Have I mentioned lately the point of this commitment? I chanced to have a conversation with a young conservationist the other day, and she mentioned grief. Grief is one of the most appropriate emotions for any of us to be holding, juggling, however we choose to acknowledge it. Gratitude is another. The two complement each other: they are antidotes and catalysts at the same time, grief and gratitude. Whichever one you start with can lead you to the other, particularly if you start with grief. From my particular world view, grief and gratitude are themost appropriate emotions for anyone aware of the climate crisis. [trigger alert: these links are not for the faint of heart.]
So I’m grateful for the mental fortitude I’ve cultivated this past year, and my whole life, really; grateful that I can put myself in perspective with the world at last, after decades of exploring the relationship. I am content to be a small pebble in a small pond, causing small ripples. I am sitting in the teepee, watching the giant blue planet approach. I am grateful for every moment of beauty and grace that I can be aware of, as the moments of this fleeting life flow through me.
Today I’m grateful again for technology, for the access it gives me to teachers around the world. From the Mindful Life Program just across the mountains in Carbondale, which during the Time of the Virus might as well be in Australia, to Catherine Ingram who actually is in Australia, to Stephan Pende Wormland in Copenhagen, Denmark, and a host of other interviews and lessons from meditation teachers to top chefs to health experts.
As anyone knows who explores the world online, you can find out everything about anything whether it’s true or not, so I’m also grateful for education and discernment, which allow me to make healthy choices about what I turn my attention to. After a weekend in retreat, I spent the day catching up on housework while listening to these teachers, including Catherine’s latest In the Deep podcast titled “People Can Be Disappointing.” Each episode includes a short talk, followed by questions from participants, and Catherine’s responses to them. This one felt particularly relevant to me today.
From relationship disappointments to global disappointments, each question resonated with my own experience at some point in recent months. At one point, she discussed the conspiracy theories rampant in the US these days as coping strategies. “There’s some kind of psychological twisting going on in their being… they’re not stupid people necessarily but they believe things that are absolutely bonkers, and huge numbers of them are believing these things…” She speculates on some possible reasons.
And it struck me then that everyday wonders have ceased to engage these people; they’ve cut their milk teeth on high-tension drama in entertainments that celebrate killing and perversions: just look at the content of TV’s top dramas in recent decades; look at the goals of most video games; look at the stimulus-driven ambitions of advertisers. Is it any wonder that people believe they live in these conspiracy theories? By believing, they no longer need to envy contestants on Reality TV, for they have entered their own Reality Show. Like The Truman Show, but backwards. Instead of living in a ‘perfect world,’ the people who believe QAnon and the like are choosing to believe the sickest, most depraved, terrifying fantasies about Others, specifically about people like me, and other good neighbors and decent legislators and even now our current President.
It’s dumbfounding. Why choose to spend your fleeting time on this planet, your one precious life, thinking unthinkable thoughts, when you can find much more engaging entertainment in the miracles of this infinitely wondrous planet with your own senses by opening them to the beauty of nature? Catherine is right: there is too much of something or not enough in the broken souls who let themselves be deluded by outrageous, grotesque imaginings; but it’s not entirely their fault. A materialist culture which has lost its connection to the wild world, Nature, the wisdom in impermanence, and filled that void by streaming the darkest make-believe of human imaginings into our eyes, ears, and minds with traumatizing entertainments, has conditioned many people, Americans in particular, to need ever more shocking stimulation to feel alive.
So the very technology for which I’m grateful today, for giving me access to living humans with great insight and wisdom, is the same technology that allows malevolent delusions to collect enough followers to assume a false alternative reality, because “so many people are living within the shared lie,” as Catherine says. Are there antidotes to these poisonous effluents on a societal level?
We’ll know more later. Give me the silent wonder of a gentle snowfall any day. Give me the miracles in my own back yard, the surprise of an underground burrow, the vast perspective of a starry night, the impossible fragility of a bee’s neck. These are the true realities I choose to pay attention to, to believe in. I am the hoof of the doe, stepping into the stream; moments ripple round me. In the time of long light, I see god in green shadows, and the wheatgrass whispers ‘yes.’
I don’t often drive off the mesa after a drink, but tonight was an exception. I was enjoying a quarantini on a Zoom happy hour with Dawn when my phone, across the room, went off with text dings and call rings. I ignored it until Dawn got a text from Pamela, asking if she knew where I was, saying they had found a tortoiseshell cat at the end of their road…
It’s a miracle. I knew she had gotten in Philip’s or John’s vehicle that day a month ago when she disappeared, but… they both checked, and… somehow… who knows how… she ended up at the end of the road a quarter mile from the Bad Dog Ranch. A month ago yesterday. Both Marla and Pamela saw her in the past few days and thought she was Idaho, her sister who lives at the ranch, but Idaho was accounted for. Pamela said, “I knew it wasn’t Idaho because she’s so furry I can’t see underneath her, and I could see underneath this cat. I thought she was a feral cat from one of the ranches down there.”
This evening, they caught her, carried her home, put her in a crate, and tried to reach me. Dawn and I were chatting away, about the pandemic, of course, and other things, and Dawn checked her texts. “Do you know where Rita might be?” That moment when someone’s face changes so dramatically you know it’s important? I saw that. I leapt across the room to my phone, and saw this picture:
“It’s her I’m on my way.”
Had there been any doubt, which there wasn’t, because I have memorized her face during all my adorations of her, it would have been immediately dispelled when I got the crate out of the car. She began thrashing and butting her head against the grate. She knew she was home. The dogs were waiting in the yard, and she went nose to nose with them. Inside, I took her out in the mudroom, and flipped her upside down just to make triple sure, checking for that sweet flan spot on her tummy. She wiggled out of my arms and butted against the door to get in the house.
She ran right in, pranced around the house, ate half a can of food, ran upstairs, checked out all her sleeping spots. Ojo chased her around hissing and growling. I guess he didn’t miss her as much as I thought he did. I know she smells different. And maybe he was actually happy to be an only cat. She hissed back. She’s thin and tense, and very happy to be home.
One thing’s for sure: this cat is on lockdown for at least two days, if not two weeks. She’s not going outside until I get my fill of cuddles, and feel some sense of certainty that she won’t run off after her taste of the wild. No pun intended. I’ll have to buy another bag of that kibble. And clean the copper sink more often. And fret a little more about keeping cat food supplied during this uncertain time. Although we know now that she can hunt her own food. And, sorry Benny, but I’m glad I didn’t give you her scratching post yet because she used it immediately.
We’re all doing quarantine for various reasons around here, some because of recent flights from both coasts, some from reasonable caution, but we are all extra happy tonight. Topaz is lying on the rug in front of the fire now. Thanks to Cyn and Pamela for catching her and for the pictures, and to my dear friends who are as happy as I am that my ‘forever kitty’ has returned home. It’s made our day: a moment of pure joy and gratitude in this deeply disturbing and uncertain time.
And it is. I experience waves of terror when I think about the future. But I’ve got a few resources that keep me grounded in the present moment. One is Catherine Ingram’s podcast ‘In the Deep.’ Another is the remarkably sane newsletter from Robert Hubbell. And there’s Telesangha, a weekday morning meditation group: since September 2016 a dear international community has developed in this half-hour telephone sangha that I look forward to each morning, and that years ago caused me to commit to a daily meditation practice without which I suspect I’d be losing my mind to utter anxiety at this point.
My heart grieves for all of Italy, for the horror of the unnatural aberration of death and mourning there during this pandemic. My heart grieves for all the suffering and death worldwide that is happening now and is yet to come as a result of this natural disaster, this once-in-a-hundred years pandemic, this world-changing plague, this inevitable result of too many humans exploiting a finite planet. Amidst all this grievous suffering there are also tiny sparks of joy. The practice, the balance, lies in holding the experience of the ten thousand joys and the ten thousand sorrows at the same time.
It is an inconceivable situation. And, for this one iota of life called me, as I learned to breathe with decades ago in a Thich Nhat Hanh meditation, In this moment, all is well. Inhale In this moment, exhale all is well. Over and over. And over. In the next moment, or the next month, or six months from now, it might not be. “We’ll know more later,” as my auntie always says.
Although there are some things, very few things, that we will not know more later about, like the past month in the life of the flan-tummied cat Topaz.