Today I finally decided on a name for the mantis that has taken residence in my hyacinth bean vine for more than a month. It felt rude to just refer to her as a ‘mantis’, as if we were not acquainted. The truth is that almost on a daily basis we exchange laden looks of wonder (on my side) and trepidation (on hers). She is now called Ivy, she of the sylvan camouflaging creeping abilities and dangerous touch.
A few days ago I saw her sneak up to an unsuspecting bee rooting about happily in a bright cosmos flower. It was a polished theatrical act par excellence. The slender saw-like limbs leaning in ever so slowly, the movement towards the bee so measured that it almost felt imperceptible, and then in one quick deadly swoop the bee found herself in the clutches of Ivy and all was over with a thick wet crunch from the strong triangular mandibles. I watched utterly mesmerised, a tad bit shocked – the blank staring eyes of Ivy returning my gaze even as she continued to munch at a still wiggling abdomen like a carrot stick. It came to my notice some time back that the word ‘mantis’ means ‘one who divines; a seer/prophet’ in Greek. Spend time enough with one and the logic of this name begins to unfold. Many a times have I said my evening goodbyes and returned the next morning to find her in the exact same spot, her feet neatly folded in the same position, her head tilting just slightly to acknowledge my presence. It is no coincidence that within Chinese cultures, the mantis is associated with traits of stillness, meditation, grace and contemplation. A mantis, in all her strangeness, is able to weave pointed action and vital silence admirably. As La Tzu, the Chinese master, is quoted to have said: “Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.”
Truth be told, spend time enough in nature and it becomes evident that the mantis is far from the only creature which balances moments of action and rest. The black kite spends hours in what might be deemed self-care – washing her feathers, warming and preening them under the sun, perching entire afternoons in one spot. As with the mantis, so with the kite – strongly executed decisive action is a very small part of their day. So what sets us apart from other animals? Why have we prioritised a ‘cult of speed’, why do we have to ‘earn’ our periods of rest and repair? We have been trying to reconcile these questions with the news stories on burnouts, exhaustion and increases in poor mental and physical health. Jiddu Krishnamurti once wrote, “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” What is the pandemic teaching us about how we are building our society? What is it telling us about the quality of our current lives?
We hope you will continue to join and stay with us as we explore these questions through our campaign spaces this month.