So I was leaving the Buddhist temple in Dallas (Wat Dallas aka Buddhist Center of Dallas) last night. The temple has numerous feral cats/kittens which roam the grounds. I was petting a kitten while another kitten was nearby. Suddenly I heard high pitched squealing in the dark. It seems the other kitten caught a mouse and the mouse was doing the squealing. And it continued as I paused and pondered. Then I left with the following thought. “This is the natural order of events, predator and prey but I hate hearing the cries of death from any living being.”
Why am I so squeamish? My history would suggest a level of comfort with pain, death and violence. I have been involved in several hundred violent situations or near death experiences. I have been in car accidents, slipped on mountain slopes and had guns threateningly pressed to my head. I worked on inner-city streets and in hospitals. I acted as though death and destruction were my lifelong pals. Lifelong acquaintances, true. Pals? hardly. I learned at an early age to “act as if”. So I always acted nonplussed by the smell or presence of death. The reality is that I harbored abject fear throughout these moments. (I really hated to hear the hospital’s public address system announce “CODE!”, and see the crash-cart bearers come racing down the hallway.)
So, the truth is that within me there was always a voice of fear, leisurely lingering around, a persistent demon in my gut. I rarely actually wanted to hurt someone in my many violent encounters with others. I used to think to myself, “I wish this opponent wouldn’t make me hurt them”. Like somehow my decision to visit violence on a person was strictly in their control. As if they would just stop threatening me in some fashion we could all walk away. My perception was that I was reacting to legitimate threats and appropriately responding with righteous indignation. But it wasn’t true. It often wasn’t true that I was being threatened or that the threat required a response given the nominal level of said threat. It was such that I had groomed myself at an early age to face down every slight with intimidation, aggression and then if necessary, violence.
Back to death. I hate dealing with death. Accidental, natural or otherwise. I can’t watch television shows that depict real animals in nature being killed and killing. I never watched a snuff film. I do watch “shoot em ups” in film and tv but never mixed that fantasy with reality.
When I ride my bicycle I see animals all the time who have been crushed by cars, usually, squirrels, rabbits, cats and birds. I hate to see them and I usually say a prayer for them all, that they died without suffering.
So, I know I am squeamish. Despite this self-knowledge, I will consistently and persistently rise to each new “threat” with aggression. I am incorrigible. I scoff at death. But age and meditation and Buddhism have softened my temper. They have made me a cautious driver and an alert cyclist.
I am gentler, less easy to agitate and less prone to violence now. My default action, to meet any perceived harm by threatening greater harm and beating my chest in defiance, may someday abate. Such did I ponder as I walked away from the squealing mouse, it’s death cry echoing in my ears and heart.