A Living Flash of Light

By Ingrid Van Mater
Distant mountains
Reflected in eye-jewel — Dragonfly. — Issa

Many summers ago while on vacation, I had the privilege of observing an incident that remains in my memory as though it were yesterday, and, in fact, the reality of it deepens as time passes.
On this particular day, everything began as usual. Our son, then eight years old, left early in the morning for his favorite spot where the river, shrouded by the dense growth of willows and cottonwoods, widened into a quiet pool before narrowing into rivulets falling over the rocks. He loved to wade out into the water, sometimes waist deep, pursuing a bullfrog whose loud splash announced its presence nearby; or trying, net in hand, to outwit one of the large dragonflies zooming by in their search for mosquitoes and gnats. Through his interest, many of the denizens of a pond were brought to our attention which otherwise might have gone unnoticed.

Before the heat grew too intense, his grandmother and I went for a walk, followed by her black and white terrier, to see how everything was going. We had just begun to relax and enjoy the restful sound of the river when we heard a cry of delight: "Mother, a dragonfly nymph. It just climbed up on a rock in the sun." A moment later, a more imperative call: "Come, I see two large eyes. It's changing!"

We continued a short distance along the wooded path, and on a rock at the edge of the stream was what appeared to be a lifeless, dark grubby creature. We sat down close by, restraining the dog who by this time was quivering with excitement and sniffing at the object of our rapt attention. As we watched, hardly daring to breathe for fear of interrupting this transformation, we observed that through a split in the back the head of the dragonfly was coming into view; and gradually, deliberately, the whole body emerged, damp and somewhat shriveled. In the warm sun it slowly stretched to its full size, and the wings began to expand. How long we stayed and silently watched, I would not know, for we seemed to have momentarily lapsed into an interlude of timelessness, identifying for a brief spell with a Lilliputian world in which we felt the dragonfly's struggle to be born into a larger realm of air and sunlight. We sensed the perilous nature of the transition, the possible hazards along the way, and marveled at the quiet precision of this "exacting ritual" which must have been going on uninterrupted since the days of the giant coal forests. It was indeed as though it were guided by a higher intelligence.

We waited until the transition was assured, and then reluctantly left, while the dragonfly completed the final stages of adjustment before beginning its first flight, now prepared with powerful wings and more acute vision, to face new and bigger challenges.

As we returned to our cabin, our thoughts were still pondering over what we had seen, and we felt a deep joy in having had a share in one of Nature's mysteries. In Tennyson's inspired words:

To-day I saw the dragon-fly
Come from the wells where he did lie.
An inner impulse rent the veil
Of his old husk: from head to tail
Came out clear plates of sapphire mail.
He dried his wings: like gauze they grew:
Thro' crofts and pastures wet with dew
A living flash of light he flew.

The beauty of such an event is that to each one it brings something different, because it expresses the creative force behind manifested existence. To me, this metamorphosis tells of the continuity of all life, the always latent promise of grander fulfillment. How suggestive it all is, and what a parallel with the unfolding human consciousness! This lowly creature, beginning its cycle under water, shedding its skin and changing many times in darkness and confinement, is finally freed: still linked with its watery world, but viewing it from a higher plane, its wings shining like spun gold in the sunlight; its compound eyes catching untold reflections.

A summer's day, a young boy, a pond teeming with lives, and we have the setting for a miniature enactment of a cosmic drama. For an instant thoughts are drawn away from the commonplace into the broad sweep of time: the ephemeral dragonfly, one small facet in the jewel of life, reflecting distant peaks of attainment. Eternity, captured in a "living flash of light."

(From Sunrise magazine, November 1972. Copyright © 1972 by Theosophical University Press)


Sunrise Back Issues Menu