Meditation with a fly

My sister says that insects are a specially designed challenge to meditators. I try to recall this when being bitten (greatest challenge), crawled over, or buzzed. Until given this piece of wisdom, my usual strategy was to give up, with varying degrees of frustration, annoyance, or acceptance, after varying amounts of time trying to ignore the challenge. Since processing the wisdom (the appropriate thing to do with wisdom), I’ve felt more tolerant and good humoured toward these biting, crawling and buzzing challenges, and then I’ve given up.

At today’s chi kung class, I was visited by a challenge of the common house fly variety. However, each and every common house fly is an individual life form with characteristics drawn from a broad spectrum of possibilities. This particular fly was on the highly persistent side of the spectrum.

Fly approached first along my right arm. My consciousness withdrew from the tan tien to note the presence of the fly, and judge it as easily tolerable. “I can keep my mind off the fly,” I thought. “No problem.”

By the time I’d thought that, the fly had moved to my left calf. My consciousness felt the need to note its presence there…and then on my right foot…and then on my knee…shoulder…neck…but still the overall level of judgement was, “This is okay, this is an insect challenge, I can cope with this and still remain in this relaxed meditative state. I’m much better at this than I used to be – ”

This is about the point where the fly moved onto my forehead. I am now aware that there are many more nerve endings in the face than in the arms and legs, because the same little fly that drew a delicate trace along your calf feels like it’s suddenly pulled on a pair of steel-capped boots when it walks across your forehead.

And added spikes when it crosses the openings of your nostrils.

And is carrying a backpack when it gets to your eyes. (Fortunately chi kung meditation is of the closed eye variety.)

But it’s when it gets to your lips that you can sense each of its six little legs rising and falling. With careful observation, I’m sure you could become aware of whether it had a limp and whether its feelers were thicker or thinner than average. However, it was at this point that my consciousness made the judgement that both observing or ignoring the fly were no longer acceptable options. You see, I’d also become aware that I tend to meditate with my lips slightly parted, and observing or ignoring a fly as it crawls into my mouth is still way beyond my spiritual capacity. I did briefly wish that I was one of those enlightened beings who can communicate telepathically with a fly and gently request it to leave. However, since I’m not, I resorted to swiping wildly with my hand at my mouth.

The fly flew away from me – for 2 or 3 seconds.

And then it was back on my right arm…leg…scalp…forehead…nose. This time I swiped before it got to my lips. I swiped for longer, with both hands, and a strong mental command, “Go away!” (Actually, more like ‘go away, go away, go away and don’t come back!).

Perhaps 4 seconds this time. And the part of my consciousness able to laugh at myself was finding less good humour in the situation, since another part of it was pointing out how there wasn’t much meditation time left, and how was I ever going to get to a deep and peaceful place while wildly waving my hands in the air?

Next time as I swiped, I had the uncompassionate thought that I would really like the fly to go bother someone else, and perhaps if I waved my hands for long enough and violently enough this time, it would decide to share its challenges around more equally, rather than blessing me alone with its attention.

But apparently this was a fly especially for me.

Once again, I am forced to acknowledge that there is no point in comparing your own position with someone else’s.

Just as we were given the one minute warning that we’d be stopping, a new thought popped into my consciousness.

This thought made the observation that the amount of time that the fly had been doing the actions that I considered beyond my limits of tolerance – that is, attempting to actually enter my body by one orifice or another – was probably all of 3 or 4 seconds. The rest of the time it was ‘distracting’ me, it wasn’t doing anything intolerable at all, except making me aware of its presence.

The thing that was distracting me was the voice that said, ‘there’s that fly again. It’ll be back on my lips in a minute. No, it’s on my arm…no, back on my forehead…that’s okay, but it’s ticklish…it went to my mouth before, it’ll do that again, better close my lips, maybe if I shake my head a little it’ll move (it didn’t, it was much tougher than that)…no, oh no it’s going to go up my nose…no, it’s at the lips, that’s it, swipe!”

The ‘distraction’ was nearly all centred on the past and the future – certainly, the very very immediate past, and the very very immediate future – but past and future just the same. The amount of ‘present’ that I judged as requiring action from my point of view was a matter of seconds, and yet the disruption of thinking about the action took up most of 20 minutes.

Ah, I love those little moments of epiphany. “Come back, fly!” I cried. “I want to try increasing my present focus!”

But it was time to sit up.

The challenges are never ending.

Maybe one day I’ll have an epiphany from a more challenging source, such as being bitten by a swarm of mosquitoes. But I’d be happy enough to forego that enlightening experience for quite some time. I’m obviously only up to beginning house fly level.

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