why meditation is like catching flies

Now it is summertime, we have a lot of flies that want to come in the house and we need to have good screens on our windows. Despite the screens, we still need to catch flies from time to time in order to keep the room clean. We use nets with long handles to catch them, so we can put them outside. It is very easy to do once you have the technique, it just takes a little bit of practice to become good at it.

There’s a few things I’ve noticed about the job of fly-catching, and some of it is interesting because it is surprisingly similar to the work of meditation.

One thing is that it is not a job that can be left undone for a time. If we do not take care to keep the place clean of flies, the numbers build up after a while and they start to be everywhere and become highly disagreeable, and then to remove them all is a big operation. It’s easier to just catch each new fly that appears right away, as soon as you notice it.

Catching flies is also a kind of job that you have to accept doing all the time in summer. I can never announce, “All right, that’s finished now, I did a great job clearing up the flies and there are none left,” because flies will always, always want to come in your house. As long as there are flies, they will want to come in your house and if you do not catch them, you will end up with a house full of flies.

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In meditation, my aim is to keep my mind clean and throw away everything harmful that comes inside. These harmful thoughts or emotions are like flies: black, ugly, and deceptively small so that just one of them is easy to miss at first if you are not looking for it. They always, always want to come in and unless something really drastic changes in me, they will always want to come in, as persistent and ever-present as the flies that buzz around my front door.

Just like with fly-catching, it is easier to keep my mind clear and catch each new thought or each new trouble right away as it arises.If I neglect my mind for too long un-watched, I will have a lot more work to do to get rid of all the flies out of it. I will need to do a big clean-up.

I will always see my mind wanting to go towards anxiety or insecurity, or sometimes irritation, sometimes laziness, sometimes my ego wanting to look good for others, sometimes fear… all my “flies” will always come buzzing around me, looking for a way in, and if I do not catch them, my mind will end up full of trouble just as my house ends up populated with flies if I leave it for long enough without catching any.

Flies find all kinds of cracks to come in. Sometimes we are sure that all the windows and doors are closed, but they still manage to find a way in. Perhaps there is a crack somewhere or maybe we let them in when we open a door. Sometimes they are quite hard to see. They are good at hiding themselves and they move very quickly, so quickly that it is difficult to keep one’s eye on them.

My fly-like thoughts also find all kinds of cracks to come in, and can be sometimes hard to see. Sometimes I think I am watching all the windows and doors, but at some point I realise that several got in somehow when I wasn’t looking. Suddenly I find myself becoming full of emotion and wanting to cry, and I see afterwards in my memory the moment when it came in, but at that moment I was not watching at the right place.

The more aware I can be all the time, at the present moment, the more it is like having good screens on my windows; the unwanted thought or emotion cannot come in if my awareness is there at the door to stop them.

When I first arrived here, I found catching flies quite difficult and it was not a job that I looked forward to doing. I would constantly miss and would always be afraid of making one wrong movement and letting them out of my net.

It is easier for me now that I have more practice. It’s even a rather fun and very satisfying task to do, and if I do it all the time and don’t neglect it, it never turns into a great burden.

And the same is true of meditation. It felt awkward and tricky at first and there were times when I wanted to just ignore my flies rather than spending all my energy looking around for them and trying to catch them. It gets easier with practice, and becomes lighter and lighter; and I am lighter and happier the more I keep my mind clear, my house clean.

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