Summertime means bugs (particularly, stink bugs in Eastern US).  Bugs bug us.  We don’t like to be bugged so we kill bugs.  We are playing gods, taking it upon ourselves to decide matters of life and death.   No big deal, right?  After all, it’s just a bug, right?  Right, it is just a bug.

Where am I going with this?  Right here, to this thought: you are missing an opportunity for compassion-training.  Get yourself a $30 dollar BugZooka (which is a battery-free, catch-and-release, pump action hand-vac) and spend this summer practicing compassion.

Let me clarify a couple of things.  First, I am not advocating for bugs.  I am advocating for myself.  I live in the world that is more of a jungle than it theoretically has to be, in a world that plays mindless god left and right, in a world that could certainly benefit from a bit of compassion-training.  This kind of world is unsafe, for me, for you, for anyone.   So, my interest in compassion-training is entirely self-serving.  Sure, I care about the bugs too.

Case in point, one recent morning as I got up to wash my face there was a moth in the sink on its back, flapping its wings.  It was stuck.  Its wings were “glued” to the walls of the sink by the moisture.  I opened the trashcan and rummaged for something thin yet hard to help the moth peel off away from the surface of the sink.  I found the cardboard tube from a roll of toilet paper and tried to use this.  It didn’t work: as I tried to scoop up the moth, I kept damaging its wings and it would flap wiggle its body in desperate agony.  I felt like Saddam Hussein in a torture chamber with a  captive audience.

I knew the BugZooka wouldn’t work in this situation because the wet moth would be stuck inside the capture chamber and I’d have to scrape it out somehow.  So, I opened the faucet, hoping that as the water fills up the moth might be able to flip over on its stomach at which point I could try to scoop it out once again.  It didn’t work.  It got sucked into the drain to its death.  I felt bummed out for a moment: as primitive of a life as it was, it ended.  There was no lingering guilt (after all, I did the best I could) just a moment of regret, a moment of identification, a moment of compassion, a moment of humanity.

This is exactly the sort of thing that having a BugZooka allows you to practice.  You see a bug, you grab your BugZooka, you sneak up on the little creature, you push a little red button, and bam: you see the unsuspecting creature temporarily trapped and panicked inside a plastic chamber.  Then you open a window or step outside and you release it back into the wild, feeling good that you didn’t have to kill anyone.  It’s a trivial moment but, I believe, it is nothing less than god-training (and I mean this in a secular, humanistic way).  Fact is: to live we have to kill.  We kill to eat, we kill to heal (notice the “bio” in the word anti-bio-tics, “bios” means “life” in Greek).  The business of living – on some level – is inevitably zero-sum.  We will – one way or another – take life, i.e. play god.  So, if we are going to play god, we might as well practice being mindful, discriminant gods, not mindless, trigger-happy, zombie gods that can’t stand to be bugged.

One more point to clarify.  As I am suggesting this stupefyingly simple compassion-training summer-camp, I realize that there is bound to be a reader out there who will read this and sigh with scorn: “It’s just bugs, kill the damn things, they don’t know any better.  Life is cruel.  There is no room for these bleeding-heart shenanigans.”  I can envision the objection that compassion-training is passivity-training, that compassion training will make someone vulnerable and defenseless.  I don’t think so:  compassion training is one thing, self-defense and assertiveness is an entirely separate matter.  Case in point: I spent this morning writing this silly little blog about bugs and yet, should you barge into my home uninvited in the middle of the night, I’ll do my physical best to mess you up in order to defend my family.

My point is simple: compassion-training is not an either/or issue; it’s not  a choice between compassion or self-care/self-defense.   Not at all.  Compassion-training is not a dualism of the opposites, it’s a dialectic unity of the opposites: compassion is self-care.   Meaning: when you practice compassion, when you avoid unnecessary violence you a) take care of your mind/conscience  and b) practice and model mindful coexistence that makes the world (and you) safer in the long run.

In short, skip on a week’s worth of lattes and get yourself a $30 compassion-training kit.  Awaken your benevolence one bug at a time.

Here’s the link:

p.s. I am not paid by BugZooka, I don’t own Gaiam stock, I have not accepted and I will not accept any gifts from Gaiam should they want to thank me monetarily for any increase in their sales of this product; writing this was reward enough.

[graphic: from Seeds of Compassion]