Making Butterflies from Desert Roads

Freedom surrounds us but first comes the struggle to let go

Simon Heathcote
5 min readJun 13, 2023
My partner and I, getting older, letting go

‘Only within yourself exists that other reality for which you long. I can give nothing that has not already its being within yourself. I can throw open to you no picture gallery but your own soul.’ Herman Hesse

People often ask, what is the point of meditation? What’s the point in journaling? It’s a question that can stem from different places within, not least a bleak hopelessness that has trailed us into life from some forgotten past like an unwelcome relative.

Occasionally, it is a simple request for information.

The best answer I have, stemming from my own experience, is that both can help open an aperture or a doorway to the vast galaxies of interiority which will ultimately take you to the source of life itself.

I believe we are all chasing a core or essence unsullied by the world and free from the stain of experience, painful or otherwise. We might call it Self or Love or God or Consciousness.

Yet no label or symbol can adequately describe our origins, the foundations of all earthly experience. If we are still in a frame of mind that is more comfortable with becoming than being, we might see it as a journey where suddenly we seem to be facing backwards rather than forwards.

This can feel distinctly strange as if forward progress has been halted in favour of an unknown, untrusted pathway. That’s why most plough on despite further suffering.

What is happening is that the ways we are trained in, the ways of the mind, have hit an impasse and cease to reward us in the same way they used to.

The drinker no longer feels sated by getting drunk, the careerist doesn’t feel as satisfied with achievement any more, the romantic grows tired of ‘falling in love’.

This is both a necessary and happy turning point, although it probably won’t feel that way. When it happened to me I was still in my early twenties and remember feeling that no-one else had ever felt as I did. That, of course, sounds remarkably ego-centric but there were legitimate reasons for feeling that way.

Shortly afterwards, I reached the depths of despair and cried out for help and suddenly everything changed. I met others who knew deep suffering and finally realized it was possible, even advantageous, to talk about the tricky subject of feelings.

The first time I heard a group of people talking in this way, I was stunned having come from a family where no-one spoke about how they felt and everything of importance was swept away in a deep denial, which I suspect went back generations.

This was the British Stiff Upper Lip writ large which I soon realized despite having its reasons like all things, was deeply destructive to human well-being.

And because we were not taught anything about feelings or consciousness in traditional education — in my case a rural boarding school where I was a day pupil — I was in need of not just a new beginning, but perhaps even a new language.

No wonder most people are truly frightened and don’t know what is happening when the Dark Night of the Soul comes for them, as it must do. Like the heroes of old, we must all pass through a series of ordeals to find the silver ore that runs through our being.

But these are not practical tasks generally; in the modern world, our demons and dragons tend to be emotional and spiritual. We must all do battle with our deepest fears, including that of our own emptiness, a void-like nature we have long sought to fill by objects in world or mind.

The fear of death perhaps goes without saying.

We are challenged to let go of addictions, obsessions, patterns and compulsions and to reset to a pristine neutrality that can never be the result of journeying because it is within us all along.

This is the lengthy descent stage of the hero’s journey where it is known at some level that it’s a fate worse than death not to enter life fully.

I wrote this some time ago: ‘Sometimes, the floor keeps opening and we just keep on falling through it to yet another rock bottom. Along the way, we pass through those feelings we spent a lifetime or more avoiding, until we reach the core of the conditioned mind — worthlessness and self-hatred — only to finally discover that within us lies an invincible summer.

‘Courage is required not to circumvent this process, and faith. If you just want ‘love and light’ in your life don’t even begin, keep holding on to what makes the ego feel safe. But it seems to me, that for all of us, there comes a point when the only thing we can do is to let go and live our own peculiar passage through time until we land in eternity.’

We are entering a place of mystery, leagues away from the day world we inhabit, where nothing feels certain and we are left stumbling and spinning.

Grasping for certainty won’t help. We are required to go blindly into the unknown, hopefully with some guidance, which is where the humility to ask for help becomes essential.

Our fuel is the longing to be fully ourselves, to be fully born into this world and the other world, the world of the unconscious or soul whose language appears to us in dreams and symbols.

In going within, we are risking a type of death; the death of our old ideas, our conditioning, even our grandiose certainty about how the world works which keeps us swimming only on the surface of the lake avoiding its hazardous depths.

Look how most of us when fearful cling to government orders rather than looking deeper to see what is really going on in the world. Our approach to our inner life is often no different.

We would rather it wasn’t there.

Like Adam and Eve heading back towards Paradise, we find the way is barred and we must take the desert road through experience, forced to earn our way home.

But when it is truly our time to change, nothing in this world can stop us. As Michael Meade writes:

‘A tragedy becomes completely tragic if we remain blind to the part of ourselves that the tragedy makes sacred….A psyche trying to change will pour through any wound or break, whether it’s physical, mental, emotional, moral, legal or spiritual.’

That struggle is unavoidable for any life to grow wings and soar, not just the butterfly. Accepting both pleasure and pain provides a pathway to bliss.

Copyright Simon Heathcote

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Simon Heathcote

Psychotherapist writing on the human journey for some; irreverently for others; and poetry for myself; former newspaper editor.