Posted by: Stephen Paul | August 17, 2007

Taking a life

I was sitting on my porch preparing for my morning meditation when a yellow jacket started buzzing me. Without hesitating, I grabbed the fly swatter and smacked it. Then, I stood there looking down at that beautiful, complex life form–now lifeless before me. The inconguity of the situation struck me: Here I am trying to meditate to be more in harmony with all of existence…and I have just taken a life. This led to a succession of related thoughts.

This is just the beginning of yellow jacket season. Last year my wife and I lost our battle with the yellow jackets. We were both stung more than once, and we finally conceded the porch to them. I killed a lot of yellow jackets last year. This year I set out traps and went right to work with the fly swatter. And yet…every time I kill one it troubles me.

We owned a restaurant for several years. When the distributers brought deliveries, they often contained cockroaches. At certain times of the year the mice would come into the restaurant, too. You can’t have cockroaches and mice in a restaurant: They’ll close you down! Plus, I had some absolutely terrible moments when I saw a mouse or cockroach out among the customers in the public part of the cafe: That’s very bad for business. We waged a constant war to make sure we killed those pests. (We did try to trap and relocate the mice, but that was not successful.) That troubled me…and several of my employees, too.

Jackie and I are mostly vegitarians, but we do eat seafood. People ask me why we draw the line there. I can’t really give them a good answer. I believe everything on this earth shares the same life force, no matter where it is in our food chain. If I think about it, that can trouble me, too.

A few years ago, Jackie, our grandson, and I went to watch Tibetan monks create a sand mandala and pray for peace at our local library. It was a small gathering, and I knew some of the other people. In the middle of the prayer, a man dressed in camaflouge, holding a detonator in one hand and a pistol in the other, jumped up on a table and pointed the gun at us. He picked the monks and some of the other people to be his hostages and took them into a separate room. The rest of us were allowed to leave. Later, an off-duty sheriff who had snuck into the room with the hostage group shot and killed the man.

I was a conscientious objector during the Viet Nam war. I felt strongly about that: I wasn’t about to kill another person because someone told me to. But…in the library, if I had the chance–which I didn’t–what would I have done? I was troubled by that for a long time.

Again, its a matter of perspective. From the highest level–the level of being–I know it’s all fine and that no harm is ever really done. But, from the physical level–the level of day to day perception–it’s always troubling. Unfortunately, that’s the level I’m on when I’m out on the porch smacking yellow jackets. I go back and forth between the two viewpoints as I watch the news and or hear about the death of a friend. I think that’s our predicament here, but I’m trying to spend as much time as I can in that state of being.    

How do you handle this issue? What are your thoughts?


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