Melbourne, Australia, June 2016:
I am here to teach a two-day workshop on mindfulness applications for worry, dysthymia, substance use, anger management, etc (through TATRA). I get set up: PowerPoint slides - check, mic - check, a glass of water - check, coffee - check... The conference room of the Darebin Arts & Entertainment Center slowly fills up with local psychologists and mental health clinicians. With fifteen minutes to kill, I step outside to check the grounds. The venue sits on a beautifully landscaped park that commemorates the Lebanese immigrants to Melbourne.
With a cup of coffee in hand I start out on a winding path through the park and I stop: ahead of me - to be more precise, under my feet - worms. It had rained and these silly little bastards crawled out from cracks in the pavement. I know the horror that awaits them - in an hour or two, as the Australian sun takes off the invisible runway in the sky, these worms will turn into bacon, fried alive. They somehow know it - they are hustling away from the pavement, towards grass. I hear the swooshing sound of bike tire on wet asphalt and I step aside - a kid on a bike plows through, oblivious to the tragedy down below.
I flashback to a similar moment in my childhood: the Arbat neighborhood of Moscow, I come out for a bike ride - meaning well, meaning no harm - and yet becoming an unwitting instrument of Darwinian selection as the tires of my own bike turn the asphalt below into a chopping board - as I plow through earthworms.
My mind returns back to its objective moment of now - the one in Melbourne, not in Moscow. I put the coffee cup down on the sidewalk and bend down to look for a tool of rescue - for a twig. I find a suitable enough piece of wood - pliable, gentle, gnarly enough to hook up a worm without doing damage to it (him? her?). To my right I see a tall guy come outside - a guy I just saw a few minutes ago in the conference room of my workshop. I turn to him and say: "I have a job for you." He looks puzzled but open-minded. I hand him a twig and explain the tragedy of survival that both of us are in a position to witness. Still puzzled and still open-minded, he says "Sure" and puts down his cup of coffee on the sidewalk. And we both go to work - scooping up these silly little writhing bastards from the frying pan of the sidewalk, from the killing fields of pedestrian traffic.
His name is John. He is a handsome fellow, a kind of Crocodile Dundee with a touch of Bohemian intelligentsia in his looks and manners. But humble as hell and self-disclosing. Tells me that psychology is his second career. Tells me that he just succumbed to his kids' plea to get a pet hamster and he has been suffering ever since as he watches the pet hamster "incarcerated" in a cage, as kids, of course, quickly lose interest in this little pet project.
John is a fellow sufferer - a perfect helper in this strange project of street-side salvation.
I tell John about my crazy notion of "neural tribe" - "a neuron is a neuron is a neuron... there is no difference between my neurons and your neurons, John, and the neurons inside these worms... we are neural diasporas - one of a kind - scattered amidst infinite body-forms, life-forms... body is but a house on legs... an RV - a recreational vehicle... neurons - the info-processing charioteers... all the same..."
He gets it. "Intriguing," he says.
But time is running out - we can't save them all, we go back in, to talk about mindfulness, to talk about the possibility of radical transformation - from fear and anger to compassion.
The alchemy of awareness...
The ordinary perfection of life recognizing the validity of life..
Just life on Earth, you know, amongst us fellow earthworms...