Ten months ago our 14-year-old sweetheart-of-a-puppy died. To be more accurate (and blunt), ten months ago my husband and I made the heart-breaking decision to have our ailing, frightened, pained puppy put to sleep. We had the vet take her life.
I don’t apologize for this, nor do I feel guilty – sometimes death really is a blessing, and a relief. But the decision was still incredibly painful for me to come to terms with; to then put it into action literally hurt my heart.
Additionally, our dog was an animal laden with a lot of emotional baggage for both my husband and I, so her passing was even more complicated and difficult than otherwise losing a dear family member would be (which is nothing trivial by any measure).
Okay, so not a terribly bright or light start to this blog post – but I really do have a point, and I’m getting there now. When our puppy died, my husband and I had her body cremated. Our intention was to spread her ashes on a lake. However, she died in November – and in the very cold northern state where I live, all of the lakes were frozen by that time. So my husband and I waited until this summer, when the ice had melted and the warm sun shone over the fresh water, to make our final goodbye to our sweet girl.
That transition occurred a few weeks ago. My husband and I stepped onto a small boat, and he drove it to the middle of a small-ish lake. He opened the box that had been closed for the past ten months, and unwound the plastic bag that held the ash remains of our dog. My husband then handed the sack to me, and proceeded to slowly drive us back towards shore while I let the ashes trickle out of the bag and into the water.
As I held the bag, I sensed the weight of it shift from heavy, to lighter, to empty. As I literally felt the ashes move past my fingers and into the lake, I thought, “I will be the last human to ever touch our puppy. I will be the last person to ever feel her, or sense her.” As her ashes slipped beyond my hand, I genuinely felt her fur on my skin, my body on hers. It was fleeting, and momentary, and powerful beyond measure.
And I noticed other things during those thirty seconds that it took for us to release the ashes into the water. I smelled the freshness of the gentle start-stop-start-again breeze that had invited itself into the day. I heard a chorus of sounds as well as the individual players: the boat motor hum, the lapping of water against the sides of our vessel, the ducks and loon that paddled nearby, my own breathing. I saw bright sunshine glancing against the small waves caused by the motion of our little boat, and it truly looked like the water was dancing. I had never noticed that before. Ever.
I wasn’t trying to make those thirty seconds ‘special’ or overly meaningful – I just showed up, open and willing and ready. And in that space of being nothing but present, a genuine experience was, well, deeply experienced.
I know I could not have come close to arriving at a place of peace on that day without my meditation practice – much less had the clarity, patience, and ability to be in present-moment awareness and allow the beautiful power of plain ol’ every day life to occur. To allow life to unfold, as it wanted to; and to have me simply sit back, be aware, and bear witness.
People often ask me why I meditate; they just don’t ‘get it’. Truthfully, some days I ask myself that very same question. Why do I make the effort to get up very early every morning and spend time alone, motionless, and completely silent? Why do I spend what amounts to around several hours each week just sitting, breathing, bringing my mind back again and again and again and again…?
This day – this experience – was a reminder of why. Meditation is a practice: in the sitting, and breathing, and noticing, and returning, I practice “showing up”. I practice re-connecting from the mindless drift. I practice re-engaging with life as it is (and not as I might want it to be). And the practice then enables me (and supports me) to show up fully, completely, and selflessly for real life, for what really matters.