Listening to each other chant on the third day of our bus tour japa retreat.
The other day I was telling my Dad about something that happened to me whilst taking part in the mini japa retreat on the bus tour. The retreat lasted for three days, of which the second was a ‘personal bhajan day’ where we took a vow of silence and tried to chant either 64 or 32 rounds. It was about midday and I was struggling to maintain my enthusiasm for the challenges of the day. I’d already broken my flow by unexpectedly having to do kitchen service for three hours (which I normally relish – but in this case, I was hoping I’d be spared), and now I sat out on the verandah of the temple, as the hot sun reached mid point in the sky. I closed my eyes, trying to focus on listening to myself chant, as we’d discussed in our morning workshops.
Suddenly, a huge fly whizzed past my head and landed straight in the middle of a big spider web in front of me. It buzzed frantically, so loud it almost sounded like a scream, as the spider emerged and swiftly began to move in for the kill. Without thinking, I jumped up and thrust my hand into the web. Its home destroyed, the spider made a dash for the safety of the nearby pillar and the fly fell to the wooden balcony. It still buzzed, more weakly now – its body was half wrapped in web and one of its wings was damaged. I tried to carefully unpick its legs from the sticky strands with my free hand (my other was still pointlessly in my japa bag) but it was a futile attempt. They were permanently damaged and the fly was on its way out too. I felt so stupid standing there over it. I had intended to help, but in disrupting the natural course of events, I had not improved the situation whatsoever. Rather, I’d just led it to its eventual outcome in a different way. I’d also disrupted my own concentration on chanting, again breaking my fragile momentum and meditation.
I sat down again, finding it difficult to take my eyes off the fly, lying legs up, still and silent. I felt very confused about what had happened, wondering what would’ve been the right course of action. Was it more valuable to put compassion into practice and try to help another living being? Or, as I suspected, was it more valuable to continue chanting – the prime way that all living beings will improve their condition of life, eternally? Of course, a fly might be considered very insignificant, but when I thought of the situation as a metaphor for something bigger, it seemed much more important a consideration.
It’s so easy to become distracted from spiritual practices. Even at an internal level, my mind is composing to-do lists and planning my week everytime I try to concentrate, what to speak of external distractions, which are ever present.
I finished telling my dad the story and he remarked that it reminded him of a quote by the Jacobean poet and preacher, John Donne. He said ‘I throw myself down in my chamber, and I call in, and invite God, and his Angels thither, and when they are there, I neglect God and his Angels, for the noise of a fly, for the rattling of a coach, for the whining of a door.’
At least I know I’m not the only one.