The brains of elephants are larger than that of a human, obviously in mass. How do these graceful “beasts” use their additional cranial capacity? More room for compassion and passion. Exhibited by the tender care they provide to weaker brethren or one in need, and the ferocity they feel when unjust treatment no longer can be tolerated.

Last night at my favorite bar, I watched as my friend tenderly extricated a gnat who had taken up swimming in her red wine.

The disparate group of friends at our table was sharing a bottle of “vi negre“ produced by a well-respected local vineyard here in Catalonia. The wine is distinctive, yet not expensive, and it is considered the “house wine” of our little bar.

My friend didn’t want to injure the gnat, so her process of extraction was skillful and patient.

I offered the type of slap-stick humor which one delivers in these kinds of moments during bar-evenings. “You know, if you just allow it to drown, then drag it out by its tiny legs — it can then go on to be a rabbit in its next life.”

My English didn’t translate well in this bilingual but primarily Catalan speaking group.

“What do you mean the gnat can be a rabbit?”

It’s at this point that our table discussion turned to a focus on Buddhism.

This is how European living operates. A conversation about the best cheese at an upcoming festival or the proper technique employed to drink from a “porro” can immediately turn to eastern philosophy.

For my Buddhism practitioner pals, patience as I try to summarize this in one paragraph:

Buddhists believe that life and death is a cycle of trying to get out of one’s really crappy life existence and move up to a better one. You make small improvements with each rebirth. Finally, you earn your wings or, more accurately, reach enlightenment.

My Catalan friends are well versed in this, as this is a Catholic society here in northern Spain. If you are not Catholic, your “life” cycle is more Buddhist-like, whether you follow eastern beliefs or not. Life has value.

And so my friend fishes out the gnat. And we laugh because she cheated it out of being a rabbit. Then she asks, “after a rabbit, then what?” And those of us at the table hammer out a long debate and create a process:

Rabbit to Forest Boar.

Forest Boar to Euga (a horse, more specifically the mare).

Euga to Human.

And Human is the last step, thus enlightenment?

“Oh noooooo,” everyone agreed, there is no way to make the big leap from Human to enlightenment.

I added what I believe to be the last segment.

Human to Elephant.

With their large brains, Elephants have the cranial space that allows room for more wisdom, passion, and compassion.

Humans still need to return for another round at life to deeply develop these attributes.

Also, Elephants already have wings.

Just look at their beautiful ears that, by the end of their time here on earth, become torn and ravaged by experience and heartbreak.

Those ears will liberate into wings at death as the elephant’s soul finally escapes the cycle of birth and death (samsara) to transform into an enlightened angel.

And there, my friends, is how one little gnat, a glass of wine, and reflective conversation with friends can build a bridge between Catholics and Buddhists and artists and politicians and office managers and writers.

It illustrates that if you are very small, you are significant and worthy of acknowledgment, compassion, and respect. Likewise, if you are very big, you are worthy of acknowledgment, compassion, and respect.

And if you are Human, you still have a little more time to swim in the wine glass of life.


I’ll try to write more often. It’s been a busy summer with Séu making the big jump into adulthood with her next life-phase away from home. As always, thanks for reading.

Lisa (and Séu)