The life expectancy of a butterfly is usually measured in weeks rather than months. The complete life span encompasses birth, the transition from egg to caterpillar, caterpillar to chrysalis, and finally chrysalis to graceful winged butterfly. The latter stage can be as brief as just two weeks.

Papilio memnon

Papilio memnon, south Asia. Image courtesy of the Natural History Museum, London.

As Tibetan Lama Sogyal Rinpoche describes in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, everything on earth is impermanent: each plant and animal flourishes for a short time, transitions from one state of being to the next, and then expires. The butterfly is a beautiful example of this. The theory of impermanence could be taken as a pretty melancholy view on life, but it needn’t be. Many great thinkers, from Buddhist monks to early Greek philosophers and modern political theorists, have argued that it is only through a deep understanding of our vulnerability, and our impermanent and ever-shifting state of being that we can truly appreciate our lives and cultivate wisdom.

Papilio palinurus, south Asia.

Papilio palinurus, south Asia.

I visited the Sensational Butterflies exhibition at the Natural History Museum last week to explore how interacting with nature can be a mindful experience. I’d read about the impressive health benefits of spending time outdoors and playing with animals, and wanted to combine these experiences with learning new things and seeing some rare and beautiful animals.

Idea leuconoe, south Asia.

Idea leuconoe, south Asia.

The exhibition takes place in a specially constructed tropical enclosure on the NHM’s east lawn, so maybe it’s not exactly ‘outdoors’, but it definitely ticked all the other boxes. I bought my friend Rebecca to the exhibition, a keen animal lover, zoology graduate and gifted wildlife photographer (yep, unless otherwise stated, all images in this post are by Rebecca)!

Mindfulness blogger and exotic butterfly :-)

Mindfulness blogger and exotic butterfly 🙂

As soon as we entered the enclosure we started to see many gorgeous species of butterfly. The butterflies are free-flying and tame, if you stand still long enough you’re sure to find one landing on your back/shoulder/arm. Nearly all the butterflies are rare breeds from tropical locations across south Asia, Africa and central America.

Dot Dash Sergeant, Singapore

Dot Dash Sergeant, Singapore

This isn’t anything like a traditional mindfulness practice: we went on a Sunday and the enclosure was full of toddlers! It is a great way to spend an afternoon though, and being amongst such beautiful and delicate creatures does focus your attention and engage all the senses, so in that respect it is a mindful, calming and nourishing experience. I’d recommend checking it out: the exhibition continues until 14th September and tickets cost £5.50.

Butterfly and chrysalises. Image courtesy of the Natural History Museum.

Butterfly and chrysalises. Image courtesy of the Natural History Museum.

 

Advertisements