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When Mice Seek Shelter
...teachings of the meek, lessons of humility

There is something theoretically cozy about the scurry of tiny feet in corners of stove heated kitchens and well stocked pantries. Story books speak from mouse perspective with adventures of survival, curiosity and sweetness in all things little. My heart softens to the tales of mice and their cold weather nesting.

Yet, there is something equally threatening in the actuality of finding a mouse in one’s house. Questions within range from: “Am I living in a clean space?”, “Are food stuffs being contaminated?”, “If I see one, how many are there?”, to “Oh no! They're breeding?” One single, fuzzy mouse making hamster noises is enough to wire my nerves. Why?

Let’s associate the rational mind with conscious understanding and the irrational mind with unconscious belief. An amazing 90% of our lives is created in the hidden closets of our unrecognized thought patters. When a tiny mouse instigates a wellspring of anxiety, there is an invitation to pause and question the essence of this provocation.

The realist within knows the need to find shelter, to quest for food and to create comfort. Part of me completely empathizes with the drive of the small as it responds to seasonal shifts. The only reason any critter can find its way through the labyrinth of pipes and power lines to my home hinges on the fact that I’ve filled those same needs for myself.

“He’s invading my sanctuary!” says the voice inside my head. Inside is where the season takes us (both the mice & we who read of their adventures), so inside is where we’ll go...

Sanctuary involves consecrated space, a provision of safe haven. Does my allowing safe haven to a little rodent dissolve my own sense of protection? After all, I’m not threatened by the antics of a mouse, a gerbil or guinea pig recreationally housed in an aquarium. Hmmm... Containing and controlling... two words that affect my sense of safety. Ooooh, how about boundaries? This is mine, and this is yours. I feel pretty safe with those contracts as well.

How does ahimsa integrate with these feelings of invasion? Jain monks refuse to wash for the distaste of killing microorganisms on the skin. Political vegetarians refuse to ingest animal produced foods as a conscious investment in kindness through consumerism. I suppose even ‘Willard’ wrote his own chapter on ahimsa (although he was selectively kind to rats).

Brooding on the question, I feel a pulse that resonates conscious responsibility over unconscious response. When issues of ethics are raised, it’s very tricky to be true to intentions of highest good. So without deciding as to how to resolve the discontent of hosting an uninvited guest, I’ll honor the Spirit of Mouse as being this moment’s teacher.

Mouse Spirit has put ahimsa, saucha, santosh, tapas and swadyaya on the blackboard for consideration:

Non-violence (ahimsa) immediately connotates no killing. I speculate as to the question of violence in the craft of the samurai who kills with a whoosh of a glistening sword in swift transition... Is death ever an option if compassion is premium? Is it okay if I get a cat rather than a trap?

Cleanliness in behavior and environment (saucha) will question the requirements of clean space... Does the argument for clean space override the squatters’ rights of mice?

Inner peace (santosh) could say, “Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to disable the mechanism that responds negatively to infestation.” This could be a life long practice in and of itself! Of course, the phantom on the other shoulder is saying, “Having no mouse will perpetuate peace.”

Going against one’s nature (tapas) tends to argue for the endurance through the undesired. Or perhaps tapas would simply require pausing when our nature would react immediately?

Studying the possibilities (swadyaya) seems to be the gist of this article. There is a lot of room to nestle inward with the concerns of yoga practice as life style. The reaction to the mouse idea is really powerful for me. Providing the time to sit with the questions is a practice. If there were one right answer to right action, we could all just grit our teeth & do it. Instead, we scurry through the pipe work of our own creative 90%. How inherently mouselike of us!

Uh oh!!! More pieces of the inner labyrinth are illuminating: “If I offer sanctuary to a mouse, am I practicing ahimsa toward the other 72 tenants in the building?”, “If I’m not bothered by vermin, am I practicing saucha or tapas?” and “If I contain the mouse in an aquarium as an act of non-violence, does the mouse perceive an intention of good will?”

Wishing you blessings of warmth, inner adventure and sanctuary through the dilemmas which humble us. Shanti.

by Toni Zuper
Alternative Healing
Center City, Philadelphia

published in Yoga Living -- January 2004 issue