Intentions are Like Butterflies

For the past month, I have been doing a group meditation with my teacher Astrid. Between 10–15 of us meet on Zoom every morning from 6:15–7 am. We start the practice with an intention. My intentions are always simple — joy, peace, love, compassion. I have been a meditator for twenty years but I often skip days, sometimes even months. I notice a difference when I engage in a more devoted practice. I feel lighter, happier, more connected to myself.

The dictionary says an intention is something you aim or plan for. In meditation, it is also an opportunity to acknowledge what is already there. If my intention for the day is joy, then I call in a memory of joy, a time when I felt it. Then I let it fill me up. The intention to feel joy is possible because I’ve felt that feeling before. It is already in me and so it is possible for it to visit again.

If my intention is joy, I just need to call joy out, to invite the feeling into my consciousness more deliberately. When the feeling comes, it is like a butterfly has been released, the awareness of being free and alive and beautiful. There’s a lightness in my chest, an ease in my shoulders and jaw, a smile radiating from my heart. In that sacred time of meditation, it is like I am in a little tent, warm and dry, lantern-lit, with my intention like a beautiful butterfly circling me as I sit with the memories, images, and sensations that emerge from the presence of joy.

When my meditation is over I begin my day. I don’t actively think about my intention again but it is with me. The more I invite the intention in through a daily meditation practice, the easier it is to call it out the next time. Over time, after enough invitations, the butterfly that originally stopped by in the tent is so comfortable visiting that she hangs around even when I’m not in the tent of meditation. If I invite her in enough, she becomes so used to being with me that she perches on my headboard at night while I’m sleeping. Eventually, she might even sit on my shoulder keeping me company while I move around, living my life.

When I meditate I am the only one awake in the house. Everything is dark except for the small candle I’ve lit on the table in front of me. My dog Freckles usually sleeps beside me, snoring away, his warm back gently rising and falling against my leg. Every morning my intention is for the day ahead. I meditate on the main floor of the house, my partner Nancy is upstairs, and my daughter Lucia is downstairs.

Once I feel a sense of joy or peace or love, when I’m in the tent with the beautiful butterfly, I imagine two beams of light coming from my body — one going upstairs to Nancy and one downstairs towards Lucia. My tent becomes bigger, filled with butterflies, silently floating above my beloved family as they sleep.

In those moments I am somewhere else, fully ensconced in an alternate reality. I am splashing in the waves of the feeling I’ve called out, basking in the rays of joy or peace or love. It’s a wonderful, enlivening feeling and I feel happy there. But after a few minutes, or longer if I am lucky, I come out. I come back to earth. I make my oatm