Jump forward to this January and the death of yet another feline friend is steadily approaching. But this time, I am awakened. And as is the case for many people who awaken, I came away from the experience with the knowledge that I was not going to die. That is to say, I experienced my consciousness returning to a state in which the illusion of time had fallen away, revealing the true meaning of ‘eternal life’. Though the giddiness of realizing the eternal nature of my consciousness was soon dampened (but never erased) by innumerable questions, this glimpse of my eternal nature changed everything. In fact, if pressed, I would say it was the thing that allowed me to accept the significant shift in purpose that followed – it’s that powerful.
But an awakening also introduces many questions and finding answers requires a willingness to look differently at everything; to see things as they are, not as I’m telling myself they are with my version of the inner monologue that most of us having playing in our heads. When I first attempted to set aside the internal ‘stories’ I was telling myself in almost every moment, I got a quick lesson in just how incessant and immobile my mental storyteller (ego) was going be, especially under the ‘attack’ of silence. Often these ‘stories’ were nothing more than a quick mental comment like ‘I like that car’ or ‘she looks unfriendly’. Then I would wonder ‘why am I telling myself anything about this? why do I even care?’ why am I judging everything? and I would make the decision to silence my mind. Initially, this was like trying to slow down a speeding train by sitting on the tracks; thoughts would just blow on through whenever they damn well felt like it. This is how I began to understand the benefit of a practice – more on that later.
But I am nothing if not stubborn and an awakened stubborn person is not to be trifled with. And when it came to the approaching death of my kitty Frodo (I wasn’t going to call her ‘my kitty Frodo’ but can you imagine someone casually scanning this post and thinking I meant Frodo from the books and that I thought that Frodo was dead? I can.) I was determined to explore other ways of experiencing her passing. By January, I had over a year of nondual teachings under my belt and I called on these teachings to remember my way past the grief. To remember that her awareness arose from the same Source consciousness as mine and so is also eternal. To remember that my essence is love and in giving her my love, I have given her a part of myself to make a connection that, once made, always exists. To remember to accept the sad feelings but to refrain from attaching to the mental stories the ego offers out of habit if I am to avoid the suffering of grief. And most fundamentally, I used what I had practiced to stay focused on the moment and to stretch out into the opportunity I was being given to experience death slowly, mindfully and with intention, primarily just the intention to provide comfort to a dying friend. It was a lesson I tried to embrace fully, even if that did mean lots of fattening comfort food, bizarre sleeping schedules and pee pads everywhere (for Frodo, not….)
On her last day, Frodo’s body could no longer function without almost continuous discomfort so a vet helped to stop her body and release her awareness from the suffering. The moment itself was filled with a mix of emotions but mostly sadness and even now – and several times since then – there are small moments of sadness. All of which feels normal; that I cannot have the company of this friend again for the rest of my life is a change I expect to bring sadness. During some of these moments, I can feel the habit of my mind trying to turn that sadness into a story of the kind this culture tells about death, a story full of loss and laments and the deepest of sorrows. Though I appreciate the beauty these powerful emotions inspire in our art and stories, I did not feel compelled by my conditioning to experience this kind of pain again during Frodo’s final months. Without those stories sapping my mental and physical energy, I had the space to hold a more calm and interesting and instructive experience of death. Yes, I had a little sob jag when putting her body in the ground but overall, this death unfolded for me with far more acceptance and peace, even occasional moments of humor. And for that, I am truly grateful, largely because it allowed me to provide Frodo with the comfortable and loving death such a true friend deserved.
Insights from this experience continue to unfold, as is the case with all good lessons. When I think of the (hopefully far off) death of Frodo’s step-siblings, I can see this experience has not turned me into a source of unshakeable equanimity. But what it has given me is insight into a new way of experiencing the transition in awareness that we call death. And a thought occurs – perhaps the most honorable thing we can do with death is to let it teach.
And Frodo was a very fine teacher indeed.
“And God asked the feline spirit
Are you ready to come home?
Oh, yes, quite so, replied the precious soul
And, as a cat, you know I am most able
To decide anything for myself
Are you coming then? asked God
Soon, replied the whiskered angel
But I must come slowly
For my human friends are troubled
For, you see, they need me, quite certainly
But don’t they understand? asked God
That you’ll never leave them?
That your souls are intertwined? For all eternity?
That nothing is created or destroyed?
It just is … forever and ever and ever.
Eventually they will understand.
Replied the glorious cat
For I will whisper into their hearts
That I am with them
I just am … forever and ever and ever”
(from the book Communicating With Animals)
top image: zummolo @ shutterstock.com cat image: katja gerasimova @ shutterstock.com