Nearly busted with pride when a student who’d done the extra credit assignment on “Blackfish” told me she was going to a protest at SeaWorld in October. She felt a little cautious. “My friends said people get arrested there.” I reassured her about not ending up in the slammer, but I hope she doesn’t get turned off by any weirdos. Last year, another young attractive student of mine attended her first “Fur-Free Friday” in Beverly Hills. She had a great time, aside from “this old creepy vegan guy” hitting on her. Gross.
All the day’s teaching blurs into one extended conversation on animal consciousness with a few diversions into fragments and run-ons. We discussed a great essay called “Fear in the Shape of a Fish” about, among many other things, shark attacks in Hawaii and the clash between the native people for whom the shark represents an ancestor spirit and the hired shark hunters. The writer (forgot her name, the book is in the car) investigates her own “intellectual sympathy” with the sharks as well as her fear, which she ultimately transcends without ever sacrificing her awe at the mystery of these fish, and the impossibility of any shaman, hunter or scientist of ever really knowing their true nature.
In another class, in another school, taught an essay about animal consciousness called “Cats, Bats, Crickets and Chaos” by Lewis Thomas. I asked the class to meditate to appreciate the “wisdom of emptiness” that Lewis discusses–the no-thought-enlightenment that humans can hardly ever attain and animals probably achieve just by being.
One shy, smart kid in the corner totally got it: “I went into a trance,” he said. For many of them five minutes of stillness was unbearable, they laughed or didn’t even close their eyes. I grew impatient and found myself scolding students for saying things like “I can only meditate in the mountains or at the beach.”
The more I lectured them (in reality only a minute or two), the more coarse and human I became. Gone was the fleeting bliss of no thought, my tenuous link to animal consciousness. I felt as alienated from the reality of nature as the wizened vegan trying to coax the lovely college girl into bed by appealing to her compassion for helpless animals. Gross.