Squatting on the ground, my eyes stared at the hole in the sand; I watched ants slide one at a time down the slope and into the waiting grasp of the antlion. I couldn’t see the antlion and neither could the ant. As soon as the ant began to lose it’s footing, however, it seemed to know that it was in trouble. Sometimes an ant would make a brave attempt to climb back up and escape to freedom. When this happened, a sand-pebble barrage would shoot from the hole in the middle of the funnel, knocking the ant off balance and rolling it down hill once again. I routed for each ant, but very few made it out to freedom.
The antlion was hiding in the hole at the bottom of the trap it had constructed so meticulously. The sand was soft, dry, and rolled easily to the bottom. From my perspective I could see each ant tumble and become swept into the cascade of fine sand until it reached the bottom. Up would reach the jaw of the antlion; zap the ant would disappear below.
The unsuspecting ant had done what I have done so many times myself. It was determined to stay on the task: carrying food, returning to its safe home, or following the scent of water. It was so fixed on sticking to the job that it didn’t look up to see what obstacles might be in its way. For the ant it was a fatal mistake.
As a person with a bleeding disorder, I had empathy for those ants. Booby-traps seemed to be everywhere when I was a child. At a young age I learned to be vigilant about my surroundings. Even today, I watch for cracks in the pavement. I notice when I walk into a room if there are sharp corners on coffee tables or slippery area rugs. Still there are times when I forget to watch for pitfalls. If my mind is occupied with things other than what is immediately in my path, I know a carnivorous predator won’t eat me, but I could be badly bruised.
One day at work, I got up from the desk quickly and headed towards the filing cabinet. Tripping on an electrical chord I landed hard on my right hip. Within minutes I could feel the bruise enlarging. When I managed to stand up I no longer cared about the filing cabinet, I headed for the telephone. It took several infusions of cryoprecipitate to get the bruised hipbone to stop bleeding.
As anyone who meditates knows, it is hard to be attentive to just one thing. I have been practicing mindfulness for almost thirty years. The single focus I found so easy as a child is now something I need to practice. It is worth it though to be fully conscious and awake to the things that can trip me up, whether they are physical, emotional or spiritual.