What the Caterpillars Taught Me

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A few weeks ago, Darren and I had the lovely task of teaching canoeing to a group of girl guides. Their leader seemed like a great lady over email, so we were both pretty excited to go and do it. It was at a location we had never been to, so we were anxious to see the lakefront and meet the girls. We were also wondering how bad the caterpillars were, since the events the last few weeks at that camp had been cancelled due to them. There is a major infestation around Peace River!

Forest Tent Caterpillar

We arrived a little while after the group did and met the leaders and a few of the girls. After scouting the lakefront, which was reedy and impossible to work with, we made plans to go to another part of the lake the next day for all the actual canoeing. I did some instructing before supper — talked about the parts of a canoe and some basics — whatever I could do prior to going on the water.

The leaders were busily getting supper ready and corralling the girls, so Darren and I decided to help out by getting the campfire going. It wasn’t long before we had a nice little fire. The girls were, for the most part, on free time, and they played tag, “mantracker” and other games. A few came over and wanted to poke at the fire. Well, it wasn’t long before they were gathering caterpillars on their sticks and putting them in the fire.

I now know what a witness to bullying feels like.

I didn’t know what to do. It’s not like the girls were hurting an endangered species, but it still didn’t sit right with me. I had been amazed at the caterpillars everywhere and had been gently sweeping them off the benches, only to have them crawl back on in five minutes. They truly were everywhere — we had to do caterpillar checks before climbing in the tent, to make sure we wouldn’t bring any in. They had decimated all the trees and were just waiting to die, I guess… but dying in a fire on the end of a stick was not their destiny. But why didn’t I say anything about how I felt?

I think part of my paralysis was because the girls had seemed so sweet. From all we could see, and in what we saw for the remainder of the weekend, they were nice girls! But somehow it was fun to them to burn the caterpillars and watch them wriggle in pain.

Darren and I talked amongst ourselves, but neither of us spoke up and said what we wanted to say: “stop it. Those caterpillars of living things, so let them live.” I half-heartedly said things about the yucky smell it made, and I said to a couple of them that that was enough, but I wasn’t their leader, and I didn’t assume a role of authority — I had only met them a couple of hours before — so they didn’t really listen.

When the leaders came over and saw what was happening, they put a quick end to it, and the girls listened and stopped. They respected their leaders (it wasn’t hard to see why, these ladies were amazing) so they obeyed. But I was stuck wondering why I hadn’t spoken up more.

All the while, I had been thinking “where are the leaders? This isn’t okay! This is caterpillar torture!” I know, you might think it is ridiculous, but I’m a softie for all living creatures. I have even been known to let mosquitoes live, if they are bouncing up against a window and clearly not interested in biting me. I strongly believe that whatever the creature, cruelty, be it in the form of bullying or torture, is not okay, and I think that most people would agree, at least in principle. But look at the form it takes in our society!

– In many places, it’s just “a given” that some people will receive better treatment/service than others.
– In many places, kids are unkind and sometimes even blatantly threatening to one another.
– All over the world, animals that are supposedly pets are mistreated, not fed, watered or exercised sufficiently.
– All over the world, animals that are our food source are not cared for properly and not butchered with any sense of compassion.
– In some places, wild animals are captured and put in tiny cages for our viewing pleasure (zoos).
– Animals that we deem “pests” are killed en masse, without remorse.

I could go on, obviously, but I don’t want this article to turn into a rant about what’s wrong with the world.

Where are the Leaders?

I wonder how much abuse happens because someone is sitting on the sidelines, like I was, saying “where are the leaders? This isn’t okay!” Well, I’ve decided that we are all leaders and if I ever catch myself thinking that again, I am going to find a way to speak up immediately. The longer I wait, the harder it is to say anything, so I am not going to hesitate. I am going to try my best not to care what other people will think, and speak up anyways. If there are others who feel the same as I do, I may decide to band together with them… hmmm, have to blog about that another time.

I guess in some ways, my mildly-held pacifist beliefs were tested that day. I don’t believe in trying to force others to do something, and I am not a fan of trying to convince someone to change either. I am much more in favour of letting people live their own lives, with the consequences of their actions, and just helping in obvious ways that make sense without getting preachy or pushy (for example, serving on the volunteer fire department). I guess that’s why I don’t generally participate in activist rallies — I don’t necessarily think they work to create change and it seems a bit like leaving one crowd to join another. I’m a free thinker, which sometimes means I don’t relate to others very well, but I am okay with that. When those caterpillars were being tortured, however, my pacifism became a trap, and I felt like a mouse on a sticky pad — unable to move, unable to respond, unable to speak.

So, I’ve got to find a better model for intervening — pacifism might not be for me, and ordinary activism doesn’t quite fit either. Righteous indignation only works if you can pull off “righteous” or “indignant,” and I don’t do either very well! As usual, all the really effective ways of being true to myself are complex and can’t be labelled or summed up in a few quick words.

Ultimately, I think the main reason I didn’t stop the caterpillar torture was because I was too concerned with what others would think of my beliefs. I know they aren’t match up with mainstream society — most people would happily kill caterpillars! — and I was more concerned with conforming than being true to myself. Not being a weirdo. I was raised a weirdo, you know. We belonged to a “cult,” according to regular society. Perhaps now that I seem normal (those who know me, know I’m far from it!! :), I don’t want to be weird again. But what the heck! Isn’t weird the new cool? Well, it is for me!

I wonder if it would work to say, in a bullying circumstance, “you cannot do that around me. Now that I am here, you will have to stop what you are doing or leave.” Spoken calmly and clearly, I think it might work, and it might be the best way, for me, to be true to myself and speak up. I wonder if bullying in schools would decrease if teachers were able to act like real leaders, rather than being afraid to speak out because of the power parents and principals hold over them. Could one stop bullying single-handedly at school by intervening gently but firmly, so that all those kids paralyzed on sticky pads aren’t saying “where are the teachers? This isn’t okay!” (I’d love it if some of my teacher friends and followers weighed in on this!)

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Truth and Freedom

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I was happily reading along, learning about healing and thinking and other great stuff I won’t go into here, when a Bible verse I read struck me differently today. I’ve heard it before, and you probably have too… but today, it had more meaning.

You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free. – Jesus of Nazareth

Truth. What is truth? This is a tough question. We tend to know what is untrue, but it’s hard to peg down exactly what capital-T Truth is.

Well, according to Jesus — who, I hope you can agree, even if you don’t believe he came to save you or any of that, was an amazing wise man and teacher — truth is what makes you free. Truth = Freedom. So… if you don’t feel free, then something isn’t true. Something you are thinking or something you believe is not contributing to a feeling of personal freedom. It’s probably at the heart of the unhappiness or feeling of restriction. And so, logic would say, that something you are believing or thinking is not true. You can keep believing it if you want, but you won’t experience maximum freedom until you find your own personal truth.

That’s all I can say. It doesn’t seem to be anything more complicated than that.

It’s late, I need to get to bed. Sorry I haven’t blogged more, but I’ve been really busy. That’s it!

I Believe I’ll Have a Coffee

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When I was growing up, someone told me that caffeine stunts your growth, and that’s why kids shouldn’t drink coffee. So, I grew up believing that. I don’t think it’s actually true; kids certainly drink lots of caffeinated beverages now and don’t seem to be hobbits.

I also believed that “if you work hard, you’ll do okay in life.” I don’t know if anyone ever said it quite that plainly, but that’s what I grew up believing. Maybe you do, too — it’s a pretty common belief.

Lately, I got to thinking where this belief came from. It seems to be generally true, but could it have been invented, like the “coffee stunts your growth” bit was invented to keep me from drinking something that wasn’t good for me?

Could the belief about hard work have been invented just to keep me from getting too lazy? No parent wants to raise a kid to be a slacker or shirker!

Why wasn’t I taught that if I work hard at something I love, life will be awesome! That’s what I believe now! But, unfortunately, many of us believe that we have to work hard (often at something that is “the grind”) to just get by. And getting by is all we should expect out of life. Ack! And we wonder why depression is so common!

What if other beliefs you have were sort of given to you under false pretenses? Parents often say stuff just to shut their kids up or to keep them in line. Some religious beliefs originate this way. But do you want to spend your whole life being quiet and in line? Would your world fall apart if you examined some of your beliefs and found them flawed? Would it be so bad if your world fell apart? If your world is based on limiting “shut up and stay in line” beliefs, it should fall apart! It will sooner or later — why else do you think teens rebel? But after the rebellion, comes the conformity. I wonder how much of what we do is just us conforming to society’s view of the “adult way to live.” I’m afraid many of us kissed creativity good-bye at age 12, and started down the rocky road of conform-or-die.

But do we die? No. The best musicians don’t conform at all. Some become popular, and some don’t, but the best ones are creative and unique. Artists, ditto. Blue-collar workers? Oil riggers? Office workers and number-crunchers? Why not!?! There is an outlet for creativity and “out of line” thinking in any job, and if there isn’t much room, then do it lots in your personal life. Although I should mention that I am not advocating “creative accounting!” 🙂

To kick-start this process, think about diving into something creative, and be aware of what beliefs pop up as a result. Let’s think about starting ballet lessons (even if we have no real plans to do it). What belief pops up? That adults can’t do that? That we’re not flexible enough? Who told you that! Have you seen what yoga-people can do? Lack of flexibility is no excuse. Getting older is no excuse — some people in their 60’s run marathons. And do yoga. (Google “adult ballet classes” and see how many hits you get. I got 6.7 million.) Now try this thought process with a creative thing that you might actually like to try, and see what silly thoughts pop up.

Look your beliefs in the face and see if they have any good backing. Lots of them don’t — we just sort of believe them because someone told us that once and that seems to be what everyone believes. Don’t get all up-tight about it — have fun evaluating your beliefs, where they came from, and how messed up they might be! 🙂 It’s not a crisis, it’s a chance to truly rebel! And while you’re at it, remake all the worst, boring parts of life.


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I wanted to share some wisdom from a very good book I read lately, called Peace is Every Step. It is written by a monk named Thich Nhat Hanh. He was born in Viet Nam but has spent many years in North America and Europe, so he has a good outlook on western culture. This book talks about inner peace and meditation and does so using everyday language and modern analogies. In it, he quotes 14 precepts that most Buddhists live by. There are a couple that really struck me because they are totally opposite to how many of us think. The first precept is “Do not be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory or ideology. All systems of thought are guiding means, not absolute truth.” The second is similar: “Do not think that the knowledge you presently possess is changeless, absolute truth. Avoid being narrow-minded and bound to present views. Learn and practice non-attachment from views in order to be open to receive others’ viewpoints. Truth is found in life and not merely in conceptual knowledge. Be ready to learn throughout your entire life and to observe reality in yourself and in the world at all times.”
Isn’t that interesting? Most people, in North America at least, are quite single-minded in their beliefs. They seem to think that the more narrow-minded they are (or the better their blinders are), the better the proof of how dedicated they are, therefore proving they are good people. Many even become fanatics to a certain belief, no longer questioning it at all, until they are completely unable to see someone else’s point of view. But imagine if most people were the opposite – not bound to a belief but willing to listen and learn about others’ beliefs at any time, not feeling that doing so challenges their own beliefs or faith, and even be willing to let their beliefs be challenged and change them if necessary. Some people would have us believe that too much tolerance is evil, but I know from experience that too little is not the answer either.
The third precept is about how we relate to others’ beliefs. Many modern Christians/Evangelicals could learn from this: “Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education. However, through compassionate dialogue, help others renounce fanaticism and narrowness.” How much indoctrination is done in the name of education!! Not that all education is bad, but unfortunately in the course of that education and by watching those around them, children are also learning how to be intolerant, stubborn, narrow-minded and judgemental – not qualities we should be cultivating. Think about it – these traits also lead, in the worst cases, to racism, sexism, and religious extremism, and in the lesser cases, to insensitivity, unkindness, and living with fear of judgement. Why can’t we let people have their own beliefs without feeling threatened in our own?
Just some things to think about, and if this sounds interesting, I’d encourage you to read “Peace is Every Step” or Hanh’s other writing – like “Living Buddha, Living Christ” which I am currently reading! It’s another great one!