One early morning recently I went running with a friend. The sun shone out of a blue sky onto woods and meadows showing twenty shades of green, the air was mild, and the breeze was soft. We jogged up a hilly dirt road between open fields, counting our blessings and waiting for our bodies to wake up and provide the power that we’d need as the slope began to rise more steeply a little further into the run. Then the deer flies came, in little, hovering groups of six or eight or ten.
Stand or panic?
Now, I’m usually a pretty calm guy. While I have my better and worse days, usually my reaction to trouble, perhaps after an initial few seconds of cussing, is “OK, what do I need to do?” Sometimes I even skip the cussing. But where groups of biting insects are concerned, I tend to lose my cool. I don’t want to get bitten, so I hop around and slap at any least sensation on my skin (real or imagined) and turn in circles to try to catch the little beasts in the act. It’s difficult to get running done under these circumstances, and with the flies circling and dodging, it’s also difficult to swat them.
My friend has a different approach. When she realized that the flies weren’t going to leave her alone, she stopped and waited. If one came very close she would sometimes clap her hands together (sometimes getting it, often not), but most of the time she stood there and held up her arms. The deer flies buzzed around her, but after a moment or two one would alight on her arm, getting ready to bite, and then she would swat it–and hold up her arms for the next one. Using this approach, and helping each other by watching for the flies that landed on backs or ears, we could wipe out a whole group of deer flies in just a couple of minutes–even though the first few times we did this, I did more hopping around than effective swatting.
We probably had to stop four or five times during our run to take care of deer flies, but as my paranoia about being bitten gradually relaxed, I found I was able to enjoy the run despite the insects.
Using mindfulness to settle annoyances and figure things out is a lot like swatting deer flies. If, like me with the deer flies, you’re so worried about being being bitten that you spend all of your time flailing at circling troubles, you’re not likely to actually get rid of many of them, even with an occasional lucky clap. But if when you first notice that problems are circling, you wait for them to settle and watch them–that is, if instead of getting carried away with the worry you allow yourself to relax and see what it really is–then as the problems settle, you can take care of each individual one, then let the next settle.
It’s easier with a friend to watch your back and ears, but even alone, you can catch more flies by watching than you can by flapping your arms and turning in circles. And when you’re done, you can turn back to the road and focus once again on ascending that hill.
Photo by net_efekt