When we look at wanting,
we experience the part of
ourselves that is never content.
A Path with Heart
A FEW DAYS LATER I woke from a dream in which I was the person I used to be, the energetic person who had the stamina and mental acuity that made anything possible. I actually believed I was that person again.
I rubbed my eyes to really wake myself up. Then I looked over at the bookcase beside the bed and saw a copy of the book I’d written just before I got sick. It was never promoted, and most of the other copies of Winning the Change Game, my book about how to implement organizational change, were sitting in boxes, stored in the back of the closet. Unfortunately my dream was over, and I was back to reality.
I decided to get up and meditate. In my sitting, I was very attached to thoughts and memories of who I used to be and what my life was like before I got sick. I tried to breathe and move through them, to let them go, but they kept coming back. I continued to sit with the sadness, and eventually the feelings lessened.
After my meditation, I talked to Pooh about the hindrance of clinging.
“I thought clinging was about clinging to things, Pooh, but I saw today that I’m clinging to the person I was in the past. I think if I just do all the right things, I can bring that person back. I’m finding it very hard to accept myself as who I am today.”
“Yes, Kat, I see you are sad about what might have been—your career, your active life, and the people you used to know. You see, cats are not like this. We do not think about the past or the future. We do not yearn.”
Pooh thought for a moment. “Do you remember the allergy I had that caused me to lose the fur around my neck?” Pooh asked.
I smiled wryly. “I was so embarrassed by your condition. I guess I just liked thinking of you as my beautiful cat.”
Pooh stretched out his legs and repositioned himself on the couch. “I know. But I, on the other hand, continued to take care of my coat and accepted the state it was in. Of course the condition eventually cleared up and my fur grew back, but if it had not, I still would have accepted it.”
“I have to remind you, Pooh, that your condition came about as a result of your addiction to tuna.” I had been trying out different cat foods, and Pooh had become so obsessed with eating tuna that he wouldn’t eat anything else. After he began losing his fur, I took him to the vet to find out what was going on.
“Don’t you remember when we went to the vet, and he asked what you were eating? I said the only thing you would eat was tuna. ‘Oh well, there you have it,’ the vet said. ‘He’s developed an allergy to tuna because that’s all he’s eating. This is what’s causing him to lose his fur.’”
I stood up and put my hands on my hips to emphasize my point. “So, Poohbear, I don’t think your example of how you dealt with the loss of your fur, when you couple it with the fact that it came about because you were addicted to tuna—well, it doesn’t seem to be the best example.”
“Actually, Kat, it is the best example,” Pooh replied, “when we compare that situation to what is happening in your meditations. I was craving tuna, you gave me tuna. You were feeding my craving.
“This is exactly what is happening in your mind. Your mind served up this image of you as you had been. Then you began fueling the flames by thinking more about it, bringing up other examples, thinking about the book you wrote, seeing yourself wearing designer clothes, remembering the places you used to travel, the exciting people with whom you worked. The fire of memory was burning with one log and you kept throwing more fuel on it, fanning the flames. My example is very appropriate.”
I thought that sometimes Pooh’s cleverness at turning around everything he did into a lesson could be quite annoying, but I remembered the insight I’d had after Catzenbear broke the vase Mom gave me. I had a choice about where I let my mind go. I could choose not to fuel the flames, as Pooh described, so I held my tongue and suggested it was time for tea.
When we got to the kitchen, Pooh jumped up on the counter as I was filling the kettle. He liked to drink from the faucet, so I left it trickling for him.
When he was through drinking, Pooh continued his lesson. “That self you are trying to bring back no longer exists, Kat. It would be like me longing to be a kitten again. That is not possible. You are in pain because you are suffering from delusion and ignorance.”
Delusion and ignorance? I was just putting the cat treats in Pooh’s bowl. Now I’m not only deluded, I’m also ignorant? I paused to consider how many treats I should give him and greatly reduced the number.
We were interrupted when Catzenbear came running up to get some treats, too. There happened to be a toy mouse on the counter, so I threw it to him. He began playing with it and then started chasing his own tail, whirling and whirling until he fell over in a dizzy heap. Pooh and I laughed.
“Great illustration of delusion by Catzenbear,” I observed. “He thinks if he runs as fast as he can he will catch his tail, just like I think I can bring back the way I see myself in the past. Catzenbear may be a little Buddha, but he, too, is deluded.”
“You are right, Kat. This is a perfect illustration. I am pleased you see in Catzenbear’s tail-chasing how delusion and ignorance contribute to futile behavior. Now, if you have a moment, I would like the rest of my treats.”
I smiled and went to the cupboard, getting the treats and adding the requisite number to Pooh’s bowl. Then I went upstairs to get dressed and make the bed.
As I was removing the bedcovers, I looked again at my book on the bookcase and thought about how much like chasing my tail my clinging to the past was. I am causing my own suffering by hanging on to the past. I knew I had turned a very important corner in my understanding of clinging. Little did I know there was a much more powerful lesson in store for me.
I got up early the next day because Michael was heading out for a fishing trip with the guys and I wanted to see him off. After he left I made breakfast for myself and put out the cat food. Pooh, as usual, came tearing around the corner, but Catzenbear didn’t show up. I must have shut him in the closet by mistake when I was helping Michael get packed. I went up to the bedroom to open the closet door, expecting him to come bounding out, but he wasn’t there.
I went back to get his food dish and walked around the loft shaking it. This was the foolproof method for getting his attention, but he still didn’t come running. I looked in all the usual places where he might be sleeping and not hear the food bowl.
I expressed my concern to Pooh, and he suggested looking in the garden. Okay, perhaps Michael left the door open for a few minutes and Catz slipped out. I walked around the roof garden shaking the food bowl, but no Catzenbear.
Oh God, I hope he hasn’t fallen off the roof. I looked over the roof ledge, checking the courtyard on both sides, but saw nothing.
I made one more pass around the garden and searched the entire roof. I made another pass through the loft. Then I went downstairs to search the courtyards. I searched one side of the building, found nothing, and went to the other side, looking under every bush and under all the chairs. Catzenbear was nowhere to be found. I went back upstairs, wishing Michael was home or that I had some way of reaching him. I paced around the loft, wondering what I should do.
Pooh came over and tried to comfort me, but I was so scared I paid no attention to him. I telephoned people in the building asking if anyone had seen Catzenbear. No one had.
Not knowing what else to do, I went downstairs again to search both courtyards, calling Catzenbear’s name. There was no response. Then, just as I was about to leave, something made me turn and look under a bush I must have missed, and there he was.
He wasn’t moving and didn’t seem to be breathing. Oh please, don’t let him be dead. I reached for him and cried, “Oh my dear little Catzenbear,” and he raised his head. I pushed the bush aside and gently picked him up. There was a piece of cactus caught in his fur, and some fur had been scraped off his leg. I put him on my lap and looked him over closely, carefully feeling everywhere to see if anything was broken.
Michael’s office was close by on the ground floor, so I took Catzenbear into the office and got a soft towel from the bathroom to wrap him in. No one was there, but I knew Michael kept an extra set of car keys in his desk, so I grabbed them and carried Catzenbear carefully to the car. I placed him tenderly on the car seat and raced to the vet. When we got there I explained that Catzenbear had fallen fifty feet off the roof garden. The vet examined him and said that, while he was pretty roughed up, hitting the cactus most likely broke his fall and saved his life. Except for scrapes and bruises, he was blessedly okay.
I wrapped Catzenbear back in his soft towel and drove home. Pooh was waiting at the door when we came upstairs. I repeated what the vet had told me, assuring Pooh that Catz was going to be okay.
We went into my office, and I gently put Catzenbear down on the couch. Pooh jumped up and started licking him and cleaning his wounds. Catz lay there taking it and, after a little while, began to purr softly. Eventually he fell asleep.
I went to the kitchen to get myself a glass of water and took it to the living room, where I settled into the couch and pulled a blanket over me, more to comfort me than to keep warm. Pooh stopped to drink from his bowl and then followed me to the living room.
“I apologize for ignoring you before, Pooh. I know you were trying to help, but I was too distressed to even pay attention. Weren’t you as upset as I was that something might have happened to Catzenbear?” I asked as I sank farther into the couch, completely exhausted.
Pooh jumped up on the couch with me. “Of course, Kat. I love him, too. If he had not returned, I would have retreated to be alone and grieve. While I know loss is a part of life, when it happens there will of course be deep feelings of sadness. Acknowledging one’s pain is a necessary part of healing.”
Just thinking about the possibility of losing Catzenbear brought tears to my eyes. “This was such a horrible experience, Pooh. I was just beginning to feel alive again, and I have grown so attached to Catzenbear. The love I had for him felt like something I could count on. Then, wham, Catzenbear was gone.”
“I understand, Kat. It would be particularly hard to lose him so soon, just as you had begun to love him so much.”
I began to cry in earnest, even though Catzenbear was in the other room. I felt like my heart was breaking. Pooh let me cry for a while before he went on.
“Perhaps you are crying for more than Catzenbear, Kat. Even though your mother is still alive, she is now at a stage with Alzheimer’s where she is lost to you. You are grieving that loss, and you are still grieving the loss of your career and your former active life. Adding a totally unexpected loss on top of all of this—even though it has been averted—feels unbearable.
“You are clinging to your love for Catzenbear as a physical being, to this feeling that brings you happiness and comfort. I do not mean to seem callous, Kat, but your belief that this love, this physical being, is necessary for your happiness is a creation of your ordinary mind.”
I reached for the tissue box, pulled one out, and wiped my eyes. “I don’t understand what you’re saying, Pooh. You were the one who suggested we get Catzenbear to help me out of my depression. Now you’re saying I don’t really need him? This doesn’t make any sense to me. What do you mean by that?”
“You fell in love with Catzenbear, and this love helped you begin to feel again, to open up to life. As a result, you are making progress in your meditation practice, which you could not have done in your deeply depressed state. However, it is not enough to replace your depression with your love for Catzenbear. You must replace your personal view of the world with a larger view. You must learn to face life as it is. Let me tell you a story that may help you understand what I am saying.”
I curled up and took a long drink of water. After I put the glass down, Poohbear began his story.
“A mother lost her young son to an illness. She could not accept his death at such an early age, so she went to the Buddha and begged him to bring back her child. The Buddha replied that he would do this if she would bring him a handful of mustard seed. She was certain her son would be saved, for, of course, she could find the mustard seed. Then the Buddha said that the mustard seed must come from a home that had never lost a beloved one. The mother went from house to house for days seeking this mustard seed, finally returning to the Buddha with the understanding that death is a part of everyone’s life. When she accepted that reality, she found solace and strength.”
I sat quietly and thought about what Pooh had said. How narrow my view is. Like that mother, I can see only my own pain. I wanted to believe that somehow life should be different for me, that I should not have to endure my losses, my pain. I was clinging to my specialness, to the view from my ordinary mind.
“Thank you for that story, Pooh. Now I think I would like to meditate for a while to allow me to learn from all that has happened today.”
“This is an excellent idea. I would be pleased to sit with you, Kat. Go get your cushion and join me here.”
I went to my office to get my cushion. Catzenbear was stretched out on the couch fast asleep, and I stopped to stroke him very lightly, feeling how deeply I loved this little kitten. My love for him has brought me back to life, but now I need to learn how to comprehend something beyond this physical realm.
I picked up my cushion and went out to sit with Pooh, to move beyond the illusions of my ordinary mind and unravel the mysteries of the Buddha mind I was seeking.
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