An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of June 26, 2005
Issued from the Sierra Nevada Foothills east of Sacramento, California, USA

WHY BOTHER WITH BUTTERFLIES?

There are reasons for going butterflying beyond the mere fact that filling your head with butterfly colors and elaborate wing patterns is pleasing, maybe even therapeutic. Let me tell you one reason why it's so important to me.

When I left the Kentucky farm for college in 1965, I almost flunked out my freshman year. Because of poor grades I was put on probation. One of my problems was that I spent so much time in the library studying issues important to me, not the mind- numbing stuff of my classes.

The two subjects I researched most were religion, because I wanted to know "which one was right," and the other was hypnotism, because nothing in the concept I had of humanity suggested any reason at all for the strange phenomenon of hypnotism to exist. What did it mean that humans were so suggestible?

You have seen that after a life of studying religion I currently aspire to being a deeply irreligious but spiritual person. My thoughts about hypnotism can't be expressed so succinctly.

Without going into details I'll just say that I'm convinced that all of us, most of the time -- maybe nearly all the time -- conduct our lives under the influence of any number of overlapping hypnotic suggestions. Many of the trances we stay in are helpful, even necessary, but many are destructive.

I regard "being in love" as a powerful hypnotic state. Next time you see two lovers gazing into one another's eyes, notice how they use on one another the same repetitive, rhythmic, soothing techniques practiced by stage hypnotists. Having religious faith is hypnotic, and remember how often preachers repeat the same simple messages. Feeling stylish, feeling community spirit, feeling patriotic, feeling sexy or useless or successful or awkward, accepting stereotypes and prejudices, succumbing to mob behavior or team spirit... All these human conditions can be regarded as workings-out of hypnotic suggestions directed toward us by society or our own genetic makeup.

If there is such a thing as free will among humans, I am convinced that it never occurs to most of us to try to practice it.

Here's how butterflies fit into this discussion:

If I am as vulnerable to hypnotic suggestion as everyone else -- and I am -- then I want as many as possible of the trances I'm in to be induced by the Creator speaking in terms of butterflies, and not by what other humans are saying and doing, who, after all, are only saying and doing what their own hypnotic trances permit them to.

So, after two days of wandering the mountains listening to the Creator's hypnotic butterfly-speak, what has been suggested to me?

The usual. That the creation is grand, to the point of being sacred; that life is beautiful, to the point of being worth living, and; that when a butterfly I'm watching lands atop my balding head, there's just nothing better to do than to laugh as gleefully as I will.