On Sunday, March 18th, the body of my feline companion of eighteen years took its very last gasping breath and then lay still, emptied of the little spark of awareness that I had known and loved as Frodo, my little fuzz-butt goofy-girl kitty. (What can I say, I’m not very good at guessing the gender of baby cats).
It was a death that was slow in coming; over her last year, her chronic arthritis and kidney disease started to worsen more quickly, though you wouldn’t know it to watch her launch her tiny spring-loaded body onto the top of the neighbor’s fence – or the top of the kitchen counter to loudly request food, more likely. But by mid-January, keeping her fed, comfortable and groomed required almost around-the-clock care. And it was in this setting that my next lesson about death and loss unfolded.
To be clear, this was not my first trip down this road; I’ve shared my home with feline companions for much of my life and have lost these friends to both old age and accidents. In the past, each of these deaths was filled with not just sadness but a sense of grief that I imagine marks the difference between those of us who have ‘pets’ and those of us who have ‘feline family members’. This was especially true a few years ago during the death of Sam, Frodo’s younger stepbrother (someone is a JRR Tolkien fan) who died of intestinal cancer at the age of ten. Over just a few months, I went from trying to save his life to watching him waste away and die and it was heartbreaking. I can still remember the tears streaming down my face as I sat with him and scritched his ears, already living in a time when I would never be able to see him again. And I remember the anger at a universe that had this animal suffering so.
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”
What happens to our sense of ‘me’ after death? Does our consciousness reincarnate in another form to live another life? How should we prepare for our death – and what does that even mean? Insights of the type shared by these six teachers in this video gallery helped me discover a new perspective from which to grapple with such questions about the transformation that is death.
In this 8-min excerpt from one of his many lectures, Alan invites us to embrace the other half of the natural rhythm that is death.
"You can only die well if you understand this system of waves… that you are just as much the dark space beyond death as you are the light interval called life. These are just two sides of you because 'you' is the total wave. See, you can't have half a wave. Nobody ever saw waves which just had crests and no troughs. So you can't have half a human being who is born but doesn't die; half a thing. That would only be half a thing."
Though the video quality is less than ideal, Shakti Maggi's concepts on death and 'reincarnation' (my term, not hers) come through with the loving clarity that is her hallmark in this short 4-min. video.
"The body, it is simply a movement of energy arising from the stillness of your being …[during death, this movement] will be simply receding back into stillness."
In this 5-min. video, Adyashanti describes how the process of aging can lead to the wisdom and freedom of letting go.
"But certainly, enlightenment is absolutely intrinsically linked with death. There is no deep lasting liberation without death, without dying before you die, without the psychological self giving way. They're intimately linked; you don't get one without the other. They're absolutely linked together."
Rupert explains why we experience different states of awareness and offers a description of 'reincarnation' (my term, not his).
"Remember, the body is an appearance in the mind. So when the body dies, just a particular localization of consciousness disperses… Consciousness doesn’t dissolve."
A 6-min lecture snippet in which Terence comments on the origins of the body and exploring the after-death space with psychedelics.
"So I think what biology is, is the intrusion into 3-dimensional space and time of hyper-dimensional objects. And the other clue to that, that seems an argument for it, is that we do have this thing called 'the mind' but we can't find it anywhere. It doesn't seem to be anywhere… [at death] I think probably these objects retract back into hyperspace - higher space ... we clothe ourselves in matter but we are not matter and so to actually complete a human cycle of existence, you have to go into death. It's where you came from..."
In this short excerpt from an audience Q&A session, Eckhart talks about the transformation consciousness will face after the body's end.
"Nothing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal ultimately exists….. Beyond the appearance on the level of form, which is the only level where death exists, it is a transition from one form into another form or from one form into formlessness. That is what death is, no more than that. Nothing real dies…. It's a transmutation of form."