respect everything

The other night in the zendo I felt movement on my leg. At first I thought it was just the fan blowing on me, but then the movement continued in a path up my leg. I tried to let it go from my mind, as I usually try to do with minor sensations that arise while sitting. Eventually the crawling stopped. But then about five or ten minutes later I felt it again on my arm, heading down toward my hand. Whatever it was must have circumnavigated my body. It reached my wrist, hesitated, turned around and began crawling back up my arm before finally moving off my skin, probably onto my clothes. I did not feel it again for the duration of the sitting period.

Afterwards we talked about sensations that arise during zazen and what to do about them, specifically what qualifies as something worth moving your body for, at the risk of becoming a distraction for the people sitting next to you. As someone pointed out, meditation is a good time to experiment with reactions one might not default to in everyday life.

In this case, clearly there was some type of insect crawling on my body and my first instinct in daily life would be to (a) look at it and/or (b) brush it off. The outcome of (a) would most likely determine whether reaction (b) manifests itself. If I saw that it was a mosquito or a large spider, I would no doubt immediately brush it off. I might even brush whatever it was off without first looking at it. The mere feeling of something crawling on me could provoke an action designed for instantaneous removal, at the risk of potential injury or even death to a living organism.

If last night I had jerked my arm when I felt the crawling sensation I would likely have disturbed the people sitting to my left and right. Knowing this I sat with the sensation and in turn experienced a curious response within myself. I felt connected to this insect of which I did not even have a visual image. All I had was the feeling of its legs as it moved in zigzag motions along my skin. I felt its uncertainty as it paused and turned back the way it had come. I felt a friendliness toward it growing as we momentarily shared the same space.

As Shunryu Suzuki once said:

When our life is based on respect and complete trust, it will be completely peaceful. Our relationship with nature should also be like this. We should respect everything, and we can practice respecting things in the way we relate with them.¹

¹Suzuki, Shunryu. Not Always So: Practicing the True Spirit of Zen. Edited by Edward Espe Brown. New York: HarperCollins; 2003.

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