A Discovery of ‘Butterfly Power’

Yes, I am enamoured with butterflies, but I did not make this term up….

Butterfly power is a term coined by physicists John Briggs and F. David Peat to denote the subtle influences that are present throughout the universe. In their book the Seven Life Lessons of Chaos: Spiritual Wisdom from the Science of Change, they explain how chaos theory can inform us to live life more fully, by being in tune with the spiritual aspects of our existence. Briggs and Peat note that each of us exerts subtle influences, “for good or ill, by the way we are.”

Butterfly power is closely associated with another phrase called “the butterfly effect” which emerged from the work of Edward Lorenz, a meteorologist and founder of chaos theory. In 1972, Lorenz presented a research paper on weather patterns, entitled, “Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?” The butterfly effect refers to what chaos scientists call ‘sensitive dependence on initial conditions’ which basically means that something starts things off and what follows is a direct result, but it isn’t necessary to get too technical here (I wrote about the butterfly effect in my earlier book (1999) and on the energy-enigma website). The bottom line is that whether we perceive it or not, see it or not, it is all connected (and as such it is all one). So, how does this relate to us in health care?

Nightingale noted that “nurses put the patient in the best condition for nature to act upon him” and I have always taken her statement literally. We not only assist the process of healing-we are a part of the whole process. Nurses exhibit butterfly power. And most of the time, it seems, we really do not have a clue about how much we contribute to the quality of a person’s living-dying moments. Unfortunately, other health care professionals often do not seem aware of it either. The thesis I make here is simple, although the issue of professional quality of life (PQOL) is complex.

Our PQOL is wrapped up with how we go about caring for the people who are entrusted to our care and our patients’ well-being is in large part contingent upon how they are cared for by us (and of course other health care professionals). These two things are connected, they are one.

I have heard and lived many stories. Some are beautiful depictions of quality caring, and others are quite horrid. I often think of the nurse as a butterfly, flapping her wings (or manifesting her butterfly power).* To be truly transformative, enhancing the quality of living-dying, we must be able to imagine ourselves in the patient’s place first and foremost in order to grasp an understanding of how best to care for each individual. In nursing and in health care, generally speaking, positive subtle influences are those that arise from an authentic caring presence. Small things can make a world of difference. This is true in all walks of life, but especially true when caring for people during their most vulnerable moments.

Nurses are not taught to be aware of our important contributions. And very often we are not taught that we always have a choice in how we go about quality caring. It is more than time for a discovery of our butterfly power.

As I noted in a blog not too long ago, I’ve decided that perhaps we need an action word that will not only denote the subtle influences that can make or break our world (the butterfly effects) but one that could represent the purposeful acts that we need to strive to do as we go about day-to-day living and working.  Something that reminds us that there is meaning and purpose in our work and that all of us have butterfly power.  Our work with people and other living things is a gift-and a big responsibility.

So, the word that came to mind is of course related to butterflies: FLUTTERBYING.  The term ‘flutterbye’ is said to be a childish way of saying butterfly-but we all know that children are very smart little people!  Butterflies flutter and float, right? Since butterflies do flutter by, the term “flutterbye” doesn’t seem to be very childish to me. The word doesn’t come up in a dictionary with the ‘ing’ but is used here and there around cyberspace. I think it nicely denotes purposeful action and I plan on using it. My definition of flutterbying (for the time being, anyway) is: enhancing and transforming the quality of living-dying for all—through mindful awareness of our butterfly power and its effects.

 Every single thing we do transforms the one. Our mindful awareness of this should provoke all of us to do whatever it is that we do, well, to act purposefully so as to meaningfully and passionately participate in our wholeness…we can strive to do it with our “flutterbying.” 

I had a tee shirt made to spread the word.  On the back is the definition of “flutterbying.” I give them away sometimes in class and when I speak at conferences. Any proceeds after cost will go to charity (25 % of all my proceeds on my book on compassion fatigue goes to Nurses House to support nurses in need) ; what I want is to spread the word and help that butterfly effect move along!   If you are interested in helping spread the word, please click through the picture for more information.  Thanks!



*Dear male colleagues, I often refer to nurses as females, not to diminish the fact that there are many male nurses, but it just flows more easily to stick with one sex and females do, after all, still outnumber males in nursing!


Briggs, J., & Peat, D. (1999). Seven life lessons of chaos: Spiritual wisdom from the science of change. New York: HarperCollins.

Chodron, P. (2001). The places that scare you: A guide to fearlessness in difficult times. Boston, MA: Shambala.

Lorenz, E. (1993). The essence of chaos. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press.

Todaro-Franceschi, V. (1998). The enigma of energy: A philosophical inquiry. Doctoral dissertation, New York University (UMI No. 9819881).

Todaro-Franceschi, V. (1999). The enigma of energy: Where science and religion converge. New York: Crossroad.

Todaro-Franceschi, V. (2012). Compassion fatigue and burnout in nursing. New York: Springer.