[butterfly effect] = the phenomenon whereby a small change at one place in a complex system can have large effects elsewhere, e.g., a butterfly flapping its wings in Rio de Janeiro might change the weather in Chicago.
If only we knew how deeply we really affect each other and the world. Every dream, every flap of wings, every word, every silence, every thought carries a resonance that changes something in the hologram of life. What you do (or don’t do) today could change lives 100 years from now. The butterfly effect teaches that EVERYTHING matters.
I once lived with a sweet millionaire who suffered from chronic depression. We lived together in an opulent castle overlooking the entire city. I watched Rembrandt-like sunsets paint the skyline every evening from the roof of the castle.
He took me in when I was nearly homeless and gave me a job as his personal assistant. I moved in with my one suitcase and went from dirt to luxury overnight. Some days my work consisted of nothing more than having breakfast together, or walking with him and his rescue dogs. Some days I was the gardener or a secretary, some days just a friend.
Living in the ghetto, I was happy in a certain humble way. I made the best of it and said thank you every day when I had potatoes or rice to eat. Living in opulence, I experienced the existential emptiness that kicks in when you have everything you want, in worldly terms. There was nothing more to aspire to, no ladder to climb. It was a psychological vacuum. No human is exempt from this existential apathy, no matter how many vitamins you took in the morning or how much money is in your bank account. From joy comes suffering and from suffering joy. Poverty or wealth, it’s all the same.
The biggest reason for my friend’s depression was his perceived lack of purpose. He felt that he was not making any difference in the world, at least not in the extend he had dreamed of in his youth. Yet, he unknowingly changed many lives, including mine. One winter he bought blankets for an entire village in Mexico. He rescued street dogs and picked up trash in the countryside on our walks. All these “little things” he did, created worlds.
His happiness did not come from fulfilling any material desire, but from a sense of purpose; from helping others in whatever way he could, from loving-kindness, and witnessing someone else’s joy. When he was not able to fulfill these conditions because of his own suffering, he would be depressed.
During my castle days, I learned to truly appreciate all the small acts of kindness – the mere presence that you can offer to someone in need, listening deeply, sharing a meal together. It really is all the small stuff that paints the bigger picture.
We transformed each other’s lives by sharing of our presence; eating and walking together, sometimes in silence, sometimes talking. My job didn’t pay any money, but gave me a roof over my head and a position to be of service. At that time, I was going through my own inner struggle of meaninglessness. My friend saw this and understood that I needed to feel useful and ‘needed’, as much as he did. In giving me a job he was not rescuing me from myself, but teaching a lesson about happiness and purpose.
After about a year or so, I left the castle, still with nothing more than one suitcase to my name, but I had saved enough money for a plane ticket. Shortly after I left, my friend passed away from a sudden heart attack. In case you’re wondering, I did not inherit any material riches from the castle, but the spiritual jewels were overflowing.
Today, when I feel a lack of purpose, and that nothing I do matters, I remind myself of the butterfly effect..
Your happiness is connected with my happiness, your sadness my sadness. All things connect and all things matter, as we create these dreams together. Helping others you are helping yourself, and the opposite is also true. When we forget how connected we really are to everyone else, and the results of our creations, then this sense of meaninglessness takes over. But it’s only a skew in the perspective. Usually it means we need a higher vantage point; a trip outside the comfort zone, or perhaps a visit in someone else’s castle.
The butterfly changes the world foremost by its own flight of transformation. Truly, the most powerful way to transform the world is to transform yourself. These effects of your transformation, no matter how delicate, then ripple out in to the cosmos. You may not see the results of all your actions, but trust me – they are taking place at this very moment.
Perhaps your purpose today is to see the inherent purpose and interconnection in all beings..
Whatever you do today – whether you perceive it to be big or small doesn’t matter – do it with the firm belief that what you are doing matters greatly. I have found this to be a good exercise in experiencing purpose and meaning. I am doing it now as I write this article, and it has already transformed everything!