Words That Change

Diary #61 – Zen and the Art of Balancing Ants

In Uncategorized on 12 June, 2010 at 14:05

Thanks to pestproducts.com for this picture

In the south west of China in very ancient times it was a frequent Zen tradition (or Cha’an as it is there known ) to balance ants on an upturned piece of wood.

This being Zen – the practice was delicate. The ants would be collected in the woods around the monastry. The woods were filled with mushrooms, and pine needles and frequent passings of deer for the monks to look at and admire in their entirely present way. They would then get down to the business of selection. They had a way – being awesome Zen monks – of knowing that the little ant they were plucking from the forest floor was an entirely perfect piece in a very large puzzle and it had been designated to their attention to provide this little piece of that puzzle. They plucked the ants unhurried, and gradually the ants would come. The selection and collection of just the right ants would take days. Only 15 made the grade.

It is not easy, of course, to balance ants on a plank of wood, especially as the plank itself was vertical – the ants then arranged along its thin top edge.

In order to prepare the ants into the correct mental state they would be subjected to a phased stun.

The ants would be asked to march along a line monks sat in the famous Phased Stun Meditation popularised by Li-Ong Chang in the 7th century AD. The ants would do this because, living in the monastry’s surrounds they had become compliant in and deeply trusted the ways of the monks. They knew their colony would thrive and be deeply blessed by the practice.

The line of monks in Phased Stun Meditation began with one who had only known the ants for a little time. He was able to affect them but only a little, and they would respond, but only a little (with a slightly relaxed gait or dip of the antennae). The next monk had been on a few ant plucking expeditions and had read some studies of ant anatomy. He presented the second phase which would slow the ants pace by the length of a beat and so on. Deeper and deeper into their sophistication of ant knowledge went the line whose number was as large as the required intensity of the ant balancing that was to ensue. On festival days 100 monks would be sat in a line, and the man at the end (for there were no woman monks yet) would have a deep learning of ants, their psychology, anatomy and social habits. He was often very old and could imitate a number of their walks.

Having completed the phased stun the ants would tremble on for a few more paces and then lie together in a contented heap. Their walk had placed them in trance that would allow them to be placed without harm or indignity on the tippermost top edge of the plank.

Transporting the ants was easy. They were moved by hand, one monk per ant. Cradled in the palm, each ant was brought to the plank step by gentle monkly step.

The procedure for selecting, chopping and positioning the plank is too long for this story; as are the notes on growing the tree that supplied the plank. Though please write back if you need those as they are as enjoyable as they are serene, both in their form and the delicacy of thought that went in to their planning.

The vertically positioned plank would be presented to the ant who would be tipped gently on his side. His colleagues would arrive and they would assemble in a line.

If the timing had been correct, it would now be dawn and the back of the ants would be lit by the newly rising sun.

The forest was close with a deathly hush. The monks would gather in a large circle. The next part was entirely up to the ants, and the quality of their universal synchrony.

Somehow, and just quite how has been lost to us beloveds, somehow the ants in their trance began to move over one another. Find and latch onto a limb here, climb onto another’s body there. In front of the witnessing monks (silent), trees (hanging) and creatures of the forest (curious) the ants would assemble themselves into a pyramid. A shape that would be popular with gymanasts many centuries later and for entirely different purposes. These insects needed no medal. Their art was its own achievement and nothing could be done to persuade them that it was not worthwhile.

With the pyramid created it was by now midday. With the sun standing directly over them a miraculous happening would occur.

A beam of violet-white light would come down from the sun and hit the top most ant and percolate through them all – not harming a single one. Themselves glowing they would radiate a beam that would bath all those assembled in the most cosily radiant and contented glow. Each face a picture of perfect bliss as they sank into the depths of psychic unknowing provided by the beam.

~ o ~

It was a day of great joy and one that has remained entirely secret until one of them came to my desk today in Amsterdam and asked that I pass the technique on to you – dear reader – as inspiration in case your procedures are getting ahead of your inspiration for doing them.

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