It’s difficult to describe the intense pain and excruciating itch experienced on contact with Australia’s notorious hairy caterpillars. I had a tactile taste of it today.
These caterpillars march along in head-to-tail formation – long columns of fluffy wigglers in search of tucker. As they travel they drop miniscule invisible hairs which carry some kind of poisonous irritant. You merrily dash out to the clothesline in the morning and unwittingly walk over these hairs in your bare feet. The effect is instant – the body’s immune system sets up a red alert. If you’re a baby or a toddler you could die.
Searing itching agony creeps up the feet to the ankles, then up the shins to the knees. The hand that scratches picks up the poison and becomes affected as well. You dive into the swimming pool to escape the fury of itching and to wash the hairs away.
Sheer agony. Undeniable. And yet …
Why is it that the pristine awareness in which this hairy horror movie plays out is utterly unaffected? Beats me, but turning to that ultimate changeless refuge never fails to sabotage the arising of suffering.