I recently got a call from a student. She’s a very emotional person and she called shortly after she had just put down her beloved cat, the same one that took her through puberty and all of the major events of her 20’s, including her parent’s divorce, a family suicide, an addiction, a recovery, and eventually the woman’s own divorce.
Those are some of the most tumultuous years in life and the cat was connected to countless major memories. This is precisely the sort of thing that would have heavily derailed the woman previously, but this call wasn’t one about agony and it wasn’t a call for help, it was more a call of communion. This was a call about love.
The death would have been a completely devastating experience if viewed from an egocentric me-first perspective. She would have missed the cat terribly and missing something is a verb; it’s an action. That’s the act of wishing the cat would still there even though she’d know it wasn’t, but she wasn’t experiencing the pain of wanting. This woman has learned how to take the peaceful path through life and instead of the pain of wanting she felt the joy of love.
The call I got was to share that love. She knew very few people would know how to respond. She didn’t want sympathy or commiseration–those are well-intentioned acts by others but they take the person back to thinking about the life in a wanting and painful way and what this woman wanted was a celebration of the cat’s life and she knew I would understand that. If anything, she felt a tiny flicker of guilt that it didn’t hurt more.
This isn’t to say the act itself wasn’t extremely sad–it very much was–but that pain didn’t last past the moment of transition because she was not attached to the cat with wanting thoughts, instead she was able to love the cat clearly enough to let it go. When she felt the cat’s body go limp she knew the spirit had left the animal to make its next move. Rather than agonise over its departure she was celebrating its existence. She was lucky to have had her.
In the little version of life there is a little dash of life between two great darknesses. In the big version of life it’s all light, it’s merely where in the universe is that light currently shining? She wasn’t upset because he cat was gone because to her it simply wasn’t–it was merely done its time with her. She understood that limitation as one of hers, not one of the cat’s.
To illustrate what she did differently than most people consider your morning coffee. The sides of the cup represent an inside and an outside; an alive and a “dead.” We could say that those sides are created by our own sense of self. The woman accepts that her human existence is on a timeline and so is the cat’s, which means right from the outset there will be times where they do not overlap. On a spiritual level she knows they are one, but by she accepts that within human existence part of the deal is accepting the fact that both she and the cat are free. If the cat’s ready to move on she has to love it enough to let it go. She cannot be attached through her thinking, she must accept its will.
In this way the cat’s life is consumed by the woman. Like the coffee surrounded by the cup the life isn’t lost, it is absorbed. It is taken in. It becomes one with the woman. So can you see that it makes no sense for her to keep drinking when the coffee is gone? She cannot have the cat because the cat is already fully within her. And rather than agonise that the cat is gone she is grateful that she was able to drink it in while it was there. The cat’s life was not squandered, it was fully appreciated. From a spiritual perspective that is like living forever.
Death is profound and yet it is also very simple. It is our mental attachments that make it feel daunting and sad and personal to our egos, but if we live in a deeply spiritual way we can see death more as a release or completion–as though it is a song that has been sung. A song that must now move off into the universe to be heard by some lucky new listener.
Live openly. Listen to the universe for love. No matter what your circumstances, some is always there to be heard.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organisations locally and around the world.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.