The little black ant was investigating the rim of my bronze, bowl-shaped gong, as a beagle might investigate a strip of grass along a sidewalk. The sudden appearance of such an alien object and its alien smells (not to mention me and my alien smells) must have been quite a mystery to her. Every couple of steps, she pointed her head down, twitched her antennae, and moved a few more steps, where she continued her sniffing. My meditation spot on that morning is one of my favorites. It is on a high cliff overlooking the protected waters of the bird sanctuary inside Eagle Creek Park. The dirt is hard and bare, shaded by tall, leafy old trees on summer mornings. The breeze rustles the leaves and carries the freshness of the forest and the water. Sitting there, I gaze towards the small island in the middle of the protected water. The island appears to be pasted into empty space. My brain sees the emptiness as blue in some moments, white in others. This is a wonderful place to be.
“Little ant, you are about to get a rude awakening.”, I announced. It is a strange feeling to have regret for something you have yet to do. At the same time, I felt curiosity. I gripped the wooden striker and tapped the rim of the bell. Inviting the bell to release its deep, resonate sound, as it turned out, was like hitting the fast forward button; the little ant scurried from the rim of the bell, down the side, off the cushion, and onto the ground at several times the pace of its meandering exploration on the rim. In case you’re wondering: no, I never fried ants with a magnifying glass.
Three breaths in, I felt the tickle of tiny legs moving on my right forearm. The tickle sent a jolt of sensation down my right leg and triggered an urge to brush off whatever it was; it is amazing how the pressure exerted by the weight of a tiny insect (or an arachnid!) can, in a fraction of a second, sight unseen, make your arm move just so to brush it off of a specific part of your body. I noticed the reflex’s waves in me. Another breath. I sat still. “Let’s see how this plays out.” floated through my mind. I was hoping it was an ant but was afraid to look down and find a spider. Whatever it was walked up my right arm and down my left arm, sending jolts down my left leg. I found the symmetry interesting. When it strolled up my neck and on my face, I felt my fingers and arms tense. When I noticed that, I let them soften. The creature revealed herself as an ant, to my relief, when she emerged on the upper rim of my glasses. Having resumed her beagle-like ways, she paced back and forth several times, a fingertip away from my eye, out of focus. She crawled down my left cheek — no jolts this time — and peeked around my left nostril. Around breath number 43, she vanished.
Letting the ant explore was an opportunity for me to explore, too. There was no shortage of aversion to the ant crawling on me. As I sat through it, though, I realized that much of the aversion was associated with the loud tickling sensations on the surface of my skin and the jolts that traveled down my arms and legs. I wanted those sensations to stop more than anything. As I sat with the unpleasant physical sensations, I found that the idea of the ant crawling on me, separated from the sensations, wasn’t that aversive. The beauty of the situation revealed itself. There we were, two animals comprised mostly of water, breathing air, burning carbs and fat. We were kindred spirits in a way, both explorers, both elements of nature, gaining knowledge of our situations which we will share with our respective communities. We are two different forms of the same thing.