Near a stream that runs by the temple, a woman sits on a putuan. Back straight, legs folded, arms loose, hands barely touching, and a slight smile on her face, she seems at home with the rugged surroundings of the northern mountains. A ray of afternoon sun, sneaking past a cloud, shines on her weathered, but gentle face and short-cropped hair. Both eyes twinkle ever so slightly as it does.
Across from the woman, a man, back slouched and legs crumpled, also sits on a putuan. Uncomfortable, he fidgets. Warm, he wipes his brow to prevent sweat from smearing the Ray Bans he wears as protection from the sun. He has a notebook in one hand, a pen in the other.
“Really, really,” says the man. “You’ve been doing this for the past 34 years?”
The man, a freelance reporter, is researching an article about women and monastic life. He and the woman have been talking for over two hours. Information about the rituals, routines, and roles of the temple fill the pages of his notebook.
“Yes,” she says. “Here, with great intentionality, I live my life as it is, with all of its beauty, hardship, joy and sorrow.”
Earlier, when a pesky fly lands on her unclothed arm and she gently brushes it aside, the man takes notice. “So you do not harm any sentient beings, correct?” he says.
The man takes copious notes as the woman describes living harmoniously with the birds, fish, other wildlife, and plants that populate the area around the temple. Nodding knowingly, he captures her comments about the vegan diet on which she subsists. Smiling he records that human waste replenishes fields and forests. As she tells about filtering the water she uses for cooking, drinking and bathing so as to not kill organisms, he looks up, with astonishment.
As he does, the fly, again, lands on the woman’s arm. Only to fly away, when once again, ever so softly, she brushes it aside. The man, again, notices the careful and loving way she treats the pesky fly. So, when the fly lands on his arm, he does likewise.
The additional questions he asks are about temple life—early morning gongs followed by prayers, daily chores, meditation, sutras, interactions among practitioners, love, romance, and so on. Each question, the woman answers clearly, concisely, completely, and with care. Never does she rush. She takes every one in stride. The man impatiently fidgets and sweats as she does.
The fly, flies around the man’s head. Goes up and down the contours of his body. Having done this it then, once again, lands on the woman’s arm. Swiftly and decisively she smacks it dead…right there on her arm. Carefully she picks it off her flesh. Then casts it onto a big, lush clump of grass.
Startled, the man falls off the putuan on which he is indelicately perched. Unable to contain himself, he says, “You killed the fly!” Then goes off on a rant about the fly being a sentient being. Next, he furiously makes some notes. The woman sits quietly as he does all this. When composed, the man asks, “How could you do that? What were you thinking?” The woman, back straight, legs folded, arms loose, hands barely touching, eyes on the man, says, “I did the fly a favor.”
Okay, what is the lesson of this story? There are many. The interactions of the woman, man, and fly are rich with meaning.
Certainly one lesson pertains to the cycle of life. How everything and everyone is interconnected, each dependent on all others. In this case, the woman helps the reporter get his story. He, in turn, spotlights her and life within and outside the temple. The fly helps both by offering itself up in a way that illustrates the woman’s intentionality and provides the man with must-read-fodder that countless people will read.
There is also a lesson about contrast. How the woman lives intentionally—observing the beauty, joy, pain, and sorrow around her. Seeking to be whole, she is harmonious and deliberate. In contrast, the fly appears devoid of purpose. Monotonous and empty, it wanders aimlessly. The reporter, uncomfortable and fidgeting, is out of his element. He gets the basics but does not truly understand the woman and the fly.
That the fly lands twice, is brushed away twice, but swatted upon landing a third time points to a lesson about persistence. On first encounter the pesky fly appears purposeless. But when the fly perseverates, the woman notes its persistence. Some might say it speaks to her. The woman watches, waits, and then acts as if it does.
Stepping back, I see the story is a poignant parable about the peskiness of life—the painful things that we keep hidden, want to avoid, and oftentimes enable. When we ignore these things, their peskiness persists and bugs us wherever we are, whatever we do, and whomever we are with. They demand that we address them.
The woman has come to understand this on many levels. So when the time for dealing with the pesky fly arrives, she acts. Her action, a result of deep insight and intense contemplation, requires great courage on her part because it is out of character for her. But she is confident that killing the fly, although counterintuitive to the reporter, is the best thing for it, him, and her. The compassion and decisiveness she brings to the act, does them all a favor.
Note: This is the 13th post in the Learning Lessons series. Please click the subscribe button on the right side of the blog page to be notified of future posts.