The Dragonfly Story
Down below the surface of a quiet pond lived a colony of water bugs. They were a happy colony, living far away from the sun. For many months they were busy, scurrying over the soft mud on the bottom of the pond. They did notice that every once in a while one of their colony seemed to loose interest in going about. Clinging to the stem of a pond lily it gradually moved out of sight and was seen no more.
“Look!” said one of the bugs to another. “One of our colony is climbing up the lily stalk. Where do you think she is going?” Up, up, up it slowly went …even as they watched, the water bug disappeared from sight. Its friends waited and waited but it didn’t return.
“That’s funny!” said one water bug. “Wasn’t she happy here?” asked another… “where do you suppose she went?” wondered a third.
No one had an answer. They were all greatly puzzled. Finally one of the water bugs, a leader in the colony, gathered his friends together. “I have an idea. The next time one of us climbs up the lily stalk he or she must promise to come back and tell us where he went and why.” “We promise”, they said solemnly.
One spring day, not long after, the very water bug who had suggested the plan found himself climbing up the lily stalk. Up, up, up he went. Before he knew what was happening, he had broken through the surface of the water and fallen onto the broad, green lily pad above.
When he awoke, he looked about with surprise. He couldn’t believe what he saw. A startling change had come over his body. His movement revealed long silver wings and a long tail. Even as he struggled, he felt an impulse to move his wings. The warmth of the sun soon dried the moisture from the new body. He moved his wings again and suddenly he found himself up above the water.
He had become a dragonfly!!
Swooping and dipping in great curves, he flew through the air. He felt exhilarated in the new atmosphere. By and by the new dragonfly lighted happily on a lily pad to rest. Then it was that he chanced to look below to the bottom of the pond. Why, he was right above his old friends, the water bugs! There they were scurrying around, just as he had been doing some time before.
The dragonfly remembered his promise:” the next one of us who climbs up the lily stalk will come back and tell where he or she went and why.” Without thinking, the dragonfly darted down. Suddenly he hit the surface of the water and bounced away. Now that he was a dragonfly, he could no longer go into the water…
“I can’t return!” he said in dismay. “At least I tried. But I can’t keep my promise. Even if I could go back, not one of the water bugs would know me in my new body. I guess I’ll just have to wait until they become dragonflies too. Then they’ll understand what has happened to me and where I went”
STICKNEY, D. (1997). Water Bugs and Dragonflies.
Inspiration for Counselling
The concept of “Dragonfly” as a therapeutic philosophy, is derived from this story because it captures three significant ideas about change and personal growth.
The first idea is that most of us are very content grubbing around in the “mud” of our lives even when we experience discomfort or suspect that something better is possible. It speaks of our desire to change, but also highlights our resistance or lack of motivation – our “stuckness” in familiarity – that keeps us from doing the work of climbing the stalk.
The second idea is that life is about transition… about the changes we are called to experience… as well as changes we choose… about changes that may be profound… such as the loss of a loved one… a diagnosis of cancer… a marriage ending… as well as changes that are considered part of our “normal” life process… such as a relationship beginning, a marriage struggling… the birth of a child… the growth of that child into adolescence, a new career… perhaps even arriving at a milestone birthday.
The third and final idea I draw on is that not only is “climbing the stalk” a lonely journey, but once we experience transformation, once we see the world from the perspective of a dragonfly’s wings, we can never return to the mud of our lives.
The counselling I provide attempts to address the nature of ambivalence about making changes and help us better understand why we do the things we do that keep us stuck in the mud. It explores the addictive aspects of our behaviours and the grief inherent in letting them go. It is based on learning new strategies and coping skills… new ways of thinking and responding to life, relationships, and the changes we encounter. The overall process of the therapy is to assist people to release resistance to change, to engage their personal strengths, to learn new skills, and ultimately, to “climb the stalk”.