Yesterday when I arrived at the prison, I saw a large and beautiful butterfly lying motionless on a small tray on the education officer’s desk.
“Is it alive?” I asked. “Yes, but it seems to be injured,” responded the officer, “we put it here so nobody would hurt it.”
“May I take it with me to the meditation group?” I asked. “Of course.” she responded.
As I carried the butterfly with me towards the room, it continued to lie almost entirely still on the tray, occasionally fluttering its wings as though to prove that it is still alive.
The inmates drew close, amazed to see the butterfly. I placed it in the center of the circle and said, “It will be our teacher today.”
They wanted to verify that it was still alive. One of them came near and touched its wings, and the butterfly fluttered them.
I asked them to sit and we began to meditate. I asked the inmates to think about the fact that the butterfly’s life is very short and who knows, maybe it is nearing its end.
We continued our usual meditation silently and focused on inhaling and exhaling, as the butterfly lay motionless in the center of the circle. After the bell rang, marking the end of the meditation session, I suggested the inmates share their experiences as they observe the butterfly and consider where their paths converge. Here are a few of the experiences shared by the inmates:
“I live many more years than the butterfly does, but since its life is so short, it reminds me that I must pay attention to every moment that passes and ask myself whether I am at peace with myself at that moment. Time passes quickly and my bad deeds or words can hurt someone; thus, I need to choose my actions and the words I say, and live each moment in the best possible way.”
“The butterfly brings only beauty to its surroundings. It flutters between flowers and everybody enjoys seeing how free it is. I would like to be able to live like the butterfly.”
“Before it was a butterfly, it was a cocoon. When I was a drug addict, I lay in the corner of the room, unable to move. Now that I am in therapy, I begin to spread my wings and I hope to learn to fly.”
Many things were said, other perspectives were presented. The butterfly was an excellent teacher. From time to time, one of theinmates would touch its wings to check if it were still alive, and it responded by fluttering them as though nodding: “I’m still with you.”
When we began to practice walking meditation, I placed the tray with the butterfly on the table and suddenly, it spread its wings, lifted itself and flew through the cell bars.
We were all stupefied. “We gave it energy,” said the inmates.
It was a lesson for me as well, about freedom in prison.