I met a praying mantis in the campo and stopped to say hello, kneeling carefully on the ground beside her. She tilted her triangular head towards me with a quizzical expression in her large bright eyes, as if trying to weigh up whether I would be better as a mate or a meal (possibly both if she plays her cards right). – I’m so sorry I can’t stay long. I have an appointment – I say coyly, knowing already that she is the most beautiful creature I will meet today. Perhaps just one dance before we go our separate ways.
It’s hard to part when you fall in love so quickly, but sometimes it’s for the best. Such dangerous liaisons are bound to end in disaster. They say that opposites attract, but sexual cannibalism isn’t the best foundation for building a long term relationship and it’s not something that I would normally sign up for. You would certainly need to keep your wits about you if you went on a dinner date. And besides, I prefer vegetarians.
I cannot always talk directly to my wife. Or at least I cannot expect any definite answers. That’s where the mermaid comes in. Through her an entirely different kind of communication is possible. It’s a different kind of talking and a different kind of listening. Like poetry and myth making. It came to me first in a dream, not long after my wife died.
In my dream, an albatross has written a three-dimensional poem about my wife and I am jealous. Other people are heaping praise on the albatross for his clever construction and the profound truth that the poem conveys about its subject. I am completely out of my depth and cannot compete with this legendary seabird. There is a photograph of my wife that I’ve never seen before. She is swimming underwater. Down, down into the depths of the sea. Away from me and out of reach.
Buddhists believe in a never ending cycle of births and rebirths called saṃsāra. You can escape the cycle of rebirth by attaining Nirvana. But that’s something which requires a lot of effort, dedication and hard work and seems really rather difficult to achieve for most people, on account of their inherent laziness and fallibility.
I do not remember any previous lives. But you could remember your past lives in some detail, and talked about them often. You remembered being a boy in one life and dying young. In another life you lived in poverty and recalled the memory of hunger and starvation. Further back still you remembered living as a rich and powerful woman, a cruel aristocrat responsible for the death and suffering of others.
Some days start off this way. Perhaps after deep and unsettling dreams. Or after a night of heavy drinking, prescription painkillers or tranquillisers. It’s a familiar feeling but one which is always startling and profound. That moment when you first wake up and remember that you are alive, and that you are who you are, and exist in the world as a conscious being. And simultaneously, that one day you will no longer exist and will never wake again. In that fleeting moment of conscious awakening, the joy and the agony of life seem fused together in an indivisible unit, and we dimly recognise the mystery of existence and acknowledge the strange hinterland that we sometimes inhabit between being and nothingness.
What a beguiling spectacle to behold. Such precise and elaborate movements. The dance, not performed for an audience, but for it’s own sake, with dignity and with joy. The flexing of the wings. The stretching of the body. Up on the hind legs at full tilt. Cleaning the face with the front legs. A rite of purification before the dance begins. Then dancing in circles. First one way then the other, zigzagging across the plain. Life imitating art. Then suddenly an unexpected gust of wind whips the small body 50 feet, 100 feet, 1000 feet in the air and away for ever.
A stunned silence follows. Was it a dance of death or a dance of life? Do any of us know that this will be our last day? Our last hour? Our last minute on earth?