The Pondering Grapefruit
a blog of moments and musings
I thought of silk worms the other day. I'm not sure how the conversation came up, but we started to talk about silk worms, how silk is made, what happens to the cocoons. To be honest, I didn't know, even though my mom and I had visited a silk factory in Vietnam and observed the silk worms from when they were eggs to end.
The question was: what happens to the bodies of the silk worms? Are they boiled inside their cocoons? Are they taken out of their cocoons? Or do the harvesters let them escape first, and then boil the empty shell?
I tried to rack my brain with all the sights and images from that tour with the silkworms. All I could remember was yellow, green and white. And a sense of fascination. So, like in most cases where I am confounded by life, I ask Google for help.
My suspicions were true: they are boiled inside. It is possible to wait for the to hatch into moths first, but the act of hatching would ruin the delicate shell, compromising the integrity of the silk. Still, I couldn't find what actually happens to the bodies when they start to unravel the silk. When I watched a documentary about the process, I then saw an image of bowls filled with very large worms. I guess that's what is left over when all the silk is gone, a very fat and dead worm, perfect for a meal.
Death, and carcasses, is often left out in explaining the process of making silk. There are companies that offer death-free silk, but the silk isn't as good.
In doing my research, I also found out a couple of other things that I did not know before. That it takes 5,500 silk worms to make 1 kg of silk. That even if the moth hatches, it is blind and helpless and will die soon.
The most interesting for me was that the environment has to be perfect for the silkworm to make silk. The slightest change in humidity, temperature, light, the quality of the mulberry leaves can shock the worm and cause it to stop spinning.
It struck me then, the delicacy of it all. That silk cannot be taken for granted given, not just how much death goes into it, but how much life and labor. It really is a miracle that hundreds of years of sericulture have allowed us to cultivate silk worms so consistently under perfect conditions.
But the point of this is not to marvel at sericulture, at the silkworm herself, but to really deduct some applicable lesson to human life.
To think of yourself as a silk worm: what conditions would be optimal for you, and in those perfect conditions, what would be your silk?
I do have a few barometers for how well and healthy I am, and those would be evidence of a cocoon, I suppose. Such as if my fingernails and toenails are in good condition, manicured and clean. I don't paint my fingernails anymore now that I rock climb, but I aim to repaint my toenails every three weeks. If I can cook homemade meals. If I am talking to my friends, both near and far, often. The finest silk that I think I can make, however, is probably my writing. It takes a healthy body and a healthy mind to write, and to write well I need to be in the most wholesome state.
Lately, as an attempt to reach more perfect conditions, I've been feeding myself a lot more. Part of that had to do with going on vacation, but a part of it is also showing kindness to myself, taking it easy as direct behavior change from my tendencies to be very harsh and self critical, a revolt from overworking. It feels good to be full, though instead of mulberry leaves I have been eating ice cream and steak (but after watching Okja I am more committed to eating plants).
Food is just one example of how I am learning to cultivate myself. I won't bore you with the other methods, but I think it is having some positive effect. Perhaps the most important part of this process is just learning to accept that I am a highly sensitive creature, clairsentient, an empath, whatever you want to call it. But part of that is also recognizing that the most sensitive creatures can make silk.
The other day I went to Star Market, a grocery store just a block from my apartment, to get cleaning supplies. I also bought 5 mangoes because there was a deal to get give for $5. There was a senior woman in front of me who was buying one pack of 12 Bounty paper towels. As I stood and waited in line, I watched the cashier ring up the towels--the price popped up as $21,09.
The woman in front of me looked bug eyed at the screen. "That's not right," she said. "They're supposed to be $10.99"
It went back and forth a couple of times between the woman and the cashier, both insisting that they were right. The woman kept shaking her head, muttering, "There's no way that's right, no way that's right." Finally, the girl behind the cashier said she would go check the aisle.
After she left, I remarked to the woman, "Yeah, that seems pretty expensive for paper towels." She seemed so upset over the price discrepancy in her head, and seemed to appreciate the solidarity.
When the girl came back, she explained that the paper towels would be $10.99 if she buys two of them. The explanation seemed clear to me--but it seemed to confuse the woman even more. She then thought that if she gets two, then she would get two for just $10,99, and not each one for $10.99.
He eyes, her mouth, her entire face seemed to about to burst with confusion, frustration, and embarrassment for holding up the line. I really wanted to tell her that I did not mind at all, and that it was in fact quite the opposite: I really felt for her and wish that she wasn't so upset.
This moment brought me back to what I learned in my meditation retreat: that suffering comes from holding onto things too tightly. This lady could not let go of her idea that the paper towels would only cost $10.99. Even when she was explained otherwise, that number was still imprinted in her, and she could not let go.
Eventually, the cashier, bless her, she was also eating a bar of white chocolate and did not give any fucks at all that her customers might find it a bit icky that their receipts would be covered in chocolate and spit (and I admired her boldness), decided to give the paper towels to the woman for just $10.99.
My mind was blown at that second. I had no idea that she could do that. I then wondered why she didn't do that right away, it would have made things so much easier, and then I realized that it would create problems if all customers think that they can get deals so easily, with just a little fuss. And then I admired the cashier for having a sense of justice and compassion for the woman. That is a true, noble example of a cashier, holding the fort at the transition line for customers to exit with their new belongings, a sometimes delicate act of judgment. A victory for the woman with the Bounty paper towels!
The woman was more than elated. I was happy for her too, and happy also when the cashier began ringing up my items. I bought a huge bottle of Lysol spray, hand soap, and Clorox wipes because my apartment got quite dirty over the weekend when I was away. Part of the package when you live with four other men I guess. I never thought my life would end up this way, but I wouldn't trade it for any other thing. They are sweet and respectable, and come from the most diverse backgrounds I could ever imagine. But that's a story for another time.
When I walked out of the market and through the parking lot, I saw the woman loading the paper towels into her car. She drove all the way here with the sole intention of getting paper towels. Questions ran through my head: did she live alone? Did her partner pass already? Is she short on money? What does her kitchen look like? How far was the drive?
I felt a lot of love for this woman, and a lot of joy that she got her towels. But mixed in there was some sense of poignancy, knowing that she was not able to experience the peace of mind that comes with letting go, and if it was with something as small as paper towels, I wonder what else she holds onto.
In general, I have been thinking more about the things that I hold onto, and noticing what things other people hold onto. Often, it is notions of happiness: I will be happy if I do this, have that, have this person. And once we have those things we hold onto them in ranges of tightness. I can't speak for others, but I know that I've held onto, both long term and short term.
For me, I've held onto many toxic notions throughout my life: this sense of mindless achieving, feeling that accomplishment leads to self worth; holding onto positive ratings from others, that I need people to like me; that my face needs to be clear and beautiful to be pretty. And so often it's many small things: at work I tend to fixate on one random small detail or task that needs to get done, and on which everything seems to hinge upon when in reality it's not urgent at all. And then I laugh at myself for being so silly.
The best thing about letting go is perhaps having more compassion for others when you recognize the mindsets that are holding them back. From the moment we are babies, we like to grasp. It is a universal human thing. And adulthood, it seems, is learning to loosen that grip.
What are the things you're holding onto that are preventing you from seeing clearly? What are the Bounty's in your lives?
About this Blog
I have no idea how to describe what my writing is about. I just write. I post when I can, which can be weekly or monthly depending on where the universe is taking me. As for the Grapefruit, my Vietnamese nickname, Buoi, means grapefruit.