A big insect in my car (and Pema and Tim) help me slow down and shine light on my response process

Flashlight, Lizi Boyd. A brilliant exploration of night, nature, and art. 

I’m driving at night near a large red and black mangrove forest. My window is half-down to take in one of my favorite smells: low tide. 

(Not everyone perceives low tide positively. Some people think it stinks.

Since there’s little oxygen available in the mangrove forest’s mucky silt mud, mangroves breathe with the help of special bacteria that live in their soils. This partnership produces sulfur-smelling gas, which makes some people think that mangroves are polluted. They aren’t. That smell is an indication the mangrove neighborhood is healthy.)

That low tide smell reminds me that everything is working the way it should.

I smile. I’m content and calm as I drive.

With the help of an almost fully waxed moon, I notice something moving on my dashboard. For the teeniest second that shape is merely form.

I look back to the road and back down to the form. 

It’s a large insect! I feel a tinge of fear and my heartbeat escalates.

I gaze again and begin to wonder about the name of this insect. A beetle? Cockroach? Maybe it’s a Dobsonfly. Or, is it a large spider?

My mind races with these thoughts.

Oh, that’s right! Earlier today I visited a nursery and filled my car with butterfly plants. Or perhaps a mangrove bug crawled into my car when I was at my sister's house. What kind of bugs live in mangroves? Now, where is that insect? There! What if it crawls on me? Bites? Jumps on my face and crawls into my mouth? (I know, what?) Whoa, I’m distracted. I might hit a car. Pull over. There’s nowhere to pull over. Where is that bug now? If I pull over, how will I find it? If I find it, how will I get it out of the car? (Killing isn’t an option for me.)

And just as the non-killing thought whirls by, my wheels run up on a curb. With luck I do not hit a yellow speed-bump sign warning me to slow for the traffic light.

That near-miss startles and scares me.

In the midst of insect + accident fear, a throaty chuckle arises because that sign I nearly hit is telling me to slow down. Driving home safely depends on slowing my car and my thoughts about this insect that I’ve made into a behemoth.

I stop at the light and use the pause to help myself.

The idea to help myself comes because I’m studying the process of the skandhas to gain insight about how I respond to life and I've just completed an online retreat. (This is the book I’m reading.) I'm exploring the distinction between how I experience things based on feelings, labels, and stories I make up about the world and how things truly are. (I’m aware that this is a challenging-to-understand philosophical wonderment.)  

This is what I'm learning—when I’m unaware, I quickly escalate and enormously elaborate what happens to me. 

In just a few feelings I can narrate hallucinatory scenarios that right this minute I know are dependent upon my perception and imagination. I also know that ignorance loves speed because speediness creates an illusion that what’s happening is permanent. Fixed. Solid. True with no reasonable doubt.

I don’t want to rush. I’ve had several reminders lately that I move too fast, respond too quick.

I don’t want to do that.

I don’t want to create the next epic movie script!

I don’t want to be rigidly black and white in how I look at things and get stuck in mangrove-mud-stickiness about being right and believing how I see things is the only way.

Because, honestly, I feel pretty miserable and tiny when I look at life from one view. I am determined to open myself to a more dynamic relationship between myself and others. Between myself and the world.

Between myself and an insect.

So here’s what I noticed during the red light:

I’m all worked up and wondering how, in milliseconds, I go from seeing an interesting form on the dashboard to an anxious, solid certainty that I’m in the presence of a scary, biting insect. Wait, it’s worse. I think it’s a poisonous insect. An enemy. A bad creature.

But then I remember, “Are you willing to take another view?”

(I can ask myself that question because I recall an exercise teacher Tim Olmsted facilitated in a recent retreat to explore the response process. Now, in my insect upset, I can connect with what I learned. Parts of it, anyway.) 

I can almost hear Tim asking, "In another experience, have you had a different view about a large insect?" 

Why yes, I think to myself. 

I remember observing with curiosity a large shape crawling about the garden. I don’t pull away. I lean in to get a closer look. I notice it is an insect, only this time I see it as a beautiful, delicate creature happily navigating leaf-shaded soil under the blue porterweed

Another question: "Can an insect’s touch be harmless?" 

I think about how I don’t want the insect in the car crawling on me, but what if this insect’s touch is as gentle as the monarch that landed on my arm last week? Can I open to imagining that this wandering insect in my car feels as tender on my skin as that butterfly?

"How about the “enemy” label?" Can I open to perceive this insect as friendly? What about the role of an insect in the cycle of life? Or what about other creatures who depend on this insect? If they had the capability, what story might they tell?


Just inviting in a little doubt about my original view causes a shift in my thinking. I noticed that my feelings about the insect changed. I take a deep breath and relax. I chill out. No need to pull over. There’s room in the car for both of us.

I see right then and there that I free myself from believing the scariness my mind created. I’m not ready to name the insect and call it a pet, but this is progress.

Here’s the big-aha-and-now-I-get-it gift.

This insect shows me that I’m the creator of perceptions of my experience and because I am the creator, I have freedom.

I have freedom!

I change my ride home from anxious to calm.

Whether I'm upset by an insect, person, or situation, I have the freedom to look again and take another view. If I can open to this insect as a fellow sentient being and calm down my projections, maybe I can do this in all my relationships. 

If I can work with this small discomfort, can I work with deeper discomforts? I think so.

I’m beginning to see the world differently.

My insights are inspired by the teachings of Pema Chodron and Tim Olmsted. From a retreat in May 2015.