Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Sentient Beings Everywhere

I read somewhere--I think it was in a book by the herbalist Stephen Buehner--that when a field of clover is being overgrazed by sheep, the plants increase their production of phytoestrogens, which causes the sheep to miscarry.  At the moment, our fields are still covered in snow, but when it thaws and I resume walking in them, I will be apologizing to the clover with every step.

I don't know about you, but over the last few years, I have become painfully sensitive to the feelings of the beings that surround me.  I was eating lunch with a friend today, and a skinny fly-like bug landed next to her plate.  She brushed it off the table and stepped on it--and I had to hold back from mewling some insanity like "oh, the poor little thiiing!" 

I used to laugh at people who carried house-invading bugs to the door on a paper napkin and set them free, but I have joined the ranks of the bug liberators.  I do kill some bugs, such as the big, hairy wolf spiders that scuttle indoors in the fall.  But I do it in self defense--I am so creeped out by the things, that knowing that there was one in the room with me would drive me mad. 

Pretty soon, it will be ant season in our kitchen.  Legions of tiny workers will stream over the counter and across the sink in search of a grain of sugar, a molecule of fat.  Armed with a spray bottle of soapy water, I will stand above them and rain death upon them.  (The soap clogs up their breathing holes and coats the pheromones they leave on their trails, so other ants can't follow.)  But I hate doing it.  I feel like some merciless god wreaking havoc on the innocent.  For all I know, and I think of this every single time I spritz the ants, there is an angry and much bigger deity standing in the clouds above me with his finger on the nozzle....

Of course I am not alone in this.  Our generation thinks very differently about animals these days.  Where as children we tolerated the idea that free-roaming family dogs regularly got run over and were as regularly replaced, now we hire dog nannies to walk our soul mates so they won't be bored while we're away at work.  At dinner, many of us think about the animal whose body part we are about to dig into.  Many have stopped eating animals altogether.

And some of us--though we tend to be quiet about this, lest we be sent away from the table--think about the plants who were once alive and now lie limp on our plates, anointed with the blood of dead olives and the crushed remains of the fruit of the pepper plant.

6 comments :

  1. A common refrain when we go to the country with friends: "Mal, get the bug glass..." And he'll come from the kitchen with a glass and a piece of paper and scoop whatever nasty thing has landed on the table next to us or is crawling across the floor and release it outside, sometimes further away than others.

    I am one that believes my house carries the scars of its past owners who chopped it into pieces for a boarding house in the 40s. Every time we do something small that takes away the mistakes and restores her to something resembling function and beauty, I can imagine the sigh of relief.

    I also...when I vacuum under the fridge or out the car or scrub the shower walls or get something really back to its true condition, I feel like am caring for a sick person or a refugee--not someone too close to me, like a child or a parent, but someone who needs my help in this one small limited way.

    So of course I think that about bugs and meat and cats with bad tempers who live under my porch. It's the one place where I dip close to Franciscan...but there is a practical side, too, not just a sentimental one. It is good to recognize the spirituality of animals and plants and objects--created things and living things are part of creation.

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  2. Thanks, Bridgett. This is beautiful. And I'd like to know more about those cats under your porch.

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  3. I admit it: I carry bugs out of the house.

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  4. Does your kindness extend to wolf spiders? If so, I'll be calling you in the fall.

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  5. Reminds me of part of the metta sutra:
    "...May all beings be at ease,
    Whatever living beings there may be;
    Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none,
    The great or the mighty, medium, short or small..."

    I, too, try to take bugs outside, but spiders get to me, so it depends...sometimes I am able to let it slide. (Shivers at the thought).

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  6. Jaimie, the last three lines of this are new to me. I love them!

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