I’m grateful this morning that I didn’t get myself into a bigger snit this week, over a cascade of events that I experienced as aggravating and stressful. I lost my temper–but only a little bit–with the person I felt had put me in a no-win situation. I’m grateful for mindfulness practice for tempering my reactions throughout the experience, helping me keep a compassionate and friendly perspective, and for enabling me to let go once it was all resolved satisfactorily.
I’m grateful for the mind training I’ve engaged in this past year, which allowed me to recognize these worries as projections of mind rather than reality, thereby keeping rampant emotions in perspective. Frustration and resentment simply buzzed around my head like an angry bee from time to time, rather than dominating the field of love and serenity that Stellar and I have been cultivating during these last precious days together. (How many now? Ten? One? Another month?)
I can’t imagine what a mess I would have been two years ago in the same situation. Actually, I can imagine, and this clear awareness is so much easier; this letting go so much healthier. The angry bee has flown, ravens chat nearby, a sweet fall breeze stirs leaves and flowerheads. Stellar lies on his bed in shade beside the patio table where I write, resting comfortably after two short wobbles around the breakfast loop earlier. I’m grateful for the new regime of comfort meds that have given us both more physical ease, and therefore peace. Perhaps these palliative measures may extend his life a little longer, I don’t know; but the important thing is that they are giving him a better quality of life, whatever its duration.
I’m grateful today for the satisfaction of doing what I had to do, for work, for dogs, for the house and yarden. Grateful for curiosity which has allowed me to slow down and observe without attachment. Grateful for the satisfaction delivered by a BLT with leftover chicken. Grateful to go to bed after a long day, without being too hard on myself or anyone else, and with only some minor regrets. Grateful for mindfulness practice.
We’ve been planning it for weeks. I chose traditional Greek moussaka because I wanted something to do with the Navdanya eggplants I grew. I’m not a huge eggplant fan (we had a falling out many years ago), but I want to like them. This Asian variety is hardy in this climate, and gave more fruits than any previous eggplant I’ve grown. This moussaka recipe calls for potatoes, tomatoes, garlic and eggplant, all of which I was delighted, and grateful, to provide from my own back yard.
Even the tomato paste came from my garden! It is such a gratifying feeling to reach in the freezer and pull out a cube of homemade tomato paste, all that summer distilled into one little frozen block. The lamb in the meat sauce came from a nice rancher I know in the next valley over. It was a busy day, so I fit in making the first sauce with my morning coffee…
…and I whipped up a quick béchamel on my lunch break. With both sauces in the fridge I went to teach my first mindfulness class, filled with gratitude for all the day had brought so far.
Stellar rallied this morning after a long night’s sleep, eager to take a walk, and excited to see Mr. Wilson when he came to cut up slab wood for the stove. Stellar spent most of the morning here by the gate, one of his all-time favorite locations, keeping watch over his domain as always. I’m grateful for another day with him, and I showered him with attention every chance I got.
“The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention.” ~ Thích Nhất Hạnh
After class, and another short walk with Stellar, wheezing as he went, it was right back to zoom cooking with Amy. Our first task was to slice the eggplants a centimeter thick, salt them, and set in a colander.
Three of the precious few russet potatoes lent their texture and flavor as the bottom layer in this recipe. As the eggplants baked, the potatoes were sliced, fried first, then layered into a buttered pan…
One layer of eggplant covers the potato layer, which in turn gets covered by the meat sauce…
Another eggplant layer, topped with the béchamel sauce, and shredded parmesan…
And baked til golden brown! Amy has the patience of a saint. She’s two hours ahead, so she didn’t even sit down to eat til after nine p.m.
I’m grateful for a full day with lots of meaningful connection, celebrating joy in the face of sorrow, attending to a full range of emotions and letting them flow through. I’m grateful for Stellar’s resilience, rainclouds, mindfulness practice, teaching, a warm evening fire in the woodstove, and zoom cooking with Amy, moussaka edition. I’m sure I’m grateful for way more than that that I can’t remember, and I’m grateful for the warm soft bed I’m heading to now.
I’m grateful that I made choices along the way that led me to be in this life, right now, right here. I could have done so much worse for myself. I could hardly have done better. I’m grateful for so many things in this life, friends, this community, this place. I’m grateful for all the amenities I’ve mentioned before, for the ancient forest around me, the animals both tame and wild who’ve shared my world. I’m grateful for the teachers, the ancestors, the fruits of their labors and of my practice. I’m grateful for this life in which I can make time to lie in the garden with my old dog for hours as he finds his way out of this life. I’m grateful for this life in which I have come to know patience, acceptance, surrender, and joy in the face of suffering.
It’s been a sweet and peaceful day at Mirador. Stellar seems more comfortable than he’s been in a week, and so am I. Having made the decision yesterday, I’m at ease with whatever happens next. And after that. And next after that…
He slept well, moved well (relatively), ate well, and napped well. He doesn’t breathe so well when he walks, but he remains eager to go for one when I ask, and we took four short walks between sunup and sundown. I worked at the computer, in the kitchen, and in the garden intermittently. It rained overnight, and again this evening. I’m grateful for one more precious day with him.
I’m also grateful for my decision: we are both more relaxed than we’ve been in a long time. Even though I told him repeatedly over the past month, as his condition deteriorated, that it was all ok, that everything was fine, that he was the best dog ever in the whole planet, he could feel that it was inconvenient, that I was annoyed with the flooded pee pads and the poops. He could tell the difference between what I said and my true feelings. What happened last night was total surrender to the way it is, so that it really is no longer an annoyance or an inconvenience. When I reaffirm the perspective that “I don’t mind what happens,” life is so much easier.
I’m grateful for the first batch of fermented hot sauce: yikes! Those Thai Dragons really give it a kick.
I’m grateful for harvesting the bulk of my eggplants today, in preparation for Zoom Cooking with Amy. We’re making Moussaka on Friday night.
I’m grateful for that tomato paste I cooked the other day. Today I scooped the frozen cubes out of the ice tray into a freezer bag for storage.
I’m grateful for the potatoes I grew. This afternoon I dug up the last of them, in anticipation of more rain. The KVNF Worms said it was fine to store them in the garden til freezing unless there was a big fall rain, which might make them sprout. I’m grateful for the little rain last night, and when it poured with lightning and thunder this evening, I was glad I had dug the potatoes this afternoon.
Just one little potato sprouted, so my timing was good to bring in the last of the Yukon Gold, russets, and red potatoes. I have a plan for the littlest of them, which will be revealed later.
I’m grateful for the leeks I grew, and for the gift of a chicken. I’ve been wanting to cook this skillet roasted chicken with caramelized leeks for awhile. So simple, so delicious! Stellar and I will both enjoy it for a few days. I’m grateful for friendship and support, and for one silver lining of Covid (and of contemplating death): reassessing my values and nurturing with more attention the relationships that nurture me.
Tonight, as I reflect on them, I’m grateful for all the dogs who’ve died on my watch. There was Sam, the pregnant stray I picked up in college; Knobby, who picked me up at a campground; Mocha, renowned for her sweetness; serious Mr. Brick, the golden bobtail, my first puppy; mischievous Raven, who died in my arms. Each of them died a different way.
I see growth over the course of this progression in my understandings of life and death. Karmically speaking, I can only hope that by the time dear Stellar dies, I’ve been able to purify the negative karma I incurred when I had Sam put down. The memories still traumatize: She won’t feel a thing, they assured me. She bucked and fought on the table, the whole time glaring at me in wide-eyed terror. It was the most horrible thing I’d experienced thus far in my young life. And the reason I did it? I’m ashamed to admit it, because now, knowing about no-kill shelters like Best Friends, I would never have even considered it. I rationalized it as the most compassionate thing to do, and it was the most compassionate way I knew at the time.
The object of my thoughts for days has been whether or not I could ever euthanize Stellar. During his seizure Sunday night, I was perhaps too willing to let him go, prematurely welcoming relief of my own suffering (and inconvenience, I have to admit). All this morning I perused online Buddhist perspectives on euthanasia. I spoke to his vet around noon, and she thinks he may have a bladder infection that’s exacerbating ‘everything else.’ So I drove to town this afternoon to pick up antibiotics.
I’ve had a couple of dreams in the past six weeks after which I vowed I would not have him put down. It’s never gone really well. The best deaths have been those rare affairs when a beloved dies on their own. A local vet came out after staving off Knobbydog’s time for a week; I ended up sleeping outside on the patio with him his last two nights before she came with the shots. A friend had helped me dig a grave down near the canyon rim: I’d never have had the courage to buy this land without the security of Knobbydog. He had a fast-growing cancer in his mouth, and was half dead by the time we took that last walk. As the vet strode briskly ahead down the trail, chatting, Knobby stopped to sniff the base of a juniper. After what seemed to me sufficient time (for his last long sniff, really?), I hurried him along. To his death.
We stood on the lookout rock together, the three of us, the vet chatting, Knobby sniffing the breeze and looking his last look into the canyon, I so sad. She gave him a sedative. After a few minutes she suggested we should walk to the graveside before he fell asleep. There under the Ancient One, I sat on the ground and held his knobby head in my lap, my arms around him, while she gave the lethal injection, chatting all the while about people I neither knew nor cared about. ‘Just shut UP!’ I kept screaming in my head. I have always regretted that I let myself feel rushed, and rushed him along. Also, I vowed to never have that vet come kill another pet for me.
So I had Doc Vincent come put down Mocha, when she could no longer rise for walk or food due to kidney failure. He was the exact opposite. He strode through the gate while I explained to Brick and Raven, and by the time I got inside he’d already wrapped the rubber around her leg. She, objecting, had crab-walked across the living room to get away from him. I gathered her into my lap on the couch and held her, cooing, while he finished the process. We had a communal funeral for her and Michael’s cat Luna, burying them both in the hole I’d dug to plant a peach tree the following spring. While that death went more smoothly, it still unsettled me. I happened too fast, and she was frightened. She didn’t understand.
Mr. Brick… I tried to let him die on his own. It was in the low twenties night after night, and he wouldn’t come inside. Paradoxically I both feared and hoped he would freeze to death, but he just hung on day after day. After days of pacing, he chose a favorite spot down by the pond and didn’t get up. But he didn’t die. Raven required a midnight run to the ER vet in Grand Junction. Stellar was a puppy and needed a lot of attention. I was exhausted. By then I’d come to believe that if I was going to do it, I should do it myself. So I consulted with another vet, gathered up my mom’s leftover morphine, some sleeping pills a friend kicked in, and my own Lorazepam prescription, and mixed up a brew, which I fed him with a syringe. But still I was impatient. It felt like hours and still he didn’t die. I feared then that he might wake up and keep living like a vegetable. I can’t write what I did next, but again, my intention was pure. Though again, tinged with concerns about convenience. Anyway, it worked, and I felt like he never woke up, though his head thrashed. Ack.
How much negative karmic imprint have I incurred so far? This is why Raven’sdeath was such a gift.
Some of the things I read this morning suggested that we listen to our pet; some argued that euthanasia is the compassionate option, others that it is the easy way out. Some raised the question of whose suffering are we trying to relieve? Many referred to the Buddhist precept of ‘no killing, not ever,’ and also used karma as a basis for ruling out euthanasia, both the pet’s karma and the person’s. Karma aside, since I’m still not clear in my understanding of nor faith in it, there was one argument that has stuck with me all day: The sense of betrayal and confusion a pet might feel when the loving hands that cuddled become the hands that kill. I thought of Sam, of course.
As I lay beside Stellar tonight, my forehead against his, stroking his soft ears, his thick ruff, his thin legs, it came clear to me. Just thinking about euthanasia had thrown a wall between us, was robbing my attention from whatever life remains to him. I chose to reaffirm my dream-inspired vow not to kill. There was an immediate sense of relief, a letting go, a flood of love released. We both relaxed. I reassured him as I did during the seizure that I will do whatever it takes to make sure he’s comfortable, and be fully present with him until his journey’s natural end. I committed to attend him with boundless patience. I felt deeply the true value of his precious life; understood viscerally for a moment the meaning of sentient being.
Maybe the antibiotics will slow down his inevitable demise, give him a few more walks in the woods, slow down the flow of pee and make him more comfortable; maybe not. He’s in doggie hospice now either way. Between the seizures and his deteriorating hind end it’s clear his neural pathways are failing. My mission is simply to ease his transition. I’m grateful for all the dead dogs that led me to this realization, and for the mindfulness practice that enables me to receive it with equanimity.
I’m grateful tonight for the towering marigold, a bountiful harvest, meaningful connections, and another day with Stellar.
He didn’t have much in him this afternoon, so our last walk of the day was a turtle hunt. I knew right where Biko was, up under the lavender cotton near the west gate, but we took our usual loop around the yard to look for him, starting out walking the east fenceline, and down to the pond. He looked back often to make sure I was following. We found Turtell and gave Stellar his treats, and came in for the night. Later, he had a seizure. I held him tight as he writhed, and afterward it took several hours for him to settle down. I thought for awhile in there that he was dying. But not this time. He’s fallen asleep now, and I am off to bed myself. I’m grateful for a full and beautiful day, for feeling calm in crisis, and for momentary peace.
Fruits of my labors today included not only abundant garden produce, but calm, compassion, and other mindfulness skills I’m learning to practice. When the contrary chimney sweep came today, I was determined to meet him with compassion in my heart, no matter how he triggered me. It was hard. He arrived more than an hour early, and when I answered the door wearing a mask, he whined like a teenage boy, “Do I really have to wear a mask?” From there it went downhill. In the next few minutes I couldn’t say a thing without him challenging me. I parried a few attacks with good cheer, but before long offered him the opportunity to leave if he’d rather not be here. Eventually I said with an even, pleasant tone, “I’m curious why you’re so contrary.”
After that he calmed down. I went into the bathroom to breathe, I went into the pantry to breathe. I offered him some fresh tomatoes to take home. Eventually, I sat on the stairs and chatted with him as he cleaned the stove. He actually chuckled. It was a successful application of meeting a challenging person with compassion and curiosity, instead of resisting his demeanor and shutting down from the triggered trauma of being baited. Even when he cheered the killing of wolves, I simply sat quietly looking at my hands until he went back up on the roof. All in all, it was a very successful harvest of the fruits of my mindfulness practice, for which I am supremely grateful.
Tomatoes, tomatillos, peppers and basil dominated the top layer of the harvest basket, while the second layer revealed the dwindling harvest of cucumbers and green beans as well as more cherry tomatoes. I still can’t use the sink, and the day was filled with other obligations anyway, but tomorrow will bring another canning session, with or without a drain: the harvest can’t wait.
One of the brandywines, sliced for a sandwich, along with lettuce-leaf basil, bacon, and mayo. Have I mentioned that I’m grateful for mayonnaise?
I’m grateful today and every day for having spent the past year in the Mindful Life Program teacher training, and to now be certified to teach mindfulness and meditation, sharing the benefits of skills that have transformed me from an anxious, angry person, into one who dwells largely in gratitude, acceptance, wisdom and contentment. I’m excited to announce that I’ll be teaching the MLP Mindfulness Foundations Course quarterly starting October 1. Please feel free to share this poster and this link to the full course description with anyone you think might be interested in learning how to choose which thoughts to follow and which to ignore, how to respond wisely to emotional triggers rather than react habitually, and much more. Please comment or email me if you would like more information.
Meanwhile, back in the garden… a beautiful harvest. Fewer green beans now, as they’re getting hard to reach, and also I’m letting many pods mature so I’ll have dried beans for winter. The first few tomatoes are beginning to ripen, and to split after the 1.4″ of rain we received in the past two days. How grateful we all are for that! Also in today’s basket, parsley, cherry tomatoes, lettuce leaf basil, and radish seedpods, as well as a handful of fat carrots.
With the carrots come carrot tops, and I couldn’t bear to just compost them, having read that they’re edible too. So I made a batch of carrot top pesto with them and some basil, following the note at the bottom of the recipe for an Italian twist.
Two packed cups of trimmed carrot tops, one cup of basil, fresh oregano, a handful of pecans, lemon zest and juice, and more, all zapped down to less than a pint of pesto, which went right into the freezer. I licked the spatula, of course, and the bowl, and it was delicious. Plenty more where that came from! I’m grateful for the garden, for bountiful harvest, for water, for making the most of carrots, for a food processor, for a fridge and freezer, for electricity to power them… Gratitude for any one thing in any given day ripples out to encompass gratitude for so much more.
I’m alive! I’m so grateful to be on the other side of the colonoscopy. I had intended to turn over a new leaf and eat really well as I restart my digestive system. My kind companions allowed me a stop at the grocery store and I suddenly craved the comfort food of my youth, frosted flakes. I don’t think Tony the Tiger always wore glasses, did he? Is that just to make him still relatable to us baby boomers?
“Choose to be optimistic, it feels better.” ~ 14th Dalai Lama
Yesterday and today I really came to terms with this guidance. I’m grateful for the mindfulness practice that has given me more control over my unruly, anxious mind. The procedure went really well this morning. I spent the past two days telling myself that it might just be a wonderful experience, the previous few weeks cultivating a neutral, fearless attitude toward it, and the last three months intermittently dreading it, while largely remembering that I am capable and resilient enough to handle whatever the outcome of this test would be. I went from viewing it as unpleasant, to neutral, to pleasant. His Holiness is right, it feels better to be optimistic.
It was a wonderful experience. I was bathed in loving kindness from the minute my friends picked me up. The hospital staff was so kind, from the intake lady to the anesthetist to the surgeon, with all the nurses in between who were friendly, cheerful, efficient, downright doting. Nurses are a breed apart: they may be the most compassionate subset of humans that exist. The last thing I remember as I lay on my left side slowly losing awareness is the pressure of a compassionate hand on my arm, another on my back. I slept deeply and dreamed. In no time, I opened my eyes, for a second disoriented but feeling thoroughly comfortable and safe.
After the selflessness, generosity, and kindness I experienced today, I’ve come to the humbling realization that my interest in others is sincere; yet my interest in my own safety continues to supersede all other interests, despite all the wisdom, compassion and insight I’ve gained through mindfulness practice. This tenacious drive for personal safety is a result of being ACOA, I suspect. My highest priority is feeling safe. The safeness I need to feel can only come from within a complete surrender to Impermanence: I can’t even say to Uncertainty. It has to be Impermanence, because that is the single Certainty of our existence. Today, grounded in mindfulness, awash in TLC, I was able to embrace a daunting emotional challenge with optimism and gratitude. I’m grateful for tender loving care from a multitude today, and celebrating a new lease on life.
There was just enough time before pickup this morning to play a few minutes with the new camera. I am grateful for the feathered gems.