Befriend

Baby Stella

My ugly encounter with dog-impermanence eventually gave way to beauty.

But to reap the blessings of impermanence we must first acknowledge the pain of it.  We acknowledge our resistance to the way things are.  We witness our attachment to the way we want things to be.  Our willingness to befriend our reactivity eventually leads to release, in timeless time.

In the airport shuttle, that first trip to India, I didn’t think I could get on the plane and leave my dog.  I plotted a quick turnaround.

Becky called as we arrived at the airport.  She had taken Stella to the vet.   “He isn’t sure what’s going on,” she said.  “It may be lung metastasis from a hidden tumor.  He’ll X-ray her in two weeks when you get back.”

Two weeks.  Magic words.  That meant the vet thought she’d survive two weeks.  The vet thought I should get on the plane.

I didn’t want to.  But the passengers pressing behind me nudged me across the threshold. Now there was no escape.  Fifteen hours to stop one, Hong Kong.  I found my seat and the door sealed shut like the lid of a coffin. 

There was nothing to do but wait and worry.

Try not to think about it, I thought.  Distract yourself with in-flight movies.  This Bruce Willis epic with explosions looks good… 

The explosion movies worked for a while.  But eight hours and three movies later, halfway across the Pacific I was done.   I couldn’t avoid myself anymore.  I descended into an aching love story.

I did not intend to fall in love with Stella.  I didn’t even want a dog, much less a high energy Vizsla.  But Hugh and I adopted her because she felt meant to be.   The day Stella arrived home she grinned, trotted through the living room, peed on the couch, and chased our rabbit.  This began a saga of dog mischief– teething on custom slipcovers, endless pointing at birds and squirrels, and standing on me in the wee hours of the morning to persuade me to feed her.   It should have been annoying, but I found myself perpetually endeared in the vortex of her joy and intelligence.

I spoke to her in full sentences.  She understood “Go in the backyard and help Daddy feed the cockatiels.”   She was my best friend, my canine alter-ego.  I promised her from the beginning that I would stand beside her always, I would usher her through her living and her dying.  So how could I betray her like this now, flying to the other side of the world when she needed me most?  The shame of it overwhelmed me. 

I prayed.  Please, please, please keep her safe until I get back.  Don’t let her die alone.  I’ll do whatever you want.  I’ll pray more, I’ll be a better person, I’ll stop saying the F-word.  Just let her live. 

I watched myself bargain with God, the opposite of what we say in church: “Prayer isn’t about changing God’s mind.  We pray to change our hearts.”

I sat in the darkness and whispered, “We pray to change our hearts.”  I pondered these words.

Ever-so-slightly, I felt Love change my heart.  I began to wonder.  What if it’s selfish to cling to Stella?  What if she’s suffering?  What if she’s on her own path, separate from my need?  What if real love is letting go?

 

Reflections:  How do you befriend “unholy attachment”?  What happens when you make this shift in consciousness?  How do you feel about real love as letting go?

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Impermanence

In my most recent post, I mentioned my “complex history with India.”

Several years ago, I went to Chennai with a group of spiritual leaders for a Deeksha seminar.

That trip began with a horrifying encounter with impermanence.

 

It was June 2013 and I had to catch an airport shuttle in an hour.  I stealth-packed so the dogs wouldn’t notice.  My husband Hugh was working out of town.  Grant our teenage Pet Sitter would arrive soon.

I never planned to go to India, but I knew I was supposed to go.  Now I doubted the decision; because our dog Stella was sick.  There was something wrong with her breathing.

As I packed, she hunched on “her” shabby-chic slipcovered chair.  Her chest rose and fell rapidly.   Even her dog-brother Bartok knew something was wrong.

Life is impermanence.  I know this.   But this impermanence was rudely timed. 

A perfect excuse to control it, I thought.  I begged Google to squeeze out a speck of hope that would allow me to leave.

Google said it could be a simple lung infection.  Or it could be cancer.

My mind raced:  How could I get on a plane and abandon my best friend?…  My church is counting on me to go.  I can’t disappoint them…And what if this is nothing?  What if I stay home and it’s a minor infection? … But what if it’s something horrible and she dies alone?  What kind of a people-pleasing, dog-abandoning whore am I…?

I had to decide.

I kept moving.  I got in the shower and cried.

Why did she have to get sick now?

God, what should I do?

I’ll do whatever You want, just tell me, please.

And then I heard, “Breathe.  Ask for help.

I breathed.   I stepped out of the shower, got dressed and checked Stella.  No change.

Grant, our pet sitter, arrived.  I told him about Stella’s condition and together we asked for help.   We contacted our friend Becky who promised she would take Stella to the vet as soon as the clinic opened.

Then I had to say good-bye.

I cradled Stella’s butterscotch face in my hands.  I lingered as I smelled her earthy scent.  I kissed the top of her head and whispered, “Will I ever see you again?”

I thought of all the platitudes I’ve said about impermanence over the years.  “Impermanence is the only permanent thing…..Impermanence makes life precious…Impermanence requires you to love deeply as you let go deeply….”

I revised these platitudes to, “Impermanence sucks when it’s happening to you and your dog.”  Then I stumbled to my car and drove to the airport shuttle.  I abandoned Stella for India….

Reflections:  Where do you encounter impermanence?   How do you resist or allow it?   What guides you in making impossible decisions? 


 

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Summoned

“Many are called but few are chosen.”  (Matt 22:14).

I learned this verse in third grade at the Good News Club.  This was a Christian-after-school-program.   The leaders of the program, Mrs. Dunkerton and Mrs. Smithebothom, gathered little children together to sing songs, hear Bible stories, and memorize verses for fun and prizes.  I think I won a pale blue wallet with the “called and chosen” verse.

At the time, I didn’t think much about the meaning of these words.   I just wanted that wallet.

I’ve heard this verse interpreted as a statement of Christian exclusivity.

I think it’s more about sacrificing the ego’s agenda.

Love summons the many, in fact everyone.  Love calls you relentlessly.  Love never shuts up.  But will you choose it? 

Last September, love summoned me.  I was in Vancouver, minding my own business, sitting with my in-laws and stepchildren in a restaurant overlooking a bay.  We were about to chow down on fresh B.C. salmon.

I pulled out my cell-phone to find a wedding photo to show them.  In searching for the picture, I noticed an email from Nipun Mehta of ServiceSpace.  The email invited me to India for a gathering called Gandhi 3.0.

I saw the email and thought of the Bible verse.

I knew I had been summoned.  I knew I was called and chosen, shaken and stirred.  I showed the email to my family and immediately said, “Oh shit.  Yes.  I’m going back to India.”   Then I started to cry – a little bit fearful, not knowing why I was going, but mostly inspired by the pull of a Love greater than my small wants and needs.

Later I tried to wriggle out of my “yes.”  I have a complex history with India that I’ll write about soon.  Plus I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to go in January, a busy time for me.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to leave the comforts of California – my animals, my husband, my home.

So I asked the church board, “I probably shouldn’t go to India with Nipun Mehta, right?”

“Are you crazy?” they replied.  “You have to go.”

Again I said yes.  I bought my ticket.  I chose love’s call.

It was an act of trust inspired by invisible Love assembling visible components for It’s mystical agenda.  Yes.

Reflections:  How is Love calling you?  Are you choosing to answer Love’s call?  Can you identify a place where Love may be assembling details of your life for something hidden yet wonderful? 

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