Lessons on Snow and Sentience

It looks like we’re could get up to one foot of snow here this weekend. A couple of weeks ago, I was wearing shorts and tank tops and getting sunburned in the garden.

This is a good opportunity to acknowledge impermanence and practice acceptance. The temptation is to wring my hands and curse our imaginary weather gods, but no. When we cling, we suffer.

For the next four nights, when the temperatures are predicted to dive down into the 20s, we will have to drag in the big pots of parsley, salad greens, and pansies that have been enjoying the early spring weather, and then put them back out in the mornings. I’ll also bring in the germinating pots of red poppy and lily tubers that are getting their start on the deck.

On the way to work this morning, I passed a squirrel in the road. He had been run over by a driver, probably shortly before I passed by. The little guys are always darting out into traffic, and dead squirrels in the roadway are not uncommon here. But it always makes me sad.

I believe if we accidentally kill an animal while we’re driving, the right thing to do is to stop the car and move the body clear of traffic; or better yet, take it away and bury it later. To just leave the body in the road to be run over again and again is not the right thing to do. To take it away and give it a loving burial shows compassion for all sentient beings.

Years ago, when I was in college and before I was a Buddhist, I was driving down Ella Grasso Boulevard in New Haven when a beautiful young white cat with blue eyes, probably just 8 or 9 months old, darted out in front of my car. There was no time to stop. I hit her, and she died right there.

I pulled over and burst into tears. A very kind man stopped and asked me if I was all right. I said I was, but I definitely wasn’t. I took a blanket from the trunk of my car, wrapped the cat in it, brought her home, and buried her in a flower bed, with one of my grandmother’s handkerchiefs and a flower in her grave.

Why? Because she was a sentient being, and I caused her death. Buddhist or not, reverence for life is something we should all understand. You don’t have to have any particular beliefs to know that. And when we cause harm to others, we’re accountable.

We should strive every day to cause no harm whatsoever. But if we do, as in the case of the cat whose life I ended, we should follow it with loving Kamma – action – to, in some way, and if it’s possible, change the course of our actions.

Anyway, a mile or so down the road from the dead squirrel I passed this morning, another squirrel began to lunge out into the road in front of my car. At the last moment, he realized his mistake, turned around, and bolted back into the woods. By then, I had already applied the brakes.

For a moment, I wondered if there was a lesson here. Acceptance? Compassion? Life’s transience?

Then I thought: I’m the squirrel, and the squirrel is me. There is no 'Other'. Separateness is an illusion. Impermanence is the nature of everything. He is sentient; I am sentient. He craves compassion, and so do I. The snow falls on all of us just the same.

Live Pono

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