Zen: Life Lessons from a Dog
Do you know what Zen is?
Honestly, who really knows? Our statements and questions are subjective. However, I think we are able to find moments in time where life is suspended just enough to taste Zen. And this too, we shall have to release.
The Story Begins with an Ending
Death is one of the hardest things to sort out in life. I have witnessed it from many different angles. I shared these stories once with you, but after sitting with them, I realized they were not my stories to tell. They are experiences to build on and release with careful thought and consideration; with reverence.
Furthermore, death pulls memories and emotions out of nowhere. I try my hardest to live in the moment and embrace the present with all of its beautiful gifts, but loss is the yin to our yang. The two are unbalanced without the other; our ultimate juxtaposition. Somewhere within all of this is what I call Zen:
“Embracing life for what it is and honoring it with respect, compassion, love and gratitude. It is my grounding to live in the balance of it all with an open respect for how short our lives truly are in the scheme of things. This is my version of Zen.” — Journal Entry, 2017
“A dog does not live as long as a man and this natural law is the fount of many tears. If boy and puppy might grow to manhood and doghood together, and together grow old, and so in due course die, full many a heartache might be avoided. But the world is not so ordered, and dogs will die and men will weep for them so long as there are dogs and men.” — By Ben Ames Williams
I said goodbye to my beloved dog of 11 years and 11 months last August, 2016. I chose to sit with the grief of losing unconditional love. My mindful meditation practice allowed me to sit. Some days, it took my breath away.
The pain everlasting.
However, I wanted to figure out what it is to lean into our current state of being. This was not easy.
It takes time to accept loss. I’m not sure we ever do completely. Instead, we adapt to a new way of being present. Mindfully present. At age 36, I am still learning what it means to be mindfully present. The lesson keeps repeating itself until you figure it out.
Finally, the sky broke in late November. I noticed the joy after loss. The mask lifted off of my face and body. By this time, we were celebrating the holidays; four months later.
I know she is a dog, but she is a sentient being with purpose. She meant a lot to our family: my children, my husband and myself. From a tiny, little runt birthed by a beautiful, chocolate Cocker Spaniel named Zoe, Cleopatra came into my life at the age of 23.
We are so young in our twenties with a bit of teenage ambivalence still present.
This tiny, little runt who we nicknamed Curly Sue at the time, due to her curly, jet-black hair, blossomed into one of the most loyal companions thus far. She is my Cleopatra.
What is growing up anyways?
My husband and I took Cleo everywhere. We experienced plane rides, car rides, camping trips and several moves with her by our side. She never needed a leash. She knew where she belonged, next to us. At the very least, dogs give you responsibility. They prepare you for children, mortgage payments and heartache.
So to have to go against my grain and put her to sleep was agonizing. As her owners, she trusted us completely. We were with her until the very end. Beginning to end, it is our duty of care as her family to calm her fears just like she has done for me throughout the years. Cancer is not pretty. Loss is not pretty; however, it is an ever present part of life.
The After Comes Before Another Moment in Time
Unknowingly, Cleopatra prepared me for the following year to come. In the early morning hours, coffee in hand and my journal in another, I would sit with the trees, the butterflies and the breeze. I would sit with the early morning light and hope for the grief to pass. Why should one feel this way, after all she was a dog?
The moments of euthanasia circled in my head on repeat. I whispered the future into her ear as I stroked her beautiful black hair and smelled her puppy dog paws.
If you are a dog owner, you know the smell of a dog’s paws. I call it sleep because upon waking, their paws have a certain smell. It is an essence which I will never forget. I guess I started practicing mindfulness before it had a name in my life. Most importantly, I said,
“You are loved.”
Zen is Change // Zen is Unchanging
With each passing day, I took notice of our moments; our joy. Specifically, what it feels like to be present. My lifestyle changed. I try to stay away from the chatter of social media a lot more nowadays. I write in my journal on relative events within my personal life and questions for our society. I am working on specific goals for Worthybit, my family and sense of self. I feel a sense of grounding even when things go sideways.
And sure enough, life always goes sideways.
I started the series, “Love Letters to Zen,” where I ask specific questions on being present in life.
If you had asked me a year ago the definition of Zen, I would not have an answer for you. Today, I understand it as everything we encompass within the present moment while giving it reverence. This will probably change as well. This gratitude has been pivotal for bending with the breeze and allowing change. Change is the constant factor in our lives.
The beauty, the failures, the triumphs, the sadness and everything which falls between the lines of life is Zen. It is sitting with the present moment. In the absence of and within it all, this is Zen.
Cleopatra allowed me to question Zen. I truly believe whether by statement or question, if you put it out there for the cosmos to hear, an answer will be given.
I also asked, “Why does this hurt so much?”
It was meant to hurt. Death hurts; whether it is a person or beloved pet, it strikes our existence. It gives us a fork in the road to choose what we must do in the moment we are given.
After Cleopatra died, I explained to my oldest son Lucas, who being three at the time but still able to understand loss, that she is with nature now. She is the leaves, the trees, the butterflies and the breeze.
However, all of the energy has to go somewhere and the energy belongs to the cosmos, to nature. To this day, he says “Hello Cleo” to the butterflies when we are with nature.
We build upon our past
Consumed with the festivities of Memorial Day weekend this year, my husband and I were getting the boys ready for bed with their bath time. The sea salt and sand still fresh, I was running around trying to find their night clothes while the boys were laughing and singing their usual happy thoughts.
The phone rings.
Something went terribly wrong.
The following steps I proceed to take are of the utmost importance.
I get into the car by myself. My husband stays with the children.
After all, life does not stop even in the midst of tragedy.
While driving down the road, I pray to God, the universe or anything which will listen.
I think of the past.
I think of now.
I think of a lifetime’s worth of memories and I pray for the strength to bear witness for the following minutes, hours and days.
The only thing I know to do is hold my friend’s hand and talk to him. Much like I held Cleopatra’s paws and talked to her. Once again, the same words appear,
“You are loved.”
So in the after, we categorize. We work through it so we can be strong for people even closer to the deceased than we are. We acknowledge internally and externally the person has died. Grief is a strange beauty, ugliness and everything in-between the lines of life.
This is what I have found with grief: It bites you in the ass and lets you laugh at the same time. It makes you pissed off and grateful.
Death Never Stops
My aunt passed away to cancer last Thursday. So I shared a dual reverence when my friend’s fiance suggested we celebrate his life by releasing these lanterns he picked out a few years ago. This past Friday was his 37th birthday. So as a family of friends, hand-in-hand, we celebrated his life and our memories by sending off these lanterns into the cosmos. Two shooting stars danced across the sky and lightening made a spectacular show on the horizon. Somewhere out there, my friend and aunt are a part of the cosmos now. They are the leaves, the trees, the butterflies and the breeze.
Writing life isn’t easy. Living life can be bittersweet. But, if we are to do anything positive in this world, we must stay ever-present. Compassion and love will carry us through the good times, the bad times and the times we just sit.
Only you can change you. Stay beautiful!
In closing, Worthybit is exploring topics on minimalism, yoga and mindfulness within our every day lives; whether it be parenting, cooking, vacationing, or redoing the house. As a human, I will continue to share my stories of life with you.
The Postcard series of Pandora and Bug will continue. As a writer, I love to explore fiction. May you find your creative spark within yourself as well.
InspireByWorthybit is in progress. Art takes time and unfortunately, most of us like to hone our craft before presenting it to the world. It is a skill and beauty I learned within my years of classical ballet training.
However, don’t ever wait too long to put your talents out there for the cosmos to enjoy because these moments are fleeting. Live within your moments and soar.
Worthybit is my piece of love to the world. It sits alongside my responsibilities as a mother, wife, daughter, friend and Human. From the ashes we rise to find our own, unique worthybit. — Tara
Originally published at worthybit.com on September 5, 2017.