Daraius’ Diary: Why I Kill

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“The enemy is fear.  We think it is hate; but, it is fear” – Gandhi

I felt scared.  My thoughts raced to waking up dead, thousands of miles from home, after having a snooze in my bed.  My chest tightened.

I didn’t like feeling that way.

I glanced, fearfully, at the spider, with the red marking on its back, crawling on the roof of my 90 square foot cabin.

Daraius' Diary: Why I Kill

“Kill!” Was My Emotional Reaction Because I Saw Only a Threat to My Safety and Nothing Else

My instinctive response was to get rid of the source of my fear, the spider – even if it meant killing something, which had done nothing to harm me.

Sharing the Forest

Ha!

I was at a Zen monastery in California, living in a 90 square foot cabin, overlooking a gorgeous forest.  The monastery oozed compassion and kindness – from the kind smiles on the faces of the monks to the vegetarian food served.

And here I wanted to KILL an innocent spider.  A spider that hadn’t chased me or bitten me!  All because was feeling scared.

At orientation, we were asked to watch out for bears, rattle snakes and black widow spiders, which share the forest with the monastery.  I wasn’t paying much attention, and only remember hearing that female black widow spiders (the poisonous ones!) had a red marking on them.

The spider crawling in my cabin did have a red marking on it, and my mind immediately assumed the worse!  I felt anxious, scared, and angry.  I just wanted to be rid of the spider.

Disgust

Beneath my desire to kill the spider was a very powerful emotion – that of disgust.  I was absolutely disgusted by the spider creeping around in my cabin.  And the disgust made me want to kill it.  To get rid of it forever.  RIGHT NOW!

Paul Ekman is one of the leading researchers on emotions in the world.  You may know him as “the world’s leading deception agent,” Cal, in the TV series “Lie to Me.

In his book, with the Dalai Llama, “Emotional Awareness:  Overcoming the Obstacles to Psychological Balance and Compassion” he writes that disgust is responsible for far more violence and killing than hatred.

Daraius' Diary: Why I Kill

In the Book, the Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman Discuss Spirituality and Psychology to Reveal How Hate and Compassion Come to Be

Ekman writes that disgust – much more than hatred – is what motivates horrific & gruesome acts of violence such as holocausts.

He says that Hitler and Goebbels (Nazi Minister for Propaganda) primarily talked about Jews with disgust (as opposed to hatred).

“Jews were ‘lice;’ they were ‘vermin.’  You had to exterminate them because they were a pollutant.  It was not hatred.  It was disgust.”

He adds:

  [They thought] Jews were vile, a scourge on the earth, if you look at the language used.

This is very similar to a phrase used during the Rwandan massacre, where the goal was “to crush all the cockroaches” as the Tutsis were called.  This again uses the language of disgust to justify wholesale slaughter.

It Doesn’t Matter If It Is a Baby, Male, or Female Spider

Ekman writes:

“When I see a cockroach, I do not worry, is it a baby cockroach?  Is it a lady cockroach?  I just want to get rid of it, because it is vile, repulsive.  When you feel that toward people, it is the most dangerous

Similarly, in that moment, I gave no thought to whether the spider was male, female, or infant.  I didn’t consider if it had a family.  That it was a living creature, worthy of life, just like me.  Or that it was probably scared of me too!

I.  Just.  Wanted.  The.  Spider.  Destroyed!

Staying Present

And just like that, I suddenly felt the discussions we had earlier in the monastery, about staying present and attuned to my body and feelings come alive for me!

To be clear – I still felt anxious and scared about the spider.

And yet, as I sat with those feelings and let them pass through me, I was able to see where my disgust and desire to kill the spider came from.

It came from feeling scared, frightened, and uncomfortable.  And I would do anything to not feel that way.  Include killing it without any thought!!

I had a first-hand visceral experience that MY fear and disgust leads me to violent acts.  I feel scared of spiders.  So I want to harm and kill them, for no reason than to TEMPORARILY feel better inside my body.

And yet there is another way out.

I can stay present with the uncomfortable feeling.  Where do I feel the fear in my body?  What are the voices in my head saying?  What are they making me do?

I tried to relocate the spider using the “bug bus” (basically a jar to scoop up the spider or bug and then place it safely outside) provided in each cabin, and the spider scurried out of sight.

Daraius' Diary: Why I Kill

Instead of Being Violent Against That Which I Feared, I Could Take a More Compassionate Approach and Give the Spider a Free “Bus Ride” Outdoors

So I went to sleep (not without wondering if I’d ever get up again!) with the spider crawling around the cabin.  And I was able to relocate the spider outside when I saw it the next day!

Bottom Line

After this incident (and Ekman’s analysis of disgust), I had a new awareness – in my body as opposed to an intellectual understanding – of how disgust made me act in uncompassionate, unkind, and unloving ways.

The fear and anxiety makes me feel threatened and uncomfortable.  And instead of seeking greater understanding or presence, I seek to destroy and kill.

When I think of any group which has faced persecution, oppression and domination, be it Women, Jews, Blacks, Gays, Muslims, it is usually because the more powerful group at the time was scared and uncomfortable.  And they didn’t want to feel that way!

So they labeled certain behavior as “disgusting” which made it much easier to use violence & hatred and forget the inherent humanity in the source of their discomfort.

This was a powerful reminder that the next time I see human (or insect!) behavior that disgusts me, to not allow my first reaction to control me.  Pause.  Take a deep breath.

Seek to understand and accept.  This brings me calmness instead of anger.  And this will add warmth and compassion to my relationships – with myself, colleagues, friends, family, and all living beings.

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10 responses to “Daraius’ Diary: Why I Kill

  1. I applaud you for writing this self reflection this is soemthing I need to work on myself

  2. fantastic and thought provoking

  3. Hey Daraius,

    You had written a reply to a comment about Vipassana courses and partners last year (it was my 20th-ish and her first), and I kind of dropped the ball getting back to you. I just saw this post go by with appreciation, and just read that you and Emily had gotten divorced, which I was sorry to hear . My partner and I also split around the same time (after a Vipassana course). It sounds like you are undertaking some serious personal evolution! And I have a sense it would be good for us to be in connection, to maybe have the conversation we didn’t have last year, and share more of our experience. And if you lived in the Denver area, I would totally invite you to a men’s group I recently started, as you’d be a great fit! I assume you can see my email in this post. So please feel free to contact me there. Also, feel free to post this or not. Whatever seems true.

    Warmly,
    John

  4. The reason Bhuddist don’t harm insects is because they equate an insects life with life of a human and that is not correct. The problem with Hitler was that he believed the Jews were not human. He believed they as valuable as insects. So both extremes are not correct or healthy.

  5. Darius, I REALLY hope you’re a vegan… otherwise this is probably the most hypocritical post you’ve ever made!

  6. A lovely post! I encounter my host of deadly insects and wildlife regularly with my work and it’s made my insight very similar to yours. Instead of responding with disgust or fear, I choose to further understand their lives. Usually, most creepy crawlies don’t want to hurt us; they just happen to encompass the same habitat we do. However, if you ever pick up your helmet and find a female black widow making it her new home, I suggest not trying to share that habitat with her!

  7. We have a lot of scorpions here in Arizona. We also have black widows and (deadly)brown recluse spiders. I fear them because a sting or a bite from them could send me to the hospital. The scorpion stings are very painful and leave your limbs numb for two weeks. So, yes, I am fearful of them. If I can’t identify a spider that the spider is not a brown recluse or a black widow, then it dies. I don’t enjoy killing, but insects outnumber humans big time! I don’t want my pets or children stung/bitten. So I spray pesticide in the house to keep them outside. I see spiders outside in my backyard a lot. I don’t usually bother them unless they are in an area frequented by people/pets. Cockroaches are gross, but not dangerous. I have sticky mats to catch them. A lot of times the insects are challenging to relocate due to where they are. Scorpions are hard to see and they blend in with their environment. That’s why you need a blacklight to find them. I call myself an animal rights activist and try to preserve life as much as I can. Sometimes that isn’t possible.

    • @Anita @anthony alan – Thank you!

      @JOhn Shapiro – I’d love to connect when I’m in the Denver area next and please let me know when you’re in Austin. Sorry to hear about your split. BTW, I love the Merton quote on your blog.

      @Alicia A – I loved the pictures on your blog and looks like you certainly would come in contact with a lot of insects given all the cool places you’ve been too!

      @Diana – Thanks for sharing your experience. I celebrate your attempt to be as compassionate as possible while balancing your need for safety for you and your family in a challenging environment!

  8. Since using Englisg correctly is important to you, you will appreciate the distinction between poisonous and venomous. BW spiders are venomous because they inject a toxic. Poison is usually an inhested toxin. A spider can be venomous, but not poisonous. I’ve never heard of an instance where eating a spider is harmful.

  9. What does this post have to do with getting big travel with small money? I come to your site for advice on how best to get that and nothing more.