From Nasty Squirrel to Dharma Teacher
Updated: Aug 23, 2020
In May 2019, I was lucky enough to attend a weekend retreat with Pema Chodron at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY. The subject of the retreat was the Six Perfections. The Perfection Giving, AniPema explained, goes beyond simple, everyday generosity. In addition to not expecting anything in return, the act of Giving has to be a stretch . . . a challenge. During a subsequent heat wave that summer, I was granted an opportunity to practice that perfection.
Did I open up my air conditioned house to the homeless? Well, no. I didn’t. That would have gone way beyond my comfort level. The goal is to challenge ourselves gradually, Pema
explained, not to create a situation for ourselves that is doomed to fail.
While scrolling through Twitter, I saw the hashtag #HEATWAVE2019 and came across a graphic with the message: “Please be sure to put out plenty of water for our wildlife friends.”
I “liked” the tweet and thought, What a selfless idea. I’m going to use it to practice Giving. Then I looked at the composite image more closely. In addition to a photo of a deer, a bird and raccoons, there was a picture of the mortal enemy of my garden: a SQUIRREL! The nemesis of my pots of pansies.
The first thought that popped up into my mind was, Why should I put out water for these varmints that are always digging up my pansies and killing them? Just a few weeks earlier, I sprinkled the soil with cayenne pepper to discourage them from digging. Even though I’ve heard many dharma teachings about having compassion for all sentient beings, it was still kind of hard for me to generate compassion toward the pack of pansy pillagers. Then it occurred to me: That is the exact reason why I needed to give the squirrels some water. It would be a stretch for me to show them generosity.
As I walked across the baked parking lot from my car to my home, I spied a hungry (and presumably thirsty) squirrel digging in the grass. OK OK OK, I thought. I’ll stretch my capacity for generosity and give you some water.
I placed a bowl of cold water next to the pots that contained what was left of my pansies. I looked at the scraggly, green stems bereft of any of the perky purple and yellow petals that had once flourished in the pots. I pulled the practically lifeless stems out of the pot and dropped them into a flower bed of day lilies. Impermanence, I thought. Dharma lessons keep popping up all over the place, I laughed to myself.