bundles, baggage & bye bye blackbird

Insight comes in the darndest ways. I was scrolling down my Facebook feed deeply engaged in avoiding the reality that I had to pack for a week-long business trip. The routine for going away is just that – a routine, tinged with annoyance about how many pants and sweaters to take and angst over trying to remain vegetarian in a city with the discerning palate of a cave. Snapping myself out of procrastination typically takes some concept or approach that elevates the routine to intrigue. This did: a video on how to pack enough clothing for 60 days into a 22″ carry-on bag.

I tried it. It was awesome. Everything packed into “bundles.”

As the week wore on and irritations became more charged (I get cranky when I’m away from home), it became very apparent that I had packed and brought along far more bundles than those in my suitcase. You know these heaps – or skandhas – well too: form, feeling, perception, mental formation & consciousness. You should; you never leave home without them. In fact, we’re pretty good at packing up all our cares and woe in tight bundles assuming we never have to unpack them.

Anytime I get too snotty about how well my heaps are packed away, I remember the steward on one fight announcing as we prepared to land: Please be careful opening the overhead bins as your contents may have shifted in transit. These life lessons always come from invisible Buddhas and Bodhisattvas crossing our path. Mostly though, we disregard their wisdom and get bonked on the head by cascading aggregates.

Practice helps. Sitting helps a lot. The beauty of leaving home is the liberation from the various scheduled obligations like feeding cats and dogs and elephants, making breakfast, lunch and dinner, doing laundry (for the short hauls) and all the myriad chores that shackle us just out of reach of our cushion. Here in the hotel room, I am liberated from all but my resistance to getting acquainted with my self, that someone waiting for me. Fair warning though, unpacking that carry on was as complicated as unpacking my cares and woes.

If you need more encouragement than taking along a good dharma book, do try the new Worldwide Insight teachings. Each Sunday a different teacher and so far (two sessions) it has been a terrific way to keep practice fresh.


kitty karma, part two

Some of you may recall my story about some kitty karma we generated a few months ago.  Our adopted cat Pumpkin, actually the neighbour’s cat found the al fresco service at our place was more reliable and settled into the metal storage shed.  The neighbour estimated her age at about 11 years and commented that she tended to get pregnant a lot.  I don’t know if that assessment was relative to most barn cats or a particularity he was assigning to this cat.  We had to admit that she did tend to look continuously bulbous at the belly.  So when she showed up with her Sprout, we weren’t surprised.  He is a handsome little bug which psychological studies would predict increases the attachment – and should he go to university, he would score higher grades, get better jobs, and be more successful than your average barn cat’s off spring.

Sprout and Pumpkin did well over the Fall and into the first snow.  We continued to provide fodder and began the process of taming the little guy with kitty treats.  I caught him at one point and even managed to get him to accept a few moments of cuddling.  Of course, honouring Pumpkin’s age, now 13 years, we made plans to get her spayed as soon as it was clear that Sprout was no longer nursing – which he was but he wasn’t going to let anyone know.  Then last weekend, Pumpkin began to seem somewhat out of sorts.  We took her to the vet – agonizing over leaving Sprout for a few hours without Mom.  The vet cleared her health-wise and we talked about the ease of having her spayed.  No worries.  She’d be in and out in a day and outdoors the same day.  Technology had changed dramatically, we were assured.  Well, you likely know the ending to this section.  Pumpkin died from the anesthesia.

There are many directions I could go from this juncture.  There is the self-directed anger and rage.  There is the other-directed anger and rage.  There is the heart-rending grief when I looked out the window that first evening I was supposed to bring Pumpkin home and instead watched Sprout on the deck staring down the lane towards the metal shed.  He sat there agitated between the draw of the food bowl and the habitual sight of his mother coming up to the house to feed with him.

It didn’t help that we were hit with a snow storm over the next two days and the temperature plummeted to -23° C  for two nights.  At 2AM the first morning of the storm, distressed and  unable to sleep, I looked down from the upstairs window expecting dismal darkness laced with freezing rain; there was Sprout bouncing in the snow banks and at daylight I chuckled to see the kitty-angels in the snow.  The next night when the wind was at its screeching wildest, I sat in the little unheated mudroom and listened to him mewling in the space under it; all I could hope was that my voice soothing him would help.  He survived the first night when temperatures sank to -23°C; I was convinced we would make it through!  He didn’t show up at his usual time for breakfast after the second night of deep freeze; I was convinced he was dead.

If Sprout were to live out my story of his life, he’d likely not survive.  Thankfully, he seems to be writing his own version of the Life of Sprout.  For the moment it seems filled with anxiety, wonder, adolescent demands for food, and refusal to listen to reason.  Of course, kitties are vulnerable at this age and skittish which makes it hard to cultivate a quick bond with him.  That introduces much uncertainty about his potential for survival and I am working on resting in the reality that there is only so much we can do.  He has food and water; the old barn is filled with warm old hay, and the shed has nooks and crannies to protect him from larger animals.

It should reassure me.  Sometimes it does.  And then it doesn’t.  What is fascinating is the way my mind grabs each sense perception and derives a conclusion.  I see him eat and think, “Oh, he’s going to be just fine!”  I don’t see kitty paw prints in the snow from the night before and think, “He’s dead!”  I try to lure him to me with treats and when he dashes away: “Oh, he’ll never survive!”  I watch him dive into snowbanks and the angels sing.

This is a fickle mind which writes tales of life and death from each split second.  It has no shame.  It will as easily destroy as generate.  It has a licence to kill and clone.  Thank goodness it cannot realize – make real – anything without the cooperation of the rest of the five streams, Four Foundations, Six Paramitas, Five Precepts, Ten Grave Precepts, and a raft of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Mahasattvas, and the Mahaprajnaparamita too!