When meditating in an environment where speaking, reading and writing are all strictly prohibited, you find yourself resorting to simple distractions to pass the time. During free hours, I often found myself lying on my back, staring at a patch of ceiling, or blowing tiny bubbles off my tongue.
Another activity that was always amusing was watching the ants. They parade up and down the walls in busy, industrious lines, and occasionally carry scraps of leaves or dirt to various, unknown locations. Watching them touch antennas and then hurry past one another is almost hypnotic in its repetitive, lulling monotony. Yes, when there is nothing else to do, watching ants is one of my favorite activities. That and picking your fingernails become utterly absorbing experiences.
Several days into the meditation, I was ant-gazing. The little creatures were marching along a low stone wall. I was sitting several feet away. The bell was going to ring at any moment to summon us to the meditation hall, so I was soaking in the last of the evening sun before going indoors. The ants were my company.
As I watched, one ant broke from the pack and marched straight towards the edge of the wall. He moved efficiently, with confidence, as if he had traversed this particular patch of wall a million times. And then, as he reached the edge, he did something that left me gaping.
He leaped into the air with no hesitation at all, like an Olympic diver bouncing once on the diving board before sailing into space and unfolding in a flawless free-fall. It was the equivalent of a human leaping off of a hundred story building! He flew with all of his ant legs open and extended, like they were small parachutes guaranteeing his safe landing.
In the same second that he leaped, he hit the ground, weightless, running, never breaking the glorious rhythm he had set, not even pausing to brush himself off. I was wildly inspired. I stared after him, feeling shown-up, a bit unworthy. Big. Human. I had the strange sense that he knew I was watching, that he leaped off the wall just to impress me. I was impressed.
The bell rang, and it was time to go in. I stood up, brushed myself off, and tried not to look too inferior, too cowed. When I turned to walk into the meditation hall, I didn’t look at the ant. I shook out my sweatshirt and tied it around my waist. I deliberately turned my back to his athletically superior body. I could imagine him laughing at me with all of his ant-friends, standing not far away, their hands on their tiny hips.
Ha ha, they would say. Did you see her expression when you leaped? She couldn’t believe it, man! Humans could never do that shit!