"Patience, young grasshopper." ~ Master Po (from 70's Kung Fu television series)
My encounter with a giant grasshopper in Costa Rica last year taught me not only a lesson in patience, but a lot about fear and how it affects us all.
Grasshoppers in Costa Rica are about 8 inches long and several inches wide - they're huge! They flitted around the retreat center where I was staying, especially at dawn and dusk. I tried to stay away from them, as I'm sure they preferred to stay away from me.
Then, one night after a beautiful kirtan (form of meditative singing), I was walking back to my room gazing up at the starry night sky...feeling centered, calm and peaceful. I headed down the stone stairwell to my ground floor room, where I came upon a woman standing frozen, trembling with fear.
"What is it?" I asked her, "Are you okay?"
She simply pointed to the giant grasshopper in the middle of her path. He was quite obviously stuck in the stairwell. Every time he would fly up or jump, he'd run into a wall or step.
"When I try to pass," she whispered, "it flies up and at me...it's going to fly at me...I can't...I can't pass."
Now I am not a huge fan of insects. Especially not ones the size of a rat. Yes, I felt a bit of fear, myself. But I metaphorically stepped back and realized that if I were to remain frozen, I would be reacting to this situation with more fear. And this trembling woman didn't need any more fear. She needed love, reassurance, an outstretched hand.
And so I said, "Take my hand, we'll go together. It will be alright. We'll run."
She simply stood, frozen, shaking her head "no."
"You go," she said.
I stood there, encouraging her, reasoning with her, putting my hand on her shoulder. Still, she wouldn't budge, she was paralyzed by her fear. And so I went, to show her it was okay. I ran past the giant grasshopper. It flitted up for just a moment, then landed on its step again. I encouraged her from the other side. We stood in the stairwell for about 10 minutes, until a second woman heading down the stairs, stopped on the scene.
I had seen this second woman before. There was something incredibly serene about her. Upon hearing the fear in the first woman's voice, the second woman, without hesitation, slowly and calmly walked down the steps and covered the panicked grasshopper with a piece of her long dress, saying "shh...shh.." the whole time. Then she looked up at the first woman and said, "You can pass now."
The first woman ran by the second woman and me, saying she had to get to her room. She called out a thank you as she continued on her way. I stayed and watched, as the second woman gently scooped up the grasshopper and released it from its stairwell prison, gently placing it on the grass in front of our rooms, to flit off into the night with relief.
Wow. I remember thinking. We are all afraid of something. Fear is part of our human experience. Some of us might be afraid of illness, loss, change...or maybe something small...like a giant grasshopper.
And we all have a choice in how to respond to that fear. We can remain frozen. We can run. Or we can react from a compassionate loving place, be calm, and face the fear from that space.
The next time you feel fear creeping in, try to stop, close your eyes and breathe...think of the giant grasshopper...and what you would do.