A Failure at Ahimsa (non-violence)
This morning, I woke up with my back itching. As I felt with my fingers, I detected bumps. Uh oh. I went into the bathroom, turned around and lifted up my shirt to see my back in the mirror. Sure enough, there they were – bite, bite, bite… bite, bite, bite, bite, bite. Abour 8-9 bites on my back, and they were itchy. Yeesh. I was irritated and annoyed, but more concerned – could they be bedbugs? That could be difficult to deal with.
I’m going to have to examine my bed to figure out what happened. I pulled back the sheets, but nothing. It didn’t take long to find the source, however, as I looked down at the side of the bed. There was a reddish-brown spider, sitting there as if it knew it were guilty. Yep, spider bites.
In my righteous annoyance, I grabbed the spider in a tissue, squished it, and flushed it down the toilet. So much for Ahimsa, non-violence. I was actually a bit surprised at myself, because typically when I find a spider, over the years I’ve taught myself to gently catch them in a tissue and toss them out the door, so they can go on and live their lives where they should (well, where I think they should) – outside.
Getting over the spider issue
It wasn’t always this way. I used to be quite afraid of spiders, and it was one incident that made me decide I should get over it and learn to deal with them in a more calm, compassionate way. I was living in a small studio apartment on the top floor of an old farmhouse that was built at the turn of the 20th century. It was a cute and quirky place. One of its quirks was a strange bolt on the front door that didn’t have a key to unlock it. So I had to make sure that I secured it in the open position before I walked out the door, or it would automatically lock behind me.
One day, of course, I forgot to do that, walked out the door, and shut it behind me. Click. Arrgh. I knew I had to get back in the hard way, through one of the old windows that never locked properly. So, I crawled around the roof of the lower level¸ which was actually quite easy from the landing of my front door, all the way around to the back window right next to my bed.
I heaved and hoed and budged the window up and open, only to look down at the windowsill with horror. A large, hairy, brown spider was right on the window still, frozen still. I was frozen still, looking at it. I’d have to crawl right over it to get through the window, onto my bed, and into the house. Lord knows I didn’t want it to jump on me. But almost as bad, I was afraid that it would jump into my bed or over the side of the bed between the mattress and the wall, and I’d never find it. Visions of sleepless nights, wondering where the spider was, filled my head with dread.
I decided to take my shoe and try to smash it right there. It was risky, because the spider could just make a run for it and really go into hiding exactly where I wanted him to, but I didn’t know what else to do. I took aim, and as I slammed the shoe down, the spider jumped inside and under my covers! I began to panic. I crawled inside and pulled up the covers. The spider quickly scooted over the side into the dark crevasse I was worried he would stake me out in. The next fifteen minutes or so where rife with me jumping on the mattress, pulling it out from the wall, slamming my shoe down all over the place and screaming bloody murder. I wonder what the neighbors thought.
From that day forward, I decided I needed to get a grip on the spider issue. I learned to calm myself, see the spider as another living creature, recognize that it is actually a friend, disposing of pesky little bugs, and finding some love in my heart for it. I became quite good at gently picking them up with the tissue, wrapping it softly around them, and depositing it outside so they could crawl out to new freedom.
Why did I indulge?
That’s why this concerned me: it had been years since I killed anything other than a poisonous spider (which I have no qualms about to protect my family). Why did I decide to indulge in killing the spider this time?
I was pretty disappointed in myself and surprised, too. I easily could have taken it out. I wasn’t that angry or upset – why did I react? It made me reflect a little more. Alright, so what were my feelings? I was annoyed that I had been bitten and itching. I was a little concerned in my sleep that something happened like this that I have no control over. I felt violated that the spider came into my bed, under my pajamas, and bit me for no reason.
Somehow, all of these feelings made me feel that I had the right to kill it. I didn’t have the right to kill it – I could choose to do that, but I had no privilege to do such a thing except in my own mind. Because I could get back at the spider, I did.
Many times, we feel justified in getting back at others who have hurt us. The violence may come out physically, as it did with the spider, but more often it spews as vicious words, brutal punishments, or on a subtle level through slamming emotional walls down or simply violent thoughts. We believe we have the right to react, to avenge ourselves, or the right to be right, or to get pissed off at someone who said something insulting – or the right to squash a bug.
I had indulged in this kind of reaction, all because a spider was simply doing what spiders do. Sometimes, spiders bite. I could have contemplated his motivations, but I’d never know for sure. Some would say it was just a spider, it doesn’t matter. But I don’t agree – it does matter. It is a life, and I intentionally harmed it. This wasn’t the appropriate response. This is not who I want to be. I want to live in alignment with Ahimsa, the yogic principle of non-harming: to be loving and kind to all beings, to the best of my ability.
People are spiders, too
In some ways, people aren’t that different from spiders. People in our lives sometimes just do what they do. We don’t really understand how they see things, or their motivation, their point of view. And we really don’t need to. We want to be able to explain their behavior so we feel better about it. But truly, it is our task to recognize that person is just doing what they do, and we do not need to know why. Then, we can choose to respond from our highest of selves, not our lowly reactive instincts.
I may have failed this time at Ahimsa, which cost the spider its life. For this, I am sad. But I am grateful to the spider and those bites for the potent lesson they have given me. When someone upsets or disturbs me – whether a spider or a person – I don’t need to lash out at them about it, and I don’t have a “right” to get back at them about it. I certainly can choose to talk with them about it, to work it out, to let it go, or to walk away from them, all of which would be much more in alignment with Ahimsa. And much more in alignment with who I truly want to be.
Copyright © 2012 by Constance L. Habash