Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Not Very Zen

Warning: Do not read if you have issues with insect deaths at the hands of bullying humans.
Asian Japanese Lady Beetle suvivors

 Also, apologies in advance if this post offends any religion, be it mine or yours, I'm really sorry. It is all intended in good fun.

The story goes* that I graduated high school a semester early, but the University of Illinois didn't accept early admissions. My parents made higher education sound more appealing than a K-Mart job, so taking six introductory liberal arts classes at Roosevelt University managed to kill the time.

I took public transportation downtown.

One day a young man with frizzy sideburns and bluejeans sat down next to me on the train. Within seconds he started to mumble, or maybe chant. He did this for awhile, then seemingly satisfied, stopped. As he fished inside his backpack for a book, I asked what that was about.  He told me that he learned a mantra from a Zen master, and chanting the mantra made him calm and happy.

"Would you like to have my mantra, too?" he asked.


It isn't every day that someone gives you a mantra, so I wrote it down. We didn't have Google to translate in those days, so the experience had an element of danger and excitement. Now, whenever I pass the mantra on as a cognitive behavioral self-relaxation tool, I sense this excitement with others, too, but add a warning: Before taking on this mantra, check out the meaning. Humming most things is relaxing, too.

But here you go. It is freeware.

I repeated those words until they burned their way into my memory, but found the process, and the mantra, boring. So that was the end of that.  Suggesting mindfulness training, on well-scrutinized occasions, is as close as it gets to Buddhism in my life.
Gabriel Costans and Zen Master Tova

Except that once in awhile I get a random book in the mail from someone like Gabriel Costans who loves it. Gabriel requested a blog review in the most charming fashion, a promise that my karma will improve, certainly, if I open the book, and who doesn't need good karma?

The title, Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba: the Illustrious and Delusional Abbess of Satire, indicates that Mr. Costans is associating with too many people of the tribe. That, or I don't know much about Buddhist names. But he is a psychologist and sincere, so there you go.

Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba is an abbess and an ageless satirist, so it is likely the book is entirely satire, but because I  didn't finish it, I can't say quite yet. But many a true word is said in jest, and not understanding much about Buddhism, the pages, to me, are a mystery wrapped in an enigma, which is a part of the book's charm. The other part is that any book with short chapters, some as short as only a paragraph or a single page, at most two or three, is very appealing to those of us who are asleep before the head hits the pillow. 

To broaden our perspective on Buddhism, here is a snippet about Master Tova (Mistress Toshiba) and her reaction to fishermen using worms for bait. 
Let the Worms Go

There was no difference between one life and another to Mistress Toshiba. She respected all with equanimity, love, and tender care. . . . her compassion for worms . . . legendary. 

The nuns were were walking with their Mistress, on their way to market to sell their organic vegetables, when they passed some fishermen who were taking worms out of a bucket, putting them on their hooks, and casting them into the river.
To make a short story shorter, the Mistress knocks over the bucket, setting the worms free, and proceeds to convince the angry fishermen that they are on the wrong track, killing worms. She offers up her organic vegetables as a substitute for fish. We're not sure how this will effect her spiritual ecosystem, but are lead to believe that the cosmos is much better if worms can just be worms.

The story makes me feel guilty. Because here I am, powerless when insects cross my path. I smash them.

Note the astronomical difference between my reaction to a turtle a few weeks ago, and yesterday's response, now old news, to the Asian Lady Beetle.

Riding my bike along the river, I happened to look down to where the sidewalk meets the grass. There lurked a huge turtle determining whether or not to cross. Huge turtles are not something we see in Chicago, not unless we visit the zoo. We see raccoons and skunks, deer, coyotes and the cursed geese, but not turtles. It made me happy, seeing something new, but I didn't stop to take a picture, couldn't risk being late for work.

Fast forward to yesterday afternoon, after I attempted genocide on Asian Lady Beetles, FD, vacuum hose in hand, gently chastising me: "For someone who professes to like nature, you had no trouble attempting to eliminate an entire species. The beetles would have died on their own in a day or two."

And what if they had not?

Asian Lady Beetles, you may know, are not your everyday Ladybugs, not the kind that flitted by the light with ladylike grace in your mother's kitchen. The ladybugs of yore didn't swarm. You were lucky to see one or two of them, whereas the Japanese Asian Lady Beetles swarm and bite.  And they arrive in droves, hundreds of thousands of them, clinging to windows, walls, homes, babies, to the skirts and bodies of those of us in the Midwest. Certainly Chicago.  

The crisp fall weather spiked to the high sixties, and when I reached my office I couldn't wait to open all of the windows to let in some air.  The screens, unfortunately, harbored hundreds, seemingly thousands of these beetles. N= 9000.  That's N = 9000 against 1.

Adult and Childhood History enhances any narrative:

I never really liked bugs, but had no particular gripe against them, not until yellow jackets turned on the children in the neighborhood. Upon the advice of the entomology department at the University of Illinois, on one dark, cold October night, FD and I dressed in coats and ski masks and, poured liquid diazanon on the beehive buried in a hole on our front yard parkway. Running back to the house in fear and triumph, we could hear them scream.

Fast forward for a moment.

So. . . able to face bees, I'm cool, not about to become unglued by a few beetles. Yet every ounce of aggression stored in my moderately-sized female body shocked me into action when I saw. Mere fly swatters would not do. As the beetles taunted and laughed I reached for Raid, strong stuff, no Googling for solutions to this problem necessary.

The bug spray, under the sink where it should be, is half-full, as expected.

I crack open the window incrementally, begin to systematically exterminate twenty to thirty beetles at a time, all in a vertical up and down linear fashion. The bugs go flying across the yard with the full force of the spray, but some merely fall on the window sill.

All across the breadth of the sill poison drips, bugs drop.  They don't even try to fight back.  It is poignant, like a good war movie. I close the window and proceed to the next, feeling queasy but justified, this despite Mistress Tarentino's warning about my soul.  A few ladies fall to the carpeted office floor and I let them be, unwilling to sully my broom.

Not exactly sure what to do with the corpses, I go shopping.

FD sees an after-the-fact video (dead bugs that appear as popcorn kernels) and drops by with a screen mending kit. He asks for a vacuum cleaner.

He does a very nice job.  I thank him for fixing the screen and tell him that I feel very guilty about this, almost as bad as when we used the diazanon on the bees. It made me flash back to an even earlier childhood memory, a small child in pajamas, waking up in the middle of the night to the buzz of mosquitoes in her ear, flipping on the overhead to spot one clinging to the pink tinted bedroom wall. I swap him dead with a Highlights for Children.

Perhaps a support group.


*I might have told over stories in this post before. Eight years blogging, it happens.


Mound Builder said...

I think there is a continuum of violence. There is no way to entirely escape violence as living beings. My immune system attacks intruding organisms (virus or bacterial, allergens, too). Those organisms are driven to survive. Every time a person gets sick a war is waged within that person's body. If it's happening in my body, I want me to win and to do that it means other organisms have to die. I can't even control that level of violence.

When I started thinking some years ago about this continuum of violence, I realized that I had completely distanced myself from the fact that meat that I eat is from something that died. I didn't think of myself as handling dead things, yet several times a week I prepare chicken or beef and handle something that died in order for me to live.

I think of honey bees as relatively docile. I learned that I can sit in my garden among blooming flowers with the bees happily going from flower to flower and they have zero interest in me unless I directly attack them. Yellow jackets are something else entirely. The are aggressive even in the absence of provocation. I kill them using poisons.

I don't mind killing mosquitoes, either. I dispatch large cockroaches, as well.

I like other bugs... butterflies, regular ladybugs (as opposed to the ones you described), dragonflies, fireflies, for instance. I would avoid trying to kill them. It's not entirely logical, why some bugs are okay and others aren't.

I was first made aware of thinking about this continuum of violence when taking yoga and my teacher introduced the concept of 'ahimsa', non-violence. When I thought of the range of things from smallest to largest that may have to die in order for me to live, I realized that I do tolerate a certain amount of it and I do so without much internal anguish.

I remember learning from Tibetans (who are, interestingly, not usually vegetarian because their country was not one that allowed them to grow much food, but rather instead to produce meat) that they do consider it an equal loss of life, whether it is a chicken or a yak. And because a life is a life, they generally opt to kill a large animal, because it can feed many people, rather than a small animal like a chicken because that will feed only a few.

I've practiced yoga for 27 years now. I think of myself as nonviolent overall. I certainly strive not to harm others emotionally, psychologically, nor physically. But I still kill intruding cockroaches and can feel positively ruthless about ridding my yard of unwelcome nests of yellow jackets. I rejoice that my neighbors are having their yard treated to kill mosquitoes. Somebody is going to win and I guess I'm selfish enough to prefer that it is me.

Anonymous said...

Totally with u on wanna bee lady bugs & yellow jackets. U r a hero!