanied my actions.

“I’m sorry to have lashed at you like this. I am so angry right now.” Still steaming, I left to go for a walk, knowing it was impossible to explain what I just experienced and to give us all some space to process on our own what had just happened. So I walked along the dessert landscape for some time, leaving them to continue chopping wood, and the insights started to come to me. I understood clearly what sacred rage is: that impersonal and fierce stand for life and the immediate refusal to allow injustice to go unchallenged. Something truly sacred was touched within me, a channel of an immense rage that blasted through me, and yet as soon as life was protected, the rage was gone. At no point did I feel the wish to retaliate; at no point did I wish him pain, despite the particular tone and words that were came from my lips. There was only the wish for clear boundaries and protection in that moment. All that rage was being focused at the structure within that person- the deep, behavior-guiding belief that this, the taking of life needlessly, is an acceptable reality.

I remembered that as a child I would heartlessly burn ants with a magnifying glass and pour salt on slugs just to see what would happen. It took decades for me to truly realize what in fact is actually going on in such moments of violation of life, how much traumatic human history has accumulated to the point where such violence is a common reality and is even culturally acceptable, and a few years more to then come to the clear decision that life is sacred and something to be protected. The experience of sacred rage is like a peak experience where all the energy of the long history of trauma and destruction to life on Earth, which is present in the current body of everyone now living, becomes a singular force that is then guided by the hand of Grace- a higher intelligence within us that knows how to take action while at no point abandoning unconditional, selfless love.

A deep peace fell over me as I walked along that dirt road, and there was no clear reason for this. I could only suppose why: From such an experience I was shown, in an instant, some deeper chamber of the human heart, below all the layers of conditioning, that is incorruptible and pure, which no amount of historical, cultural, personal trauma could smother or destroy.

Before going for that walk, in the wake of sacred rage, I picked up the caterpillar that the axe somehow missed and took her to a nearby bush. I was glad she was still alive and I told her that I am sorry that this has happened, that this reality exists where it is possible that someone is able to be so careless for life, that such a structure exists within the human being that is able to streamline high and even joyful energy into such a horrific act. I took responsibility for what had happened and asked for her forgiveness. I continued on to begin my walk, to receive the gift of rage-ful insights described above.

The caterpillar-butterfly has strongly been with me this year and has visited me many times: in Portugal, near the big south lake at a peace research center where she came to me in a moment when humbly asking for guidance; in New Mexico while fasting in the dessert where another butterfly lands so close to me and delivers its message before fluttering off again; in Hopi land, where on a morning walk I spontaneously recall all of the commitments have I made to protect Life, the Feminine and the Earth, and when I stop to rest I take notice of the caterpillar that mistook my lap for a landing pad after it jumped from the picnic table I was sitting at.

As I go deeper into my decision to commit to learning a new way of being in this world, to go for a fundamental change in my definition of community and of living peacefully, and leaving behind the old structures (inner and outer) of violence, I find myself stuck between two contradicting worlds, one based on principles of trust and peace and one on fear and violence, one on life and one on death. From one way of being in this world to another, there is an in-between stage where conflicting information floods in. From this there is a great tension within me that arises as doubt, criticism, arrogance, and other forms of blame that distract me from seeing clearly, and indeed celebrating, and make it seem like something is wrong in this process. While neck-deep in this inner and outer process these past two or so years, there have been many joyful moments and incredible breakthroughs, and still sometimes I find myself in frequent and continuous states of amnesia and confusion, forgetting the particularly powerful times when I made promises to serve life and to uncover those structures within me that do not serve life. In moments of clarity, when I can somehow suddenly pierce through the fog in my mind-stream, I get the image of being a mushy caterpillar in a cocoon, just entering that important yet painful phase of transformation where its own system does not yet recognize- and therefore attacks– those parts of itself that have already begun to shift to the laws of a new paradigm. I think many of us, and in fact our entire society, is experiencing something like this on one level or another as we move closer to a higher form of humanity- to a world where it is no longer possible for someone to choose taking life over protecting it.

It brings me hope to reflect on the yet-to-be-experienced realities that latently exist, awaiting us. Just as the caterpillar climbs that tall tree and intuitively prepares its outer conditions, I think we too should work in such a determined and trusting way. There is a moment for each of us, however, when we must rest from the world we know in a way we have never done so before. There comes a time to allow ourselves that inner nest of abandon and of faith and to go so far as to even choose to disbelieve our personal doubts and criticism of the process at hand, ultimately letting down our heavy opinions in order to be free to take up those wings that await to bring us to higher ways of living together.

Perhaps this is why in this particular situation, out of so many similar situations in the past that have triggered within me a response nothing close to what I experienced today at that native woman’s house, I was brought to honor that incorruptible chamber of the human heart by means of sacred rage. Perhaps it has to do with that irresistible urge to protect the potential of human transformation that I perceive within myself, in Erich, and in fact, in all humans I have ever come across, a transformation that marks a point of no-return where the human being is forever in service to the impulses of Life and whose new and higher perspective acquires him and her the earned, yet ancient, title as the Protector of Life.

3 thoughts on “Sacred Rage and the Butterfly

  1. The real caterpillar missed by the stout axe of detachment and in need of metamorphosis through metanoia seems to be not Erich not the writer but is always and only me-tanoia…
    that which is food for the caterpillar’s thought -the absolute need for those same juicy golden wise worded mulberry leaves torn from the book of life; for the butterfly those same leaves are a mere choice -one temporary resting place/landing space among many while fluttering by… high above…what is a feast of wise words for the caterpillar in me is a fast of the heart for my inner butterfly…

    “There is a worm addicted to eating grape leaves, suddenly he wakes up, call
    it grace whatever something wakes him and he is no longer a worm. [He flutters above] He is the entire vineyard, the orchard, too the fruit, the trunks. A growing wisdom and joy that does not need to devour.” Rumi

Share your thoughts:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *