You know what Australians call mosquitoes? Mozzies. I think that’s a wonderful nickname for the little buggers. It just sounds irritating to me, like the buzz they have when they fly around – Mozzzzzzz-ZEEE.
Unfortunately, I have had plenty of time to consider that sound since moving to Oz. We live in an apartment a block away from the water of Botany Bay. Unlike the cold bay shores of my native San Francisco, this beach area is warm and sunny, the perfect environment for mozzies to live in. Since we leave our windows open for the air and for the cats, we have plenty of the tiny, flying irritants in our house. We also have plenty of food for them and I am their favorite meal.
Itchy & Scratchy
I get bit by mosquitoes a lot. I don’t know what it is about me that attracts them, but they love me. Every morning I wake up with a new bite. I have two on my ankles, probably from when I kick my feet out from under the covers at night. I have two on my left arm right where it bends at the elbow. Those are going to take forever to heal and they itch constantly. I have one on my waist right where my pants rest and I have a new one on top of my left thigh, which is being rubbed by my pants. I am a walking scratch factory.
But in the middle of all this scratchy and itching, life goes on. Today I am finishing up the VERY LAST LOAD OF LAUNDRY! An accomplishment that cannot be underestimated. I’m also endeavouring to finish The Art of Happiness so I can return it tomorrow and write at least one article for work. I have a full schedule and the last thing I can afford is to be distracted by mozzie bites.
Mosquitoes and Suffering
But I’ve been considering what I can learn from the simple irritant of the mosquito, perhaps trying to lift it up from the pit of everyday annoyances into the rarified plane of cosmic lesson teachers. This may be a fruitless exercise, but as I was staring in disgust at my newest bite, it occurred to me that it could be a metaphor for suffering.
Now, it’s not a metaphor because I am melodramatically suffering from bites everywhere, but because suffering and bites have a lot in common. They both demand to be felt, for instance. Anyone who has tried to concentrate on something while simultaneously ignoring the acute need to scratch will attest to this fact. It is amazing that such a tiny little part of the skin could demand so much attention, but it does. It takes a lot of effort to ultimately forget about it’s existence.
Suffering has much the same cast to it. Our suffering, whether from loss or frustrated hopes or emotional hurts, may in fact be a little part of our lives. It may be only a small part of what we need to accomplish in a day, but it can be overwhelmingly distracting. It can command our attention to the detriment of everything else and, if we let it, can ruin our day and our lives in the process. Like the mosquito bite, it can take a herculean amount of effort to ignore it long enough to muddle through the mundanities of life. But it still has to be done.
Nevertheless, even when forgotten, the mozzies and the suffering comes back to haunt us. They can never be truly forgotten, even after they have healed. Why?
Because no matter what, they will be back. Or to say it another way, Suffering cannot be avoided.
I’m not the only person in the world who gets bit by mosquitoes. Everyone does. Similarly, everyone in the world suffers. It may be to a greater or lesser degree. Some people get bit more than I do, some people less. But at least some level of suffering is the norm for human existence. Suffering persists and, therefore, so do our efforts to overcome it.
Everyone Gets Bit
The other thing that mosquito bites can teach us is that everyone gets bit. Everyone suffers. No one is immune to the experience of hurt and scratching.
In my house, it can sometimes feel like I’m the only person who gets bit. I am the sacrificial lamb of mosquitos. The Atheist Wife seemingly never gets chomped on. The cats are more interested in chasing the little buggers than in letting them bite. So I seem to be the only person who suffers.
It can be a demoralizing feeling. In fact, it has led me to coin the phrase, “Everything in Australia wants to bit you,” which will someday be the title of my memoirs, not just a joke to elicit chuckles from hardy, thick-skinned Aussies. But it simply is not accurate. The Atheist Wife does actually get bit, and so does everyone else. Mosquitoes are trying to teach us that everyone suffers and that we are never alone in suffering.
If you want a more refined reason to believe this fact, here’s a story that I just read in the Dalai Lama’s book:
“In the time of the Buddha, a woman named Kisagotami suffered the death of her only child. Unable to accept it, she ran from person to person, seeking a medicine to restore her child to life. The Buddha was said to have such medicine.
Kisagotami went to the Buddha, paid homage, and asked, “Can you make a medicine that will restore my child?”
“I know of such a medicine,” the Buddha replied. “But in order to make it, I must have certain ingredients.”
Relieved, the woman asked, “What ingredients do you require?”
“Bring me a handful of mustard seed,” said the Buddha.
The woman promised to procure it for him, but as she was leaving, he added, “I require the mustard seed to be taken from a household where no child, spouse, parent or servant has died.”
The woman agreed and began going from house to house in search of the mustard seed. At each house the people agreed to give her the seed, but when she asked them if anyone had died in that household, she could find no home where death had not visited – in one house a daughter, in another a servant, in others a husband or parent had died. Kisagotami was not able to find a home free from the suffering of death. Seeing she was not alone in her grief, the mother let go of her child’s lifeless body and returned to the Buddha, who said with great compassion, “You thought you alone had lost a son; the law of death is that among all living creatures there is no permanence.”
A mosquito bite is not the same as losing a loved one. Compared to that ultimate grief, it is nothing. But it is easier to learn to tolerate and overcome an itch than it is to deal with that immense grief. We will all suffer in one way or another in this life. Instead of waiting for the big things, though, it may be possible to learn the same lessons from smaller events and so, when faced with the seemingly insurmountable, we will be better prepared to deal with its effects.
So what can you learn from mosquitoes? Quite a lot, actually. In fact, you may learn everything you ever needed to know.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Cutler, Howard C. The Art of Happiness A Handbook for Living. Australia: Hachette, 2009. Print. 133-134.