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The Butterfly Effect

The picture in the header this week comes out of Kai’s Grade 1 school workbook. It was taken a couple of weeks ago as I sat with him to complete his homeschooling work during his extended school holiday known as lockdown. What Kai was required to do was to trace along the dotted lines so that he could learn to write the letter “r”. What was significant for me about the picture was that in 1986, a year before I started grade 1, my parents were told that I didn’t have the mental capability to enter “big school”. I can clearly remember one of the school readiness“tests” was drawing a line within the boundaries of a path so that the “butterfly could find its way home.” It seems simple enough but it was something I couldn’t do. I kept crossing the boundaries of the path, disqualified myself from starting school, and so I’m sure my parents thought it would be a life of remedial classes for me 😁.

The short ending of this introduction is my dad made a phone call to a prestigious, traditional all boys school and I was unconditionally accepted because my uncle was a teacher there. Life it seems enjoys having a laugh at it’s own sense of irony. If behaviorism tells us we operate out of our voids, then it explains why after being told I might be better off learning to work with my hands 😁, I place such a high value on learning and acquiring knowledge today. One small phone call altered the trajectory of my academic path. This whole scenario is evidence of Chaos Theory’s butterfly effect and how a very small change in initial conditions can create a significant different outcome.

I feel as a society we operate under the false assumption that we need to live for the big moments but in reality the quality of life is really determined by the small unassuming decisions we make consistently. One insignificant decision or experience can change our lives in the most profound way. One small act of decision or indecision can alter the very course of our lives

11 years ago, before WhatsApp existed, I got an sms that said something like “ I hear you want to take me for coffee?” That decision to go for coffee has led to 3 kids and a life I hadn’t ever considered before that date. Struggling to pay bills, while living on the Gold Coast I took a job washing dishes in an Indian Restaurant that changed the way I looked at religion. While he cooked and I washed, the conversations I had with the chef/owner about his beliefs and observing his way of life and family had a profound impact on me. To this day I am extremely averse to any religious dogma claiming the ultimate truth and have come to realize that even if your Messiah walked on water, found enlightened under a tree, has many arms and faces or was commanded by Gabriel to read even though he couldn’t, religion doesn’t change our humanness.

In 2006, facing career ending back surgery, my mom phoned me to say that she had read an article on something called Bowen Therapy. Maybe it could help me? It did and today, 14 years later it is part of my everyday life as well as the lives of people that walk into my clinic. It is my strongest creative expression.

When I turned 18, my dad wrote an African Proverb in my birthday card that said

‘Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. So in Africa it doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle. When the sun comes up, you better start running’

These words have shaped and encouraged me to be an early riser and as a result most of my best work or intention setting happens in these quiet hours while the rest of the world still sleeps or why I prefer to train and exercise in the dark before sunrise. The proverb in the card flapped it’s wings and the tornado it caused 22 years later is a set of behaviors that, I feel serves me best.

These unassuming butterfly effects are not unique to my life. Everyone has them and everyone is affected by them. They aren’t always positive (or at least perceived to be positive) Most of us are too busy and unaware to consciously think about them and so sometimes the decisions we take and behaviors we act upon take us down a path that teaches some hard lessons. That’s life I guess.

At his trial for impiety and corrupting the youth, Socrates uttered the words “An unexamined life is not worth living.” An unexamined life means we aren’t living consciously and if we aren’t conscious we aren’t aware of the butterfly effects we have created in our own and the lives of others. This means we are powerless to change them. We remain victims of circumstance and blinded to the fact that we are powerful creators. Through the smallest conscious decisions and actions we take, we will come to control and direct the hurricanes created by the flapping wings of butterflies.

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