In The Heart of an Ant
I wrote this post in July of 1980. I still find it relevant and inspiring.
My wife Winnie watching the fish in her backyard pond
Photo by Richard Southworth
I took a walk the woods today, and as I was about to let my foot fall for what had started out to be another routine step, I was struck with a sight that caused me to retract my foot and stop and ponder. There on the ground was what would have to be called an ant highway. Now that would not be considered to be such a big revelation, and in fact would be considered quite ordinary. But maybe its ordinariness makes it even more remarkable. And then again, maybe it’s so ordinary that we miss the wonder of it all.
As I stooped down and watched, I saw thousands of tiny little ants hurrying along what was obviously, for them, an ant highway. Their highway ran the distance from one side of my path to the other, and I realized that to cross my path was just as much of an accomplishment for those little ants as it was for me to walk along it. And they went at it with such fervor. It almost seemed that their one aim in life was to get from one end of their little highway to the other. Or was it something deeper? They seemed lost in the activity of life. Could it be that they have retained a secret of creation that so called rational man has explained away?
In our search for meaning to life, could it be that the answer is simply experiencing life itself to its fullest? Could real joy be simply a total and complete experience of the present moment? Could the deepest meaning of all be the very act of living?
The ants were going in both directions along their highway. As they went along they would often stop for just a moment and come together, almost as if they were hugging each other. It was a momentary touch, and they were off again on the business of life. It almost seemed that they had found a renewed drive for their journey. But they did not stop for each one they passed. It almost seemed that some of them knew each other. Could it be that a tiny ant could experience friendship and love? Could it be that they could draw strength from each other through a momentary exchange of affection? Might that love be more pure than that of rational man? They seemed to touch each other in such a natural way, and then rush off for a new encounter with life, in seeming anticipation of what lay around the bend, and yet they seemed fascinated with the journey itself. They seemed to be able to grasp the joy of the present moment, and yet could turn loose without being possessive of it. The moment of “now" seemed to be in control. Could it be that they know more about life than man with all of his so called knowledge and intellect?
I tried to see where the ants were coming from and where they were going so excitedly, but both the beginnings and the ends of the highway were lost in a tangle of under brush at the sides of my path. They poured in and out of both sides in almost endless numbers, and they started and ended their journeys with equal energy. I noticed that some would, for no apparent reason, change directions in mid journey with no apparent loss of fervor. I was led to wonder if the reasons for the journey really mattered, and whether or not the beginning or the end had any meaning. They could turn around without loosing purpose, and the end immediately became the beginning. Man seems so caught up in beginnings and endings, and in purpose. Is it possible that there is no beginning and no end, and no greater purpose than the journey itself. Could it be that we loose the pleasures of the journey, the beauty and the sensations, as we concentrate on getting to some destination that we somehow fear will not be the place of eternal bliss we want it to be? Do we miss many of the hugs of friendship that pass us each day because we are too busy rushing to a destination that is really an illusion? Do we miss the joy of the moment because we cannot turn in mid-journey and head in the other direction for a time, to experience some new and wondrous part of life?
But then I looked at the ant itself, and I realized that it was a marvelous little creation, with a body as complicated as my own. It was so tiny. To think of muscles, and nervous systems, and respiratory systems, and reproduction systems, and all of the things that make up a life support system, eyes and ears and mouths, eating and drinking; all of this somehow left me in much greater awe than the thought of space ships and micro-electronics. These things seemed almost crude as I watched these little creatures going about the business of life as if all of creation depended on them moving along this little highway. Then again, maybe in some sense it does?
Then I noticed another startling fact! They all followed the same exact route. They seemed to know exactly where it was, and if they ventured a few inches to either side, they immediately returned to the main highway. In places that highway seemed invisible, and yet each one followed it with ease. In other places the highway went around pebbles that had to be like boulders for the tiny little travelers. They had worn a trench about a quarter inch deep in one sandy section of the highway which had the appearance of a deep canyon as they scarred through a seemingly faster pace. One had to wonder if they didn’t fear that canyon like an old time cowboy passing through a rock canyon in Indian country. Yet on they went, guided by what? Could it be? Is it possible that the same guiding force that exists inside of us exists inside that tiny little ant? Could it be that they just might be tuned into that guiding force better than us? Is it possible that our intellect, which was intended to add specialness and uniqueness to homo sapiens, has become an affliction? Could it be that as we seem so bent on trying to figure life out, that it passes us by, and that a tiny ant has found the answer in an unquestioned response to the life force within himself? I’m led to wonder if life might not be just that simple!
Then my thoughts turned to even deeper passages. I could not help but wonder just what that life force was. There was obviously something very real in each and every one of those little creatures that made it alive and guided its activities. It is in every living creature. It is in us. Could it be the same force that causes a flower to bloom in spring? Might not it be the same force that holds the atoms and molecules in a rock together, and keeps the earth in orbit around the sun? Is it different, is it separate? Does each little bit of life and matter have its own identity, or is the separateness itself an illusion? Could it be that the God we search for so desperately is right there in that life force?
Inside every thing we see and everything we touch; inside of us? Is it possible that life really is that simple? That God is really that simple? Is it possible that were we to follow that life force within ourselves that we would be immediately brought into the very presence of God? There are more questions than answers here. Yet somehow the questions themselves ring true. Maybe the answers are to be found in the questions themselves. But then that would be irrational, and man is a rational being, right?
And yet ????