When I was 19, a freshman in college, away from home for the first time, studying English as my major, I met this American girl one night at the “English Corner.” Every Friday night at the foot of a former university president’s statue, English learners gathered to practice their oral English, and invariably there was one or two native English speakers in the mix. Catherine was there one night, a tall, blond girl hailing from Rice University. We started chatting in the midst of the throng of enthused learners trying to find their words and phrases, and although my English was broken at best at the time, we somehow agreed to meet in broad daylight, away from all the noises, to chat in peace and quiet.
I don’t remember much of anything we said to each other back then. I think my main purpose was to practice my English, and her main message was to initiate me into the ways of God. I grew up in an atheist country where religion was equated to superstition, so I didn’t take her seriously. I just remember her as a gentle giant. Every time we got together she towered over me, but she walked and moved as if she could not hurt an ant. Catherine from Rice University would not hurt an ant, I firmly believe that to this day.
Before I perfected my English, she left to go back to her own country, and I never saw her again after that. She did send me a couple of letters from the US, but sadly I lost those too. I’m not good at keeping things from the past. But the impression she made on me was indelible. I remember wondering to myself after getting together with her several times and decided that what I saw was who she was, how someone could actually be that gentle all the time. Catherine from Rice University was the embodiment of Ahimsa, non-violence, that first Yama of the yogic way of life I was to learn all these years later. At the time I couldn’t understand her gentleness. I am still trying to figure it out today. But even back then that gentleness had an immense appeal to me. I wanted to be like her. I wanted to some day carry myself in a way that I could not hurt an ant.
How do people get that enlightened? How do they come to respect life in all forms as much as they respect their own? How do I get there?
Do I want a piece of this non-ant-killing action?
In my home, aside from the 5 human beings and 3 four legged friends, we co-inhabit this space with lady bugs and stink bugs, and these creatures outnumber us by far. My son wanted me to call the exterminator the other day to get rid of the lady bugs once and for all. My kids all shriek at the sight of a stink bug and refuse to touch them, so they shriek and jump around until I get there to “take care of it” for them. My general way of dealing with these “pests” are flushing stink bugs down the toilet, and vacuum lady bugs up and dump them in the trash. Am I a mass murderer???
The other day, as I pulled the meat off of the bones of a rotisserie chicken, I wondered if the chicken had been afraid before it got killed. As a Chinese person I’m used to eating whole fish and shrimp with heads, but my kids all tell me it’s gross. They cannot stand having the fish’s dead eyeball staring at them, or touching the delicate tentacles of the dead shrimp. The first time my mom ever saw a turkey roaming the side of the road, she asked me if we could catch it and eat it. About 2 weeks ago I hit a deer and I didn’t even stop.
My 9yo and 7yo both cried today because I called them out for lying. I did not feel compassion for them. Lying is wrong.
I mean, I’m not necessarily trying to figure out a definitive answer here, but I’m beginning to pile up these things on the table to sort through. Are these things of any significance? Should I investigate further? Am I wasting time?
Who are we to decide who/what gets to live, and the others die?
The really enlightened yogis are supposedly able to survive on air only, but they don’t do anything except sitting in a cave all day, in a world somewhere else, waiting for the expiration date of their physical body. Today I met my husband for a lunch date, and we enjoyed our food and drinks quite merrily. I remember thinking to myself, what a wonderful idea this is, meeting up for lunch and being happy with the man I love for a couple of hours on a Tuesday. I cannot imagine having to give this up. I had a shrimp wrap, and my husband had a chicken wrap. Someone killed some creatures for us today.
What is the purpose of a stink bug? Does it feel fear when I flush it down the toilet?
I’ve been reading the biography of Robin Williams. Such a funny man, a genius one might say, and apparently one with a big heart who gave generously when he lived. This man hanged himself at the age of 63. Depression killed him. How does one make sense of that?
When I cook, sometimes I open the cabinet for some ingredients, and see a bottle of soy sauce that’s been sitting there for a few years now. My mom picked it out from the Chinese grocery store 3 or 4 years ago and used it until she went back to China. I look at it and don’t touch it. Her hand will never reach for it again. How do I make sense of that?
We often hear the saying, ignorance is bliss. Ok, as rational beings we can think of lots of convincing examples to prove this statement. But what is at the top of the list of the 5 evils that yogis speak of and work to get rid of as their life’s mission? Avidya, or ignorance. Ignorance of what? Of the truth of course. What is the truth? Where is it? How do I find it?
I bet google doesn’t know. My 7yo loves talking to Siri. I bet Siri doesn’t know either. Who knows? Who can tell me?
My ignorant mind thinks that someone does know. And that knowing is perhaps very different from what I understand the knowing to be. This consciousness that thirsts for happiness and fulfillment, let it continue on this quest. The boat is in the ocean at the mercy of the water surrounding it. The feet are on the dessert at the mercy of the sand supporting them. The mind is in the darkness at the mercy of the light that pierces through and guides it but one stretch at a time. Persist, child. Keep asking questions, annoyingly, until I am cast aside. For only then will I know that it is time to move on. I trust that the one who knows will never cast me aside. I’m the ant that can't be hurt because of that one. I’ll be kept by that one until I run out of questions. And then I’ll meet my truth.