Today we visited an animal shelter for cats & dogs.
I’m beginning to see life as a series of crossings all sentient beings have to make. Some crossings are very hard. Besides providing food and care for animals, we might help them cross from sickness and fear to more auspicious states through our prayers and personal rituals.
So I brought sage leaves and prayer flags with me to the shelter in hope that they might be of service.
After wiping down the cats, I came to the end of the shelter corridor where a stupa stood on a metal trolley.
A stupa is sanskrit for a dome structure used for buddhist meditation or for holding sacred texts and relics. Stupas vary in size. Some are small enough to be placed on dashboards.
I think the stupa at Boudha in Kathmandu, Nepal, is probably the largest on the planet. Walking around it can cultivate wisdom and compassion. The stupa that needed cleaning today was about half my height.
As I was removing dust from the stupa with a wet cloth, a large orange cat suddenly hopped onto the trolley top. He began weaving around the stupa as if he was making a circumambulation with his body!
When I managed to peel him off the stupa, he wrapped his paws around my neck and started purring and rubbing his face against mine affectionately.
I lit a sprig of sage leaves and passed their white plumes of aromatic smoke over and around the stupa after the cleaning was done.
Then holding the burning sage, I walked down the length of the corridor and paused at each animal enclosure.
The cats were fascinated. Many came towards me and lingered at the wire mesh to be closer to the smoke blessings.
Even their 17 year old dog snoozing at the doorway got up and joined us.
At the section that housed the dogs, we were barked at. Then as their eyes followed the smoke and their ears picked up the prayers, many calmed down.
A girl dog with gentle eyes wagged her tail merrily at us and wouldn’t let us out of her sight.
As I prayed for the animals to be healthy and happy, and to be released from all causes of difficulties in life, I realised I was essentially praying for myself.
Towards late afternoon, my friend raised the prayer flags over the entrance to bless everyone.
We learnt that the shelter caregiver’s late mom had been wanting to get a set of prayer flags for their shelter since they moved here. But the daily upkeep of the place and looking after animals left them with little time or energy to go looking for prayer flags.
My friend initiated this shelter visit about 2 weeks ago. The sage leaves were given to me recently. The prayer flags were gifts from years ago. I learnt that today is the feast day of the archangels.
All these seemingly random occurrences have come together to facilitate my intentions to support animals and their caregivers. And it brings me comfort to know that the prayer flags put up today will be fluttering under the light of the mid-autumn full moon in a day’s time.
I used to carry pretty handbags. Now I carry dogs and cats, and some kibbles.
These days with the knowledge that anyone can carry virus, we’re also obliged to carry hand sanitizers and face masks whether we like to or not.
In fashion magazines there’s a frequent quote that goes, “Women can never have enough handbags, or shoes,” to justify constant buying and spending.
But perhaps this insatiable appetite for bags and shoes is a hidden quest to find out what we really want to carry, and where we would like to be headed during this lifetime.
I recall Ms Jane Goodall having only a small trolley bag and a backpack to hold everything she needs on her cross continental lecture trips to speak for primates. And yet at every event, she manages to look so polished and new. 😊
Bit by bit when I learn to carry what really matters, the old baggage of self doubt and “what would people think of me,” steadily dissolves.
I still like beautiful things, as people born under the zodiac sign of the Hare are known for. My heart still burst with affection at the primary school girls holding their glittery magic pony bags.
But the compulsion to own pretty things is losing its grip on me as my understanding of what I’m meant to carry in this lifetime gains clarity.
The plumber who came to fix the pipes today was enamored of my cats, Ollie and Hakim.
He spoke affectionately about his own cat and a community cat that he and his family had been feeding before it disappeared.
When his work was done, he showed me the missing cat’s picture on his phone. The man who handles metal parts all day long then muttered to himself in Mandarin, “他失终这么久了,可是我就是不舍得把他的照片给删掉.” (translation: the cat’s been gone for so long, but I can’t bear to delete his photo from my phone).
In that split second, I felt I was watching a very private moment in a man’s life.
The picture that accompanies this post was from a friend who visited the desert during the full moon of 5 July. It was very windy there but she managed to find a spot to light a butter lamp in honour of her dog that recently passed on and a community cat that had not shown up at her home for meals.
May the Heart that grieves and pines be comforted by Light.
Oliver came to sit on my lap during morning prayers.
Half way through my mala beads, the sky darkened, the wind rose and the rain fell. It was bright & sunny just a while ago!
I resisted the urge to get up and rush about to shut the windows in my home.
“What if the wind sends in more dust?”
“What if the rain wets my study table?”
The what ifs were threatening to unseat me.
Meanwhile, Oliver, the Grandmaster of Sleep, continued to nestle more comfortably on my lap, paying no heed as the sky darkened further and the wind swooshed about, sending hangers in the balcony clattering.
After I decided to let them be, I realised maybe Rain and Wind had come to assist me to scatter my prayers further to reach more sentient beings! It was a precious moment in my practice.
With that thought in mind, I stay put and completed the morning dedication.
By the time the prayer ended, the rain had also stopped and the sun appeared again. It was all so brief!
Oliver did not protest when I put the mala beads over his neck. He simply went onto another cane chair and continued his morning nap. 😄
I thought of the occasions when non-action was my only option.
For example, holding an umbrella while walking is not possible for me. And when a light drizzle suddenly becomes a downpour in the midst of a traffic light crossing, I cannot run. But I’ve had strangers offering to share their umbrellas with me.
Then there are times I cannot make the crossing from the steps of a bus to the kerb. One time a youth with tattoos from his arm to his neck gave me his hand.
We’re often told to take initiatives, to be proactive, to solve problems, to eat lunch or be lunch, but sometimes staying put or not having any option, IS the way out.
So my wish is, if anyone is feeling trapped or lost, may he or she not panic and seek unhealthy distractions, but to try & stay put with the situation, because a solution could be just round the corner. 🙏
After the cremation on 27 May, China Black’s ashes were held in a little box on the shelf he used to sit on during his youth.
And for the past few nights, I would check in and find his cat brothers, Hakim & Emmanuel hanging quietly in China Black’s favorite corner, below his ashes.
Last night was the 6th day of his passing going on 7th. There’s a belief in my culture that on the 7th day of passing, the deceased would come home to make one final visit to check on his family before moving on.
So I lit a butter lamp to light China Black’s path. Then I decided to place a dish of his favourite food next to his ashes to assure him that he’s healed and all’s well in his home, and most of all, he’s free to move on.
I could leave the butter lamp burning and the tuna dish overnight on China Black’s shelf without worry of fire hazard because Hakim and Emmanuel are too portly and too old to climb on the shelf to topple anything.
This morning the butter lamp had finished burning. Every item on the shelf was in place except for the tuna meant for China Black. It was half finished like the way he usually ate when he was here. He was a small eater, easily distracted and seldom finished his food.
I am grateful that China Black could eat which means he is now healed. His visit on Day7 of his passing has helped me to clear all doubts of animals having souls.
My practice of honouring the souls of animals whether they are alive or dead shall continue, and this time with renewed conviction.
“Would you like to hug him one last time?” the pet crematorium staff asked as I stood at the furnace.
China Black, the slipper-sized black kitten that I rescued from under the vending machine in Chinatown some 15 years ago had passed on in early dawn.
I took the white shrouded bundle from the crematorium staff & held it close to my heart, like I’ve done so each morning for the past years.
China Black loved cuddles. He began his day by hopping onto one of the shelves to make eye contact with me when I entered their room to feed and water them. Only after getting hugged would he leap out of my arms to join the rest for breakfast.
Of late he started sleeping more in his favourite corner on the floor, and eating & drinking soon became a chore.
Hospitalising a cat like China Black that had never left the security of his home since the day he came back from sterilisation was out of the question. He was as affectionate as he was nervous and he resented being caged or confined in any way.
So I tried to make his last days at home as comfortable as possible, and let him pick wherever he wanted to lie down.
A few hours before he passed on, the rain came, followed by thunder and lightning. I lit incense to give thanks for the cool breeze and deliverance from the suffocating humidity of the past few days.
Then I cleaned China Black in scented water with pomegranate leaves like I had been doing for the past few days.
Despite his weakened state, he purred loudly and his eyes glowed affectionately, as if he was trying to memorise my face.
As I massaged his limbs that used to be so nimble and quick, I told him not to be afraid of bodily deteriorations. We had to give up this old shell for something better.
Then I stroked his face, held his little paw that I had kissed so often and said, “You’ve given me so many things. You don’t have to struggle to hold onto this body anymore. Wherever you go, you’ll always be home. Go & rest now, Momma’s always here.”
After he had 3 sips of honey water I carried him back to his favourite corner on the floor. I had wished he would sleep in the cat cage where it was cosy and clean. But I respected his will. To shield his bony body from the cold ceramic floor, I put a cotton shirt on him.
Before I turned in for the night, I lit a butter lamp that would accompany China Black and all in the room.
As I passed the butter lamp over China Black’s head and body to bless him, he looked up at me in full awareness. I felt him receiving the blessings. I did the same for Hakim & Emmaneul, his cat brothers. They seemed to understand what I was doing and didn’t try to hide or run from the fire, but looked at me intently and calmly.
The next morning I woke up and did my morning prayers before I checked on the cats, which was my second act of the day. And as I faced the rising Sun to give thanks for Life, I was surprised to find myself giving thanks for Death as well, for the first time.
When I looked into the cat room, China Black was lying inside the cat cage. As I stood wondering how he could possibly have the strength to walk and climb onto the raised cage, the words, “Angels were here,” popped into my head.
China Black had passed on as if he was asleep.
It lifted my heart to know that my little cat’s soul has left in the cool of the night, where the air was crisp and the sky was sparkling with stars.
I’m no student of theology or devotee of any particular spiritual teachings, but I felt assisted when needed. In sharing this experience with China Black, I hope that all who deal with animals be given guidance and resources to honour the death of their animals as much as they have benefitted from their lives.
And for those who are struggling with the inevitable end of animals in their care, may they find the rituals most suited to them to help their animals and themselves to make this difficult but necessary crossing. 🙏🌈🐾