One morning in late September, during our Wednesday meditation group, a grasshopper began to make its slow way in the predawn shadows across the hardwood floor. As I watched out of the corner of my eye, I wondered, "How does the grasshopper know where to go?" From his vantage point, the floor was huge and featureless, like an ocean. One direction was much like another. He could even come to me, I wondered if he would.
Slowly, at insect speed, crawling, not hopping, he made his way past all of us and vanished into the shadows.
Later, when I was giving a talk, I mentioned the grasshopper, and asked, "How does he know where to go?" This is a big question. How do any of us know where to go? How do we know what to do? What choices to make? Where to work? Whom to love? How to live?
As I was finishing the talk, I turned to gesture toward the small wooden Buddha statue on the altar, and there, to everyone's amazement, perched on top of the Buddha's head, was the grasshopper, shiny blue-green in the sunlight now streaming through the windows.
This is a true story. I am not making it up, or even exaggerating. Six people were there, and they can tell you. But why should you even wonder? This sort of small miracle happens all the time. It happens to me, and it happens to you. It is all around us. Why did the grasshopper seek out the top of the Buddha? Was he attracted by the light of the candle? Was he trying to find safety from the cat we heard meowing in the doorway earlier?
These are explanations, but they miss the point. The point is not to say, "Wow! What a miracle! How special, how spiritual!" but simply to note that this is the way the world is. Shiny blue grasshoppers are always lighting on the top of the heads of Buddhas, or on the top of my head or your boss's head or your coworker's head. It is not a matter of miracles, but a matter of noticing.
When I read reports of people who claim to see the image of the Virgin Mary on the side of a building, or in the patterns in the stump of an old oak tree, the stories usually include an explanation from a scientific expert about glass refraction or oak fungi. Who does that expert think the Virgin Mary is? A person who lived two thousand years ago and who therefore cannot really
be here? What does being there
mean? What is imagination, and how is it less real than glass refraction?
These issues are far more interesting as questions than as answers, because as questions they open up our life, they make it shimmer, they make it sunlit and translucent. They allow us to notice the shiny blue grasshopper even at work, even on the highway, even when we are tired and discouraged.
The shiny blue grasshopper is what we live for, and work for, and love for.
As we were taking down the altar and putting away the cushions and mats, I carried the Buddha statue to the window, with the grasshopper still on it, and let the grasshopper hop down onto the windowsill. It remained there for a moment, still as stone, and then slowly, deliberately, it spread its wings and was gone.
But not entirely gone. From that moment on, the grasshopper was within me and all who were there and saw it come and go. And now that I have told you about it, the grasshopper is within you too. That is how the grasshopper moves among all of us.
Where is the grasshopper now?
Lewis Richmond is founder and owner of Forerunner Systems, the producer of the leading inventory-management software for catalogue business. A former executive vice president for Smith & Hawken and an ordained disciple of Shunryu Suzuki, Richmond is co-founder of Dharma Friends of Mill Valley, a meditation group. He lives in Sausalito, California.
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