We were nearing the end of a very long walk. It had been rainy earlier in the day, and the asphalt path was slick. We had to maneuver around the occasional puddle, and stay towards the center of the path to avoid the muddy edges.
It was an unseasonably mild January day, so the park was well occupied by walkers, dogs, baby strollers, runners and bikers. Up ahead we noticed a man, bending over in the center of the path. As we got closer, we saw that he had two leaves in his hands and he was using them to scoop up earthworms. He would squat down, scoop up a worm, rise up and carry it to the grass, where he laid it down gently. Then he’d return to the center and squat down again. We smiled at him as we walked by.
While we talked about him and what he was doing, I realized that I had seen so many worms during our walk, but I had paid little to no attention to them. I had walked by dozens, maybe even hundreds. I’m fairly sure that I instinctively avoided stepping on them, but I had no real conscious thoughts of them. I imagine that a good number of them had been squished. And we hadn’t talked about them at all.
I felt the pull to turn back. We have to go talk to him, don’t we? I asked.
Yes we do, my friend replied.
I can’t remember the exact words of our pleasant exchange. But I do remember the kindness of his face. I awkwardly said something like, Why are you saving them? And he replied, in broken English, In my culture there is no killing. We are taught not to kill anything at all. We should have compassion for all beings. Some people walking will step on them, and some on bikes will ride over them, but I am saving them.
Then he pointed up at the sky, and said There are points going in the big computer every time you save one. Do good things and you get rewarded.
He told us how one day, he was nearby, resting on a park bench. He got up to save some worms, and when he returned to the bench, a tree limb had fallen on the very spot where he had been sitting. It was large enough and heavy enough to do damage to the metal waste can that was next to the bench. If he hadn’t gotten up to save the worms, he might’ve been seriously injured by that limb. He believed he had earned enough points to escape that one.
It’s a karma computer, I guess.
After listening to his story, I put my hands together at my heart, bowed to him and said Namaste. His face lit up with surprise and he asked How do you know my language? I explained that we were yoga teachers. Then he talked about the importance of meditation. He said that good health comes from good medicine, and meditation is some of the very best medicine.
As my friend began to scoop up worms behind me, I told him that this compassionate exercise was a wonderful form of meditation. He agreed, and thanked us for stopping to talk to him, and for helping him. We both relocated a couple of worms as we continued along the path.
It may not get me any points in a big computer in the sky, but it felt like an appropriate kindness in the moment. And I treaded a bit more mindfully for the rest of the day.