One Day I Stopped Killing Ants

by Denise Bike 0 Comments
One Day I Stopped Killing Ants

This fall, shortly after I began meditating for one hour each morning and again each night, I stopped wanting to kill things.

That doesn’t sound right.

To clarify, I did not walk the earth for the 47.75 years prior wanting to kill things. A deep blood lust barely contained under the surface. No. What happened was (officer), after I began meditating for two of each day’s waking hours, roughly 1/8th of my conscious day, I became more, well, conscious of what I was doing. One thing I became aware of was how often I killed things. Bugs. I started noticing that without thinking, I would always kill a bug when I saw one near me. This began to seem odd. How was it that my reflexive response to something so small comparatively and so harmless was to end its life? Without thinking. That’s odd, right? When you stop and think about it.

Having stopped to think about it, I decided to stop doing it. At first this proved easier to say than it was to do. In the early days of my commitment, I’d catch myself just after smooshing the ant that was crawling on my computer. Why do ants like my laptop keyboard, I’d wonder, then Doh! I’d realize I’d just killed an ant. Rats! Okay, just recommit, I’d think, and catch yourself next time.

Soon I’d notice when my hand was just about to make contact, and I’d stop it. After a while, I’d catch my arm midair and drop it back to my side. Then I’d recognize the thought about to move the arm into action. Finally, I’d stopped killing things altogether; the insectocide was over. It was miraculous.

Except it wasn’t a miracle, really—this is exactly how mindfulness works. We practice regularly, slowing ourselves down, which empties out the day’s refuse, and when enough refuse has been emptied, old built up gunk can move out, and when enough old built up gunk has moved out, we can pay attention to what we’re doing, and when we pay attention to what we’re doing, we find that there’s space to make choices about our actions, and when we recognize that we have a choice, we decide to do things like stop killing other living beings.

This is how mindfulness works. Sometimes slowly—over a lifetime for some things. Other times in seismic, revelatory aha moments. More often it’s somewhere in between.

This is how mindfulness works.

A Message from the Biology Department Microwave

by Denise Bike 0 Comments

Every Friday afternoon, I meet up with friends from my previous job. We write together. Today, while waiting for the group to convene, I found a microwave in the break room down the hall and warmed up my belated lunch. (We meet at 1; I usually eat beforehand.) It was one of those large, old, clunky microwaves from the 90s. The decrepit kind that usually finds its way into the back alleys of academia.

As I waited, I read some emails. BEEP. I dutifully responded to the sound, walking over to the microwave door and opening it. On the side panel, a little message had replaced the expired minutes in the display. It said, “ENJOY.

What a great idea, I thought smiling. I hadn’t intentionally grabbed my plastic-encased lunch out of the microwave with that explicit intention. But now that you mention it, enjoying my lunch seems like a perfectly good idea. Thank you, microwave. I will now enjoy my lunch. And I did.

The invitation remained with me in the three hours since. When I left the university and merged into traffic, I thought, Why not enjoy this? This was where I was: in my car, in traffic that wasn’t moving very far very fast. It was not in my control to change the traffic into an event more inherently enjoyable. But, what was stopping me from being the source that the enjoyment emanated from? Nothing. I decided to enjoy my time in traffic. And I did.

I went on to enjoy the time I spent driving in circles trying to find a little shop in Hampden. Then, having found the shop, I chose to enjoy the time I spent driving in circles around it trying to find parking. Then, the decision to drive home past three schools consecutively that were all letting out. Enjoy, the microwave entreated, enjoy.

Wk12, Day5: Human Beings

Wk12, Day5: Human Beings

One of the first days after moving to the Midwest in my late 30s, I was at a stoplight in traffic waiting for red to go green. As I waited, I looked around, reviewing my knowledge of the area. I mentally rehearsed the path to school to the left and the path to the town’s one sangha to the right. It seemed enough time had passed, so I returned my attention to the light.

My car was second in line. The light was already green, but the car in front wasn’t moving. More astonishing to this northeasterner, no one was beeping! We all just sat there, waiting patiently for him to go. Or not. I’d lived in Texas for twenty years, but even polite southerners did not demonstrate this level of charm. So this is the Midwest, I thought.

Last night, driving home from Wild Women Writer’s group, I decided to try letting traffic do what it would. I’d choose a lane and stick with it all the way home. This experiment lasted about four blocks up Connecticut Ave.

Bobbing and weaving and repeatedly choosing the left lane just at the car ahead put on its blinker and jockeying back to the right just as the next car decided to parallel park. Exasperated and only halfway to the beltway, I returned to my original experiment and chose the left lane as my fate. I challenged myself further to note my internal response to not lane-shifting: how I tensed with the thought that someone was getting ‘there’ faster, how I tightened at the idea of each ‘missed opportunity.’ Who was I trying to beat anyway, where was I going that I needed to get there fast, and what was so important when I arrived? No one, nowhere, nothing.

Five minutes later as I neared the traffic circle, the lane I’d chosen was the clear loser. My hard-earned zen dissipated quickly. I hit the blinker and started to nose in to the right. Then I caught myself, took a deep breath, and reclaimed my commitment. This lane was slow, yes, but I had no where to be, nothing to do, no one to see. All was probably well.

And besides, I was only two cars from the circle’s entrance.

I did not think it possible for my lane to go slower until the man in front of me suddenly braked to a full stop and hopped out of his car. What is happening? The car in front of him had done the same, as had the car in the next lane to the right. Can they do that? Who does that? What is happening?

It was then that I saw, to my left on the median, the three drivers together lifting a man who had fallen to the ground after crossing the street. They got him upright and restored his cane beneath him. Assured he was okay, they returned to their cars and merged into the circle.

Washington DC. During rush hour. And there wasn’t one beep.

Wk12, Day4: Hurricanes & Control

Wk12, Day4: Hurricanes & Control

Nearly 40 years ago, Hurricane Belle hit the east coast. My family lived in Connecticut near the Long Island Sound. Afraid of the storm’s damage potential, my parents took us to stay with Uncle George, Aunt Martha, and our cousins Pudgie, Karen, and Pat. Their house was safely inland.

We didn’t know our cousins well; we only visited on Easter. Each year that Sunday, after church we’d head over for what seemed like an interminable visit. They had a grown-up’s house, and we were kids. All the cousins were in high school, but Pat was the youngest, so by default his room became our hangout. Still, there was little of interest: model pieces, a reptile tank, baseball cards most likely.

These days, with kids in the center of their parents’ lives, juice boxes, treats, and toys would have come with us. In those days, we toughed it out.

I was 9-years old back in ’76 when Hurricane Belle descended. It was fall, not Easter, and our worried parents shuttled the family to Uncle George’s for safety. They had a Cape Cod house, red wooden shingles, with punch out windows in Karen’s second story bedroom. I slept on her floor that night, under one of those eaves. I mention this because, although Belle left Fairfield’s seashore relatively unscathed, further inland one large tree crashed down, felling power lines and blocking the street. Right on top of Karen’s room, to be exact. Just to the left of her window.

As much as we try control our circumstances, life has a way of reminding us our mind’s illusions are just that. Breathing in, breathing out, objects tease our attention as they rise into and fall out of awareness. There and gone in a moment, if we choose to release them, just like the illusion of control.

Wk12, Day3: Ayni

I was talking with a friend yesterday about feeling disconnected from my self and the things I was doing, about falling into a sense of futility and nearing the apathy that sometimes follows. I’m grateful for people in my life open to such conversations.

She talked with me about the concept of Ayni (pronounced ee-nee), loosely translated as reciprocity. In her tradition, it’s enacted as the practice of making an offering before beginning prayer. A thank-you before the please.

I teared up as she spoke, not sure why. As she continued, I realized although I see clear evidence of a higher power all around, I deeply (and unawarely) disbelieve it is there for me. Almost as a child witnessing parents shower siblings with love as she languishes alone. Raised to believe in god’s greatness, as his mercy and kindness are withheld from her.

I then recalled in June before this experiment began, I’d meditated for a time with the instruction of “dedicating this practice to all beings everywhere.” This instruction broke through the sense that I was practicing alone. This instruction made clear the inextricable relationship giving has with receiving.

With this awareness of Ayni has come a new version of Pausing Practice: before beginning something, I can pause and offer it up to all beings everywhere.

I offer this meal, I offer this walk, I offer this writing…