Almost every week I go to a Zen meditation group near my apartment. This group meets in the beautiful sanctuary of a large Unitarian Universalist church. Our small handful of practitioners, usually 5-10, join in a circle just in front of the main stage. We chant a liturgy, meditate, walk, meditate, and then have tea and discuss a reading. The practice is simple but powerful. As a mostly non-Zen guy, I kind of love it.
Well it happens that a couple weeks ago we had a warm spell. With the warmth came a nice new light into the sanctuary and, unexpectedly, a few ladybugs.
One of these ladybugs appeared to me in the walking meditation. It (she?) was crossing the carpet just along our path. My eyes caught her as the meditator in front of me passed: a darker spot on the dark carpet, raised, ever so slowly moving.
I smiled. In this great hall of history, humanity, music, and religion: a tiny ladybug made her way east along the carpet. I fantasized for a moment of picking up the delicate insect, taking her outside to freedom.
I stepped over, still smiling, returning my mind to my breath, posture, and sensations of movement. We circled around as always, moving in that typical slow Zen style: hands in gassho (prayer posture) or at rest in front of us, walking very slowly, mindful of every step.
Then I returned to where I saw the ladybug. She was there. Crushed. Unmoving on the dark carpet.
My heart sank. Someone had stepped on the ladybug. “Unmindful,” I thought, and stepped over again.
I tried to return my thoughts again to my breath, posture, and bodily movements. But I couldn’t help thinking of my failure, my missed opportunity to save this defenseless being. I had moments of blame toward whoever had stomped on the poor bug, but these were quickly replaced with a focus on my own responsibility.
I can still remember the words of one of my earliest Buddhist teachers, Alan Sponberg (aka Saramati). He said that if we can think of Catholicism as a guilt trip, we can think of Buddhism as “a responsibility trip.” We come back, again and again, to what we could do, not focusing too much on the past (guilt) or any sense of inevitability of mistakes (fallenness). But rather to see clearly the opportunities missed or taken up, and to be more mindful of them in this present moment.
The scene quickly became a reflection on life in general. How often do we experience that ladybug, something very small, perhaps something a bit larger, where our action can be of benefit?
And this is the path for me. Can I be of benefit?