Article Mosquitoes

What I Know About Happiness I Learned From Mosquitoes
by LiYana Silver

Bare With Me Newsletter, June 2007

84283532I am by nature a very peaceful and gentle person. I go out of my way to tend and to nurture – except when it comes to mosquitoes. I am not one ounce sorrowful, only full of glee, when I smush one with my lethal hand-clap and remove yet one more tyrant from the world. And yes, I fully understand I may be born a mosquito in my next life in karmic retribution.

When I am not plotting murder for mosquitoes, I think a lot about the nature of happiness. In fact, the cornerstone of all the work I do revolves around how to put into clear and useful language the art of living a happy, extraordinary life.

One of the best ways to get off the crazy-train of running after happiness but never catching it, is to fully understand the nature of thoughts, and the nature of the mind (For a full description, please read “The Nature of the Mind” section on my website.).

There are several types of thoughts, but the ones that cause us real suffering are the active, unhealthy thoughts. These are the pestering, persistent ones that make us feel terrible about ourselves or others, or make us worry ad nauseam about the future. My best analogy to date is that these active, unhealthy thoughts are like mosquito bites.

Here's what most of us do: we feel the prick of the mosquito biting and although we reach to slap it away, of course it is too late, so then we begin the frenzy of scratching to ease the itch. We know, in some far off, momentarily inaccessible, part of our brain, that scratching only makes it worse. But at this very moment, we are fitfully sure, scratching it is definitely making things better! We think: I am just about to scratch enough to quench the itch, I know it, just one more scratch! But what happens is the mosquito venom spreads, the welt gets bigger and itchier and angrier and demands to be scratched over and over again, at inopportune times like during dinner with a new date, in meditation and especially in the middle of having sex.

Metaphor breakdown: The mosquito bites are your active, unhealthy thoughts. Your scratching of the bites is your attention on and belief in your unhealthy thoughts. So here's the key: don't scratch.

What happens if you don't scratch? It itches like crazy for about 10 solid minutes, and you have to sit on your hands to stop from scratching. But then, the itch stops. No welt appears. The mosquito bite goes away. In fact, about 20 minutes later, your skin shows no record of the mosquito bite at all. And so it is with unhealthy thoughts.

As I say over and over again, whatever you put your attention on, grows. Scratch the itch of an unhealthy thought, the unhealthy thought's venom spreads and becomes a big inflamed mess, demanding desperate attention for a very long time, perhaps a lifetime. Some things can help alleviate the itch momentarily, but somehow, the itch comes back. And it usually comes back just when a shot of self-confidence or equanimity would be opportune – like said date, meditation or hot sex!

It is really that simple. It is a seductive mania to scratch at active, unhealthy thoughts, to think about them, to try to solve them, to prove them true or false or to puzzle them through to their conclusion. But there is no end. An unhealthy thought scratched gets scratched into reality. An unhealthy thought acknowledged, then ignored, cries and itches for a bit, then disappears. It is that simple. Happiness and contentment are what you can experience in the absence of active, unhealthy thoughts.

I already have attractive matching anklets of about 20 red welts, most scabbed over from excessive, delirious scratching. These are my proof of what happens when I succumb to the urge to scratch. And given that I am here on this magical tropical southern island in Thailand and there are many more mosquitoes lining up to help me with my experimentative process, I decide to take it all a step further and put my Happiness-Mosquito theory to physical practice.

So last evening, doing yoga, I felt the generous contribution of a mosquito chomping on my ankle, right next to an existing welt. But I didn't scratch. I breathed through the itch, fully felt the blush and burn of it, but held back any scratchy scratching. 20 minutes later, the evidence was on my ankle: one old angry be-scratched inflamed welt – and nothing at all to show for the new bite.

And so, here on this gorgeous and generous island paradise, I am very happy to report the dissolution of both unhealthy thoughts and the equally destructive plague of mosquito bites.

PS – Spit helps too.

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