Dog & Butterfly ~ The beauty and bliss of reaching higher than you can grasp

Heart’s Dog & Butterfly has been on my mind and in my ears a lot the last few days, both the album and the title song from it. I love the song for the mirthful image of a dog futilely leaping after a fluttering butterfly, and for its wisdom in directing us in our moments of hardship toward an appreciation of something as simple and beautiful as a fragile, graceful butterfly confounding an ever-so-agile and intent pooch. Still, I sensed there was something more, as there often is with songs that stay in my mind for more than a few hours, and especially the songs written by talents such as Ann and Nancy Wilson. A little googling turned up the answer with a passage repeated by many sources.

Ann penned the words to “Dog and Butterfly” but it was her Sheepdog that inspired the lyrics. Ann watched intently from her bedroom window as her Sheepdog chased a butterfly around the yard. “As Ann watched her dog it struck her as symbolic as to how life can be,” explains Nancy. “When you’re an earthbound creature we’re always jumping and reaching for things we can never really catch, but you try anyway. And that’s the point of the song, we’re always trying to grab at something higher.”

Mmmmm… and so the pertinence is revealed.

My relationship with music has often been uncannily profound. Using that relationship as the basis for writing about my passions was an idea I had a few years ago. Last January I finally found the inspiration to begin the project (expanded to include movies and books) in my friend Gary Chow, with whom I share a certain happy writing chemistry. In the past half year we’ve written nearly 150 posts, and I’m sure I speak for Gary as well when I say that I’m very proud of them and the blog we created. In the last couple months, though, our productivity has fallen off dramatically. Speaking only for myself, I knew I wasn’t leaping quite high enough, and maybe there was a more beautiful butterfly to be chasing. It’s now time to get after that pursuit.

I’m very grateful to Gary for his partnership in creating this blog and, now, for graciously allowing me to take it over as my own solo project so that I can pursue my original inspiration.

     Butterflies. Such a poignant metaphor.

Monarch sipping life's nectar.When the idea for this blog occurred to me back in 2008 my life — my being — was in the kind of turmoil you might expect to find inside a recently formed chrysalis. The caterpillar has dissolved and the beautiful capsule houses a chaos of matter and cells churning about to eventually coalesce into a butterfly. I wonder if the caterpillar is aware of the beautiful perfection fate has in store as it begins to fold itself inside-out? I did, and I didn’t. I knew there was another side, but nothing could have prepared me for the journey, or what the world or even my own existence would look like from there. Music was there with me, not as a companion so much as a guide and a revealer of insights. It’s uncanny how often a song was at the centre of some significant event.

I feel a bit like Jodie Foster’s character in the film Contact, the subject of this blog’s very first post. She’s a scientist who has been through a unique mystical experience she cannot possibly explain or describe to anyone, not even wholly to herself, but desperately wants to. In fact, she is the sole ambassador for the visionary experience given her, and her purpose now is to somehow relay that vision to the fine folks on planet earth. Heady stuff.

That’s a little like the higher, more beautiful butterfly I need to reach for. I have it a little easier than Jodie does. The events in my life are not nearly so unique. The more I talk and write about my experiences with life after death, past lives, and the eternal nature of our spirit, the more people I discover with similar experiences. Even more compelling are all the people who have no personal experience yet have a spiritual sensibility much like my own. That shouldn’t surprise me — the kind of spiritual world view in which I have complete faith now has always intrigued me, perhaps even called to me. I’ve always wanted to believe. So, perhaps the buttefly isn’t so far out of grasp?

     And the dog? Yes, a metaphor too.

Golden Retriever Jump by Sara Zimmerman

Golden Retriever Jump by Sara Zimmerman

Dogged determination. I can imagine Ann’s Sheepdog chasing that butterfly for hours, relentless in pursuit. With that metaphor, however, we often associate a certain sense of grim determination. A nose to the grindstone, roll down your sleeves, no-nonsense mentality. That sensibility doesn’t match the tenor of this song.

See the dog and butterfly
Up in the air he like to fly
Dog and butterfly below she had to try
She roll back down to the warm soft ground
Laughing to the sky, up to the sky
Dog and butterfly

When I think of Ann Wilson watching her dog frolic with a butterfly, I imagine how the glee of the dog transforms her, how the scene unfolding outside her bedroom window reminds her that our determination to seek something higher than ourselves, beyond ourselves, is best served when our purpose is undertaken with a sense of glee. There is a beautiful perfection in the image of a dog haplessly but blissfully chasing a butterfly in the backyard. Just thinking about it lightens my being. In that moment, the dog knows no other purpose, no other joy, holds onto no sorrow. And I wonder if it understands that perhaps it’s best if the butterfly remains a little too high to grasp. It must be so, afterall, even if neither the dog nor I understand this in the moment. Have you ever seen the dog that has caught the butterfly? The pursuit has ended, and so too has the source of happiness. In a mild state of shock it thinks, “now what do I do?”

Why do you think they bring the ball back? So it can be thrown again.

     Laugh at the Sky

The stanza above contains one more thought. It brings to mind some ancient wisdom that can be a little hard to grasp at times when life seems difficult, or impossible, when we’re reminded in the news about just how awful we can be to each other and that circumstances don’t always deal us the best hand. But if you think about the Dog & Butterfly, think of that perfect moment of a beautifully futile chase, think with the blissful mind of a dog in pursuit just for a few moments, then maybe you can roll back down to the warm soft ground, and this will make a little more sense. You’ll know why.

When you realise how perfect everything is you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky.
~ Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha)


2 Responses to “Dog & Butterfly ~ The beauty and bliss of reaching higher than you can grasp”

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  1. Stephen Guy says:

    Nice job guys.. ‘been listening to this record since it came out in late 1978 I believe… the duality of side 1 (dog) and side 2 (butterfly), the ‘hard rock’ of Heart, and the femininity, the softness of the two sisters… being older now I gravitate towards side 2, the ‘lighter touch’, but still like to crank up “Straight On” now and then too… The title track takes a both a light hearted and a wearied look at life, enjoying the unknowable mystery of why we even journey through life, accepting the absurdity of reaching for the stars but with a positive feeling, like the process really is worthwhile…

  2. Peter says:

    Thanks, Steve. =)

    There’s more than a little magic in their album Dreamboat Annie, but lyrically Dog & Butterfly is more mature, grounded, a bit mystical and very wise. It’s my favourite album by Heart.

    And if I really want to crank it up, I cue up Mistral Wind, which begins and ends with butterfly, but gets into a bit of junkyard dog in the middle. [grin]

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