“Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.” —Benjamin Spock
By Cat Saunders
One summer when I was a little girl, my family vacationed in a cabin near a lake in the woods. I don’t remember where it was. I only remember that I was younger than ten, and something happened that I never forgot.
One blazingly hot afternoon, I snuck off by myself to go exploring. Following the natural curves of the lake as I walked, I noticed a glint of purple out of the corner of my eye. There, on a nearby rock, was the biggest dragonfly I’d ever seen.
The dragonfly didn’t move as I approached, so I crouched down to get a closer look. When I reached out to touch it, the insect still didn’t move, so I gently scooped it up in my hands. At that point, I realized that the dragonfly wasn’t moving because it was dead.
For a long time after that, time stood still as I gazed intently at the beautiful iridescent insect. It was in perfect condition, with a sleek aerodynamic body, crystal-cellophane wings, and a fearsome face with bulging eyes. In my young mind that knew little about death, the insect looked fine, so I couldn’t understand why it wasn’t fine. My puzzlement turned to curiosity, and I found myself wondering what if….
What if the dragonfly began to tremble, quiver, and vibrate? What if the dragonfly came to life again and took flight? With the innocence of a child who knows nothing of science and skepticism, I focused my entire attention on the dragonfly until I lost all sense of self. Although I had no words for it then, I felt as if my life energy was the same as the dragonfly’s life energy. There was no separation.
I still can’t explain what happened next. At some point in the midst of my reverie, the dragonfly’s body did begin to tremble, quiver, and vibrate. And it did come back to life and take flight. I watched the huge insect disappear over the lake as it flew away. Then I turned to continue my walk along the path. I remember feeling happy, but not particularly surprised. Somehow, what happened seemed like the most natural thing in the world.
Now, four decades later, I still think about that dragonfly. In the intervening years, I’ve told only a few close friends about it. I was afraid someone might laugh or say it was impossible. I was afraid someone would tarnish the sanctity of that early mystical experience. In addition, I have sometimes doubted my own memory or dismissed it as “magical thinking.”
The skeptic in me has even tried to deny that the dragonfly was ever really dead. The skeptic in me says it must have been frozen in suspended animation, because I’ve heard that can happen with insects. However, it was a hot and humid summer’s day.
As a little girl, it never occurred to me to doubt my own perceptions. I simply had an experience with a dead dragonfly that came back to life, and that was that. It was only as I grew older that doubt about these kinds of experiences began to creep in. Often this came in the form of healthy skepticism born of scientific exploration. However, a more insidious form of doubt gradually increased during my upbringing as a result of social conditioning and familial wounding. By the time I was a teenager, doubt had become self-doubt, and trust in my own perceptions was all but decimated.
It’s been a long road back since then. Now as I write this in January of 2003, I’m turning 50. I still have to work diligently to stay on the path of self-trust. Sometimes the distractions and the detractors are so loud and relentless that it’s hard to even hear the “still small voice” within. But hear it I do, and the more I listen and respond with respect, the louder it becomes.
One day, I will turn a bend on the path of self-trust and discover that little girl with the dragonfly cupped in her hands. The dragonfly is still waiting for me there, in the back roads of my mind. It is ready to take flight again and again—as many times as I need its help to remember that my perceptions can be trusted. The dragonfly is there to help me remember that I really am the final authority on my own experience. I won’t let anyone take that away from me again.
This article was originally published by Evergreen Monthly (January 2004) and updated in June 2017.
Cat Saunders, Ph.D., is a counselor in private practice in Seattle, Washington. She is also the author of Dr. Cat’s Helping Handbook: A Compassionate Guide for Being Human (available through Amazon). Contact Cat by emailing her or by calling 206-329-0125 (24-hour voicemail).