Healing, Butterflies and Hawks

At times, emerging from depression seems like a gift. I’ve written before about a sudden shift, a kind of renewal, that occurred when crossing a shallow stream. In my experience, healing may come from a special place more effectively than from medication. I became sensitized to the power of certain places through years of work with Native American communities. Once a Tewa friend pointed out the number of locations in the West with the name devil, or some variant, attached. These were usually places sacred to native peoples but shunned by Christian missionaries as related to idolatry and paganism. They were all associated with strong spiritual power. Some of these were places of healing, and every now and then I have found such a place.

Once I was visiting a friend in Bolinas, on the northern California coast. I had arrived after a long day of driving around the San Francisco Bay Area, and I was exhausted, headachy and depressed. Jerry and I and another friend spent the evening discussing a book Jerry was planning about indigenous peoples. It was hard to talk with my head hurting and depression taking me to new lows. After a while, though, I realized I was feeling a lot better, and that surprised me because this combination of depression and migraine was not something that let me go very readily once it had settled in. It was quite late before our talking paused, and we all decided to turn in. I remember as I was falling asleep that I felt something odd about the room I was in, but that notion disappeared as I quickly faded out.

The next morning I woke feeling incredibly good. I was up early before my friends and so went to the kitchen to get some coffee. It suddenly struck me that I felt a strong sense of healing and renewal, as if it were part of the air. I walked around the house and felt it diminish so I went back to the kitchen and realized this feeling could be coming from outside. I looked through the kitchen window and saw a slight rise of land among the dense bushes and young trees. This slope had a cleft in its midst, almost like an opening in the ground. In the air above it was the strangest sight: a large cluster of butterflies swirling in some invisible draft rising in waves out of that cleft. Above them was a red-tail hawk hovering there, as if to soak up that revivifying flow. There were song birds clustered around it as well, and squirrels poking their way toward the opening – as if they were all drinking in an invisible healing force that emanated from that spot. I could feel it too, and I was sure that was the cause of my recovery the night before.

I told Jerry what I was feeling, and he took me for a walk to a different place, his favorite spot overlooking the ocean. But as beautiful as that was, we had moved away from the healing flow, and I wanted to get back to it. When we returned, I tried to get behind the house to that cleft in the ground, but the way the house was built into the hillside, it just couldn’t be done. I had to content myself with the view from the window, but the hawk and the butterflies had gone when I next looked. Still, I could feel that calming presence that had changed and re-energized me. As I thought about this incident from time to time, it was always the butterflies that came back in my memory as the emblem of that spiritual experience.

I am curious about the sensitivities to places that you may feel. I know that many people have similar experiences of healing in certain locations – witness all the shrines renowned for their healing power, though the power is usually associated with a saint rather than the place itself. And there are many who feel spontaneously and deeply drawn to a certain location without knowing why. Others I know have equally strong negative reactions to some places, feeling frightened in an undefinable way. I’m interested in your experience of place whether for healing or other spiritual impact.

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8 Responses to “Healing, Butterflies and Hawks”

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  1. Catherine says:

    I have greatly enjoyed your blog. The writing is powerful, the pictures beautiful and you have a wonderful soul. I hope you don’t mind, but I put you on my blogroll. Let me know and I’ll remove the link if you would rather.

    I found you via Zathyn. I see that you also have Stephany and Untreatable on your blogroll. They are both great people as well!

    To answer your question, there are definitely places I’ve been where I felt absolutely complete and renewed. The most memorable place was when I was a camp counselor in a beautiful place in the mountains for two summers as a teen. Even when I think about it now it makes me yearn to be there again.

    Wouldn’t it be great to live in the house you were visiting where the butterflies are?

    I’ve also been to places that either scared me to death for no apparent reason or made me feel quite uncomfortable. I do believe that some places have a positive or negative energy that affect people differently.

    The place you described sounds wondrous.

  2. JohnD says:

    Catherine -

    Thank you for those kind words, and, of course, I’m honored to be on your blogroll. If it’s OK, I’d like to return the favor – you are a real kindred spirit, as I’ve mentioned before.

    Bolinas is a special place, and a lot of folks are drawn to it because they sense its unique qualities. That includes many who practice alternative healing – though I didn’t know that at the time of this story. I’ve come across a number of places around the West that clearly have a strong spiritual presence, though that is often something that is best approached by the Native people who try to care for these places in the context of their own traditions.

    John D

  3. stephany says:

    When I was 10 years old, I was on a family trip in northern california, and saw the monarch butterfly trees. i stood there in complete amazement that these were not leaves on the tree, they were in fact butterflies, and not only that was astounding, even more so is how they were migrating south. i remember thinking how could a butterfly endure such travel? i was drawn to those trees, and will never forget how i felt after that, and i was just a kid.

    the place my soul resides is sequoia national park, in california.i had taken my kids there for a trip when it was within a days driving distance of home. i felt such peace there, i felt a connection to it like no other place. it is a healing place for me, just the air alone is different.

    i spent many days as a child at sequoia and when i returned there as an adult with my kids is when i felt that deep soul connection, like I was home.

  4. Evan says:

    I’m not very sensitive to the environment around me usually. This is one part of being so introverted perhaps.

    So, I was very surprised when I moved to Cairns (in Australia) for six months. The only way I could describe it was to say that it was a spiritual place. Cairns is tropical – so the quality included the lushness of this and had a restfulness about it.

    The only other experience of place I have had was in a mountain town called Katoomba. I went for a walk from the house I was staying in – quite suburban – and walking past a piece of open ground I could feel the indigenous people walking with me. The feeling was so strong that I turned around several times to see who was there. This wasn’t associated with healing though.

  5. Zana says:

    I’m inspired to jump in the car and speed on up to Bolinas! My family and I recently spent a week up in Humboldt County, CA. The house we rented, while not extraordinary from the driveway or impressive in its decor, had the most comforting “vibe” and the most spectacular view from the back yard. Twenty feet beyond the fence line gently flowed the Mad River. All day long birds glided along the corridor the river seemed to make as it lead to where its mouth met the ocean. Every once in a while we could see people directly across from us tramping through the reeds that lined the river bank to launch a kayak or make their way to the sand dunes a few feet beyond. A little further west was the horizon touching the surface of the dark blue Pacific Ocean. At times the water was so dark it looked purple. The sun would set over the water in an ever changing pallet of colors-fiery pink, orange, yellow, a streak of purple and then it would fade to dusty grays after the sun set and the day ended. To the far right where the river turned we watched the waves of a beach that seemed to be unreachable by foot. We never saw anyone walking alongside the foamy tide. Every day the surf changed. Some days the crashing waves reminded me of a chorus line kicking their legs in a succession of perfect timing. Another day it was flat, gentle, quiet. While we drove up there I’d been in the throes of depression and felt myself slipping deeper with every mile it took to drive up there. By the time we arrived I was almost trembling with the effort it took to keep my tears at bay. But when we left, I had left the depths of my depression behind. Each day sitting out there watching the beautiful, peaceful view I would feel another layer of my sadness peel away. I went home feeling healed and the inner strength I’d gained seemed to be a turning point. It was the first time I felt restored since I’d fallen apart the year before and been unable to make it through a day undone. The calm I walked away with after that week showed me that i could be content on this side of my breakdown, deeply and quietly at peace.

    On the flip side, I remember being up near Eureka years ago and having the exact opposite experience. We went to eat breakfast at this place that had been a dining house serving the lumberjacks who felled enormous redwood trees during the early 1900′s. While the food was good, I felt “prickly” while we were eating. Something unsettling seemed to be lingering all around that peninsula. I didn’t enjoy the nearby beach and couldn’t wait to leave by the end of the day. The disturbance I’d felt all day just wouldn’t go away and like you said, I was stressed and afraid for some unknown reason. Later on I found out that an entire tribe of Native Americans had been slaughtered in a particularly gruesome and violent manner. It took some persuading for me to want to go back up that way again.

  6. I’m slowly reading through your blog, and I’m finding it really inspiring. Your take on the world is insightful and often poignant.

    Anyway, the place I always found most healing growing up was at the base of a waterfall in a local national park. It’s funny, I hadn’t thought of it particularly much in some time but when you mentioned the butterflies it sprang to mind. I’ve always adored the fragility and complexity of the butterfly so I guess that was part of my attraction to the spot in the first place because they always congregated there. They’d flutter just above the water, and simply to watch them dance as I listened to the sound of the water falling brought peace and comfort.

    Thank you for reminding me of that healing connection =) Just thinking of it feels nice.

  7. John D says:

    Stephany, Evan, Zana, Catatonic Kid -

    Thank you for these beautiful stories! I always hesitate a bit before bringing up my strong responses to places I dwell in – I suppose because it can sound strange. It touches on an aspect of spiritual life which runs deep in me, and I’m always interested to hear about others’ experiences. I want to write more – as I hope you will too – about this kind of direct apprehension of spiritual qualities, but it’s hard for me to do a lot of it without sounding a bit, um, crazy. Perhaps I shouldn’t worry about that! It’s interesting that each of your stories captures something unexpected about the encounter with a healing place, or a place that has a strong impact of another kind. These are such great discoveries, it would be interesting to compare maps of places where people make this contact.

  8. James says:

    I love nature and the red-tail hawk is my totem animal guide. I even have a red goatee!!

    Whenever I see a hawk of any kind I feel it to be a message of connection to something bigger and peaceful. I see it as a good sign.

    I have a place up in the mountains around here in Colorado that I see as very sacred. I always feel a powerful energy while up there one particular area where I am miles away from humanity.

    I often feel the energy of the Native Americans who walked and lived in this area. I feel blessed. However know I have gained a lot of weight from the meds and can’t get back in there (if way up there are far away).

    But, I’ll always have my pictures, memories and I’ll never forget that energy.