Loss

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My primary cat died last night. I said the Avelokiteshvara mantra for her as she lay dying, and many more repetitions as Dad and I carried her body out to animal control to be cremated. OM MANI PADME HUM, OM MANI PADME HUM, OM MANI PADME HUM. Dad had an errand to run, so I came home, and now the secondary kitty and I are here alone. It’s lonely here without my sweet little fox-face. I don’t know if Dot understands that Mouse is dead, but I suspect she feels something.

I remember taking Mouse home, many years ago. She walked right up to me and my boyfriend at the time, put her paws up on his knees and meowed right at him. I remember her annoyance at finding herself in my household; I’m pretty sure she expected to wind up with Michael, but his household didn’t have room for another cat. She found a high place in the apartment and stayed there for months, only coming down for meals. I would go over to her occasionally, proffer my nose to her for a brief “kiss” nose to nose, and then leave her alone again. She eventually warmed to us, and to Toby, our big bruiser of a cat who traversed the rainbow bridge a long time ago. They got along with no violence on either side, surprisingly given how aggressive Toby was; Mouse knew how to handle him, I guess.

She was pregnant when she found us; a fact we only found out after we had her spayed. I was told by the place that did the spaying – a charity for folks who couldn’t afford to go to a regular vet for the spaying – that she likely would not have survived bearing kittens, or at least would have jeopardized her health. At any rate, their policy was to terminate, so they did. I was sad about the kittens, but only a little.

I remember the tricks she came up with to get me and dad, incorrigible slug-a-beds, up in the morning to feed her. Her initial foray into human awakenment was chewing on plastic. She developed the habit of chewing plastic bags as an urban kitty and discovered that the sound drove us crazy. As we acclimated to that, she came up with another fun trick: the dive-bomb. She would make her way to the top of the door to my bedroom and then jump – BOOM! – down onto my bed below. Her pranks generally earned her generous sprayings from the water bottle. For this I am sorry. I should have had more patience.

I remember all the times Dot came up to Mouse demanding to be groomed and Mouse obliged her, until she herself wanted grooming and Dot just wasn’t programmed to return the favor. Mouse would get annoyed with her and a fight would break out. But often I would see the two of them sleeping together, their heads together, almost like mother and daughter, except the mother was half the size of the child. They always looked so peaceful and happy like that.

I remember like it was yesterday, and it practically was yesterday, the grouchy entitled old lady who wasn’t satisfied with pretty much anything. She wanted what she wanted, right now, and let us know in no uncertain terms that she wanted it; she just didn’t have language to let us know exactly what she wanted. Sometimes we guessed right: often she just wanted to be fed. She got food-crazy in her declining years – we thought it might be a thyroid problem. But many times it was impossible to figure out what was going on in her little kitty mind. As she grew older it seemed that what she wanted more often than not was simply to be picked up and held.

In the last couple weeks, she wanted to be held constantly. She would walk right onto my desk like she owned it – a habit neither of my cats would normally try when I was around – and demand to be picked up. She would let me hold her for more than an hour and then would only reluctantly let herself be lowered to my bed.

During the recent cold snap she wanted to be under the covers, preferably with a human body. She would cry until somebody got into bed with her and then dive under the covers before one could get comfortable. She continued this habit after the cold snap and right up until her last night.

I knew she would probably not make it through the night. She lost her appetite several days ago, and yesterday, it became clear to me that she had lost strength to stand or sit properly. She got up a few times yesterday, but it was laborious and she quickly demanded to be picked up and put on the bed again. So as night became bedtime, I got into bed with her and did my best to stay, despite the head cold that demanded frequent trips to the bathroom to clear my sinuses. I lay in bed with her for hours stroking her head frequently, not sleeping, and I sat with her at times when I could not lay down. I remember being in awe at how present and aware she seemed all through the night. Finally I got up and sat at my desk near the head of the bed where she lay, not sleeping. I watched a bit of anime on the computer, looking over at her at intervals to stroke her head. Finally, at around 4am, I looked over and she was gone. Her eyes were open and she was still. I reached over and stroked her a bit, but I knew she was simply not here any more.

She was twenty years old.

Mouse, I hope that you go peacefully through the bardo with Avelokiteshvara, the Buddha of compassion, at your side. I hope you find the pure lands, where you experience ease of body and mind. I pray that you find a human birth and the vows of a boddhisattva, as you richly deserve. And barring all that, I hope you find a rebirth as a kitty with a better human mommy than me; one who will be kinder and more consistent. It’s lonely here without you, and I have regrets. But I will endeavor to come back to the moment, again and again. Have a peaceful journey. And thanks, for these precious days of closeness.

This Moment With Mouse

It’s been cold lately and my elder kitty is becoming needy. At nearly twenty years old she has started to decline. A recent illness left her thinner than before. Though her fur is still shiny she is skin and bones and her voice, once annoyingly loud and piercing, is hoarse. She has a tendency to space out, as if she gets where she wanted to go but then loses the reason for her arrival. She sleeps a lot more and eats tiny meals. But thankfully, she is still demanding food, and I can get her to eat more if I bring her food to the bed, my bed, where she insists on sleeping most of the time now.

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She spends most of her day like this. When she’s not crying for me to come to bed or feed her.
She was my baby and now she is an old lady. But, laying in bed with her this morning, stroking her head, I realized: this moment is all she knows. She doesn’t have the nostalgia for being a kitten. That’s an emotion we humans invented. All she knows is this moment, the cold, and the promise of a warm human to sleep on.

Our large brains noticed a long time ago that there is a past and future; this knowledge was useful for our survival as a species. Knowing where we put things, remembering the seasons, making a plan for the future: these are what we do well. Somewhere in the process of gaining power over past and future, we lost the present. We tend to always be planning for what comes next or worrying about what happened already.

Or perhaps we are enjoying memories of what happened already. There’s nothing wrong with any of that, as long as we don’t let our memories of what came before ruin our experience of what is happening right now. And that happens so often for me. I remember how strong I was in the past, and how young I was, and I get stuck on how many years have gone by. How much time I’ve lost! And how much youth was wasted on being sick! I can easily get caught up in feelings of remorse and loss for who I was, who I might have been.

Looking at my kitty, old and in pain today, I was brought up short against the fact that all of her past, for her, is gone. She doesn’t remember who she was, perhaps a little, but only a dim dream of behaviors she might think she can do now that she can’t anymore. But she doesn’t worry about her lost youth, or the body she once had when she was younger. She is free from that struggle. All she knows is the comfort of my hand or the warmth of my body on this cold morning. So she can enjoy these things unhindered by regret. Perhaps, for a few moments, I can take solace in that fact on her behalf.

And perhaps, less hindered by regrets, I can enjoy my own life for what it is right now: a life that, far from wasted, is rich with experience and wisdom. Maybe I can enjoy my senses, my emotions, and my thoughts right here and now without all the baggage of past and future. The past is over; I can let the future care for itself.

Just to be clear: I’m not advocating that we become amnesiacs or stop planning for the future. But I don’t think we will stop remembering or planning anyway. It’s what we have evolved to do. But maybe we can let go just a bit. Let’s take a moment to actually be here, now, where things are actually happening.

This Moment is Precious

My hell-spawn. They're always so cute when they're asleep.
Sweet Kitty

I read somewhere that Trungpa Rinpoche was not fond of cats, and that there was an idea that domestic cats were the only creatures that didn’t recognize the Buddha’s enlightenment. I don’t know about all that; I’ve been convinced for a while that my kitties are little protectors, here to remind me to practice. One of them seems to always come around when I am sitting, and the other is such a true, pure, annoyance that she never fails to bring me up short, smack against my irritation and thus the expectations I have that fuel my suffering.

But anyway, today has already shown me sorrow. An acquaintance committed suicide recently; I just found out about it this morning. Her daughter was a friend of mine who died two months ago, and was a source of inspiration for a great many people. I wrote about her in a recent post. She seemed to be carrying the torch for her daughter, filled with inspiration for her legacy. Perhaps it was too much. I wish I understood. But understanding now would not help her, or me. What matters is not shutting down.

So here I am, looking at my kitty lying on the bed. She’s a sweet girl, even if she is incredibly annoying. Perhaps that’s just part of her character. Somehow it seems important to notice this moment, and the pulsing of the furry sides as she breathes in her sleep. It seems that the thing right now is to remember that this life is finite, and brilliant, and that this moment will never come again.

So, please, just this moment, open your heart and notice. Feel how precious it is, and how finite.

Holding the Kitty

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Old Lady Kitty says, “Get off my lawn!”

Is there something or someone in your life that really annoys you? I have this cat who won’t shut up. I love her, but she’s annoying. She’s getting on in years, and she just won’t shut up. Sometimes there is something she definitely wants, and often I can do something about that: sometimes there seems to be nothing that she wants, or at least nothing I can figure out. I suspect sometimes she just likes to yowl because she wants the attention. My response to this has been to holler at her to shut the hell up. You can probably imagine how useful this has been.

One of my teachers likes to say that our minds are composed of different parts, that there are parts of our personality that formed before we were verbal, perhaps even before we were even human. These primitive parts of our minds don’t have words or even concrete ideas. All they have are feelings: a sense of danger or of wanting. Without a real clue about what these feelings are, and often without even knowing that we are even having these feelings, we automatically come up with reasons for them. That inner cat yowling for whatever it wants demands a response. Rather than actually hear the annoying feline in our souls, we immediately jump to a habitual desire, trying to settle that sense of disquiet that follows us everywhere. These habitual cravings lead us – nowhere. They don’t quiet the cat, and they certainly don’t do anything to help us become better, kinder people.

A daily sitting practice will slow us down enough to sense these inner voices, but I have found that often I still find myself at odds with my own tendencies. Just knowing the cat is there and that it’s loud doesn’t really make it go away or be less annoying. I would like to suggest something else: look around in your life. Look closely at these things that annoy you in your daily life, and ask yourself: is there a parallel between these things and the unsettledness in my own mind? And, is there a way I can approach these situations and my own mind with more gentleness?

I have found that the best way to get the cat to shut up is to stop whatever I’m doing, go find her, pick her up, and pet her. I hold her and talk to her, and pet her. I get the additional benefit of hearing her purr, which has proven health benefits. I wonder if doing this on a regular basis, in addition to my daily practice, will somehow carry over into a kinder attitude towards the primitive wordless yowlings in my own mind.

Perhaps you’re thinking, “I don’t have time to deal with this. I’m too busy to (metaphorically) pick up the cat every time she starts meowing.” What I would like to ask is: how much time are you spending now stewing over whatever is bothering you? How much time do you waste getting distracted by these annoyances? Would you actually be more productive in the time you spend trying to avoid daily annoyances if you were able to just give yourself and the situation a moment of your attention?

I think it’s worth a shot.