Just in case you are not aware – the flea is one of the most elegantly constructed creatures on our planet.
It is so brilliantly designed as ‘fit for purpose’ that I often find it sad that it has such a terrible reputation with humans, who rarely consider its finer aspects when they come across it (or more frequently ‘them’) and seem to harbour no reservations about wholesale slaughter of the little beasties.
If you’re thinking this is a strange way to open a blog about writing, you may be right, but some interesting correspondence this week has drawn my attention to the occurrence of ‘the flea’ in many early writings drawn from cultures that seem to have held a different view from our current one of utter abhorrence.
The flea, you see, is the perfect proponent of the creature who avoids capture, damage or annihilation. As anyone who has shared a house with dogs or cats will know, fleas are impossible to eradicate. They are also, apparently, a wretched nuisance and an irritant to those on whom they choose to make a home. The flea is the perfect parasite.
That, of course, is the accepted view. You might guess that I come at it with a different perspective.
First, a long time ago, I studied entomology. Fleas were one of the groups of insects that we looked at in detail. They are, biologically, exquisitely-designed creatures. They are practically flat, with a hard exoskeleton, making them almost impossible to crush and extremely efficient at scooting away from danger through the hairs of their host’s body.
They are also capable of performing the most unbelievable acrobatics; despite their minuscule size – only 2 or 3 mm in length – their hind legs enable them to jump 50 times their own body length. The only other animal capable of such a feat is the froghopper, another insect, met most commonly in the form of the spittlebug. Again, this demonstrates their ability to get out of difficult situations with ease.
Second, the flea has astoundingly powerful qualities when considered shamanically – as a power animal. Its ‘annoying’ presence tells us when we need to address something we’d rather not, when we need to clean up our act or look at something that is irritating us but which we are choosing not to see.
Symbolically, the flea teaches us how to be resistant to others’ attempts to eradicate or rubbish us, how to hide or run away when appropriate, but how to just be ourselves when that’s more appropriate. It shows us that our own exterior should be enough to repel any onslaught.
And the vampiric aspects? The flea draws our attention to the importance of our blood heritage. Our secret knowledge and personal wisdom is dependent on our connections with our ancestors, our blood history; and our resilience is a result of knowing who we are ‘in our blood’ – and not as others want to define us.
Thirdly, for me, personally, the flea represents an extraordinary accomplishment of biological engineering, and the beauty of small. That incredible ability to systematically and resolutely be oneself in the face of attack and discomfort, be that criticism, judgement or small-mindedness.
I find I am reminded by the flea of ancient and authentic power, the reality of chi and the feasibility of flying without wings. It gives me real hope because it is such an unbelievable creature yet remains successful against the ravages brought down on it. It is, ultimately, a creature that brings about harmony by pointing towards truth.
You see, we don’t have fleas in our house anymore. I worked really hard last year to learn to admire them and to build up our resistance – mine, the dogs’, the cats’. We ditched convention (there’s a surprise) and used as many alternative strategies as I could uncover, so as not to harm or kill the fleas themselves, but to enable my household not to be ‘susceptible’.
The fleas have left us now, and as long as we take care to be healthy – in every way – they will not need to return.
What has this to do with my writing? The flea has taught me how to be authentic, resilient, connected, efficient, uncrushable, self-preserving, effective, clever and, best of all, to recognise the power of the one small thing.