Critters (Long one, sorry!)

American RoachI was delighted to find Gabriel Cohen‘s article “Night of the Cockroach” on Shambhala Sun‘s website.  It appeared in the July 2009 issue, but as magazines are a luxury purchase at the moment, I only stumbled upon it a few days ago.  It’s a quick read, and I recommend it.  If you want to read it with “ambiance” – read, cockroach photos all over the page – check out Cohen’s .pdf of the original article on his website.

Cockroaches and other small critters have definitely played their part in the daily Practice of my life, and it’s good to bump into other people thinking about the potential struggle they provide.

Let me tell you a little bit about my house, and I’ll explain what I mean. While there are a fair number of houses on the four connected streets that make up my “neighborhood” (think real estate bubble), there’s a lot of open wooded space.  I’m also pretty close to a large bay.  So it’s nice and wooded and fairly “natural” where I am.  That means lots of bugs.

The house that we live in began it’s life as an appliance warehouse and repair shop for the original small business owner who lived next door.  It started out with an open ground floor and a large roll up door on the end, as well a small office and more warehouse-ish space upstairs.  The owner got divorced and finished off more of the upstairs as a place to live, as an easy solution to moving out.  After a while, this was not enough for either party so the properties were separately sold.  The warehouse property was bought by an industrious man, and the upstairs was finished off as a place to live.  (In a somewhat hodgepodge fashion with no consideration to airflow, but that’s another story….)  The “basement” mostly remained the same, though there’s a finished bathroom and an office along one side.  Eventually, it became our family’s home.

Our home business has it’s office in that room downstairs, but I mostly work upstairs.  The coffee pot lives upstairs with me, too.  So between people wanting to go downstairs to see Dad/Husband/Business Partner, and Dad/Husband/Business Partner’s strong reliance on coffee, there’s a lot of running up and downstairs opening the door to the basement.

If you’ve ever lived in the South, you can probably see where this is going.  That big roll-up door on the end of our “basement” is not sealed to the outside world and we get plenty of visitors and stow-aways.  Spiders are usually fine, though we did relocate the black widow we found one winter – that and her three egg cases.  ^_^  If bugs or spiders get into our living quarters or into another less than desirable location we simply catch them and release them outside.

One thing we see plenty of – especially when it rains – are cockroaches, more politely referred to down here as Palmetto or water bugs.  Let me tell you – these suckers are fast and crafty – life out there in the wild is just too much work, they’ve apparently decided.  Open a door to the outside, and you’re likely to see a small expeditionary force, all ready to run for cover inside that magical door.  Same goes for the door to the basement.

I know what you might be thinking – there are plenty of bug deterrents out there.  Well, we don’t want to use sprays to kill them, both for the health of our family and in an effort to avoid killing “beneficial” bugs or adversely affecting the wildness outside.  We also don’t have a well-contained space to deter them in.  It’s just not possible given this space.  For starters, closed-in storage is sorely lacking in this home, so there’s lots of open shelving and the like to hide behind — places I can’t lay down borax very easily.   So I keep things clean, stay vigilant, and cheer on the large barn spiders in the basement stairwell.

Still – they get in, and they get hungry.  Eventually this leads to late night face-to-face meetings.  And that’s where Buddhism comes in.  (That and veganism – I’ve been vegan for about four years.)

Most bugs and spiders, no problem – into a large cup or bucket they go, and then out the door they go.  I don’t want to kill them.  Heck, just so it’s safe to do so, I’m a bit like this monk, when it comes to avoiding bugs on the road:

I’m guessing a lot of folks are afraid of and/or dislike roaches because of their appearance.  They look a bit spikey and alien,  with more appendages than we or the family pet generally have.  I think Mr. Cohen had it nailed when he wrote:

My tingling Buddhist “spidey sense” tells me that something about this situation deserves a deeper inquiry. When I regard this roach, I’m not calmly thinking, Hmm, here’s a minor household situation that might need to be dealt with. No—I’m flooded with an intense jolt of anger and revulsion. I’m thinking, How dare you invade my safe kitchen, you malicious little bastard?

When anger arises, it’s always a good idea to question what’s going on inside, rather than out. First of all, because I have chosen to occupy this apartment, is it inherently mine? Why is it my space, as opposed to the roach’s? And why do I believe that this little creature is threatening me? I even impute a malicious streak to it, as if it were inherently both vermin—noxious and objectionable—and villain.

When I look at things from the roach’s side, I see the wrongness of my view. This bug doesn’t wish me harm. It came out of the darkness into an open space, just seeking a bit of food, the satisfaction of its most basic needs. Then the light came on and a huge monster was standing there! From the roach’s point of view, I’m the menace; I’m the potential cause of suffering.

I have to say, roaches don’t make me angry.  At most they provoke a sense of fear (I’m a little bit bug phobic.) or at the least a feeling of exasperation (“Here’s another one I have to deal with.”).  I learned to deal with them by doing what Mr. Cohen does – imagining what life must be like for them.  This way it’s much easier to deal with them compassionately and non-violently.

Recently, Venerable  Chonyi of Sravasti Abbey introduced me another perspective I hadn’t really considered – the possibility that perhaps karma has brought me to this point:

I have yet to make a decision on the idea of reincarnation, but this is still interesting food for thought.

Thoughts or opinions, anyone?

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