This morning, our crippled elderly cat would not eat.
In recent years we’ve nursed this 16-year-old through one crisis after another, always watching him rebound to his usual, sweet, attention-demanding self. Now he’s on shots for arthritis and extensive intervertebral disc degeneration.
He gets around with a hind end that stumbles and flops. The vet says the palliative shot keeps him from feeling pain, but I imagine that he is doing more physical damage every time he moves—especially when he ignores his ramp and jumps up on the couch or recliner.
This morning, I alternated between grief anticipating Shadow’s death and, as I have recently learned to do, giving attention to a stillness at my heart chakra which allows me to know that grief without getting lost in it.
When my husband Jim came from the bedroom, I told him about Shadow and about my back and forth feelings. “I love you,” he said, as he always does in response to my pain.
In the past few years, I’ve become much better at managing my life-long vulnerability to depression. The anti-depressant I began using around the time of Shadow’s birth helps, as does my winter morning lightpad routine.
More importantly, my Taoist Tai Chi practice and my morning contemplative reading of Quaker and Buddhist teachers have taught me to find that still-point in my heart and to practice matri, “unconditional friendliness…with ourselves,…relating with ourselves without moralizing, without harshness, without deception.”1 These practices have brought me a new maturity in my 70s.
Later this morning, as we sat at our regular coffeehouse, I reviewed the above with Jim. But doing this led me deeper into awareness. I spoke about my anticipatory grief about Shadow’s dying, which led to a similar grief about Jim and myself.2
Then I acknowledged that these griefs seem small when I consider the thousands being killed by the war in Ukraine, the thousands more in yesterday’s earthquakes in Türkiye and Sūriyā (Syria), and more in famines, pandemics, and climate disasters everywhere.
It seems that for my whole life I have had an underlying sense of grief, mostly unacknowledged until recently.
I live with a sort of metaphysical bipolarism. Day to day, I go along with an innate skeptic’s optimism, aware of how much life can bless us when we allow it to. Yet underneath is that impersonal grief.
Something is missing in the human race. When we gained consciousness, I think we lost the matri of all other living things. The perspective that just deals with life and death without judgment.
Instead, we use violence towards ourselves and each other, imagining that we can escape that grief by climbing on top of enough bodies.
When I got home a bit ago, I saw that Shadow had eaten half his food. He came out to ask for a belly rub.
For now, at least, Shadow is my shadow, my familiar. He touches the groundlessness within me, challenging me to feel it and to live with it.
And so it is.
Michael Bright Crow
- The link is to a YouTube video: “Pema Chödrön – Explaining Maitri. Pema Chödrön reveals the time-tested Buddhist antidote to suffering—and shows how to apply it in your own life.” (Source: Sounds True). The quotation is from “Pema Chödrön’s Maitri,” by Anne, on the blog This One Life … to write is to pray.
- See also “On curing and healing,” about my mother’s death.