Sunday, December 7, 2008
Ahimsa Dogwalking and Primordial Love
A friend and her husband were walking their big pit bull/German shepherd dog, a rescued mutt in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, NY when the dog charged towards some bushes. My human friends looked to see what was there. It was a frightened bunny. So they decided to give Roofis his walk around the lake, and if the rabbit was still there when they got back they were going to rescue him. (In Prospect Park a bunny too afraid to run away from a big dog is in grave danger.) My friends recognized him as an animal abandoned by people.
By the time they arrived back at the same spot, they had met up with friends also walking their big dog, and the rabbit was still there cowering in the shadow under the bushes. A friend offered to hold the leashes of both dogs, and the other three went under the bushes for the rabbit.
The friend holding the dogs became concerned that others in the park were feeling uncomfortable about the commotion in the bushes so she started to call out, “Bunny wunny fritter-face,” over and over in an effort towards communicating what was going on under the bushes.
Then a primordial scream filled the air, and the dogs took off, pulling my friend to the ground on her back. The rabbit was caught. It was picked up by one of the friends, and the dogs were just triggered to run by the staggering scream that cut through the darkening night.
Rabbits are prey animals, so when they are picked up they might interpret that as the end of their life, thus the primordial scream. So at the end of the adventure, everyone was fine. My friend who was pulled down by the dogs was okay and laughed it off. And this is the beginning of the story of how I came to live with my first rabbit, Fritter (I am petting him in the above picture.).
Ahimsa, the first tenet of Yama, the first of the eight limbs of yoga, is non-violence or non-harming. I also interpret it to mean compassionate action, and compassionate action can mean tough love, or loving when the going gets tough, even loving the world enough to quarrel with it and standing up for what is right. The translation “non-violence” might lead someone to the false notion that yogis are soft, as in pushovers. This is not the case.
Now, my friends from the story do not identify themselves as yogis, but nonetheless the story, itself, has aspects that illustrate ahimsa in action. For example, when they encounter the rabbit, they make the best decision in the moment that considers the important factors. They do what they came out there to do, which is walk the dog. They might have become overwhelmed with an impulse toward martyrdom, “We have to save this rabbit, now!” But they decided to take care of Roofis first. And by doing that they ended up meeting more people along the way who could help.
Ahimsa also concerns thoughts, not just compassionate action, but also includes what is happening behind the scene. So, when the friend holding the dogs saw that it was getting dark and there were concerned glances towards the bushes from others in the park, she decided to call out a goofy bunny song, “Bunny wunny fritter-face,” to let people walking by know that this was a compassionate project happening beneath the bushes in Prospect Park. I guess it seemed to work.
Fritter, the rabbit, had no idea what was happening to him. I would say he thought he was going to die, and the sound that issued forth from him was his last grasping for his soft and fuzzy life. But then he was fine, held firmly in the arms of a caring person, and he didn’t fuss on the way home. And this is just how it is, sometimes. We go through a harrowing experience and then everything is fine, and possibly better than it was before.
This reminds me of falling in love, and the dance performance I saw last night, ‘Lacunae’ performed by Jonathan Meyer at Links Hall in Chicago. I had never seen such intimate details of a man’s emotional life expressed through the body. The title, Lacunae, means unfilled spaces or gaps. And the work communicated volumes about loss, the parts we don’t usually talk about. There was a section, in particular that I read as attempting to connect, and wanting to loose oneself, possibly in love. I felt my own heart breaking as I watched this innocence playing itself out before me. For the dance led into difficulty, and faking it for others, and I didn’t get a sense that the emotions were resolved at the end. This is just what’s happening for this performance: incredible longing, attempts at escape, courageously opening up, and then confusion at the outcome.
Who hasn’t lived this story? It’s a very human story. And, when you’re going through it, it has a primordial grip as if you are going to die. Which is what the story of Fritter’s primordial scream reminds me of. It reminds me of those times in life that just seem to be too much, and then, seemingly inexplicably, you are on the other side and things are fine, possibly better than before. Life goes on.
And how does Ahimsa play into this? Well, I’m not sure I have an answer, but as individuals we can make choices that support thinking, communicating, and acting with compassion. This means taking the time you need to know yourself and make right decisions. Sometimes even if you are the instrument or vehicle through which someone else has a primordial or major reckoning experience (like you’re the one who says it’s time to break up), there are greater forces at work. Just like Fritter misinterpreted being lifted off the ground in the park as a prelude to his demise only to find himself in caring arms, the world might have plans for us that we cannot fathom.