Sunday, January 27, 2013

A Crafted Life

Reposted with some edits from May 2009

During a visit Zak I fell into discussions about deeper issues as we worked. The practice of Buddhism is a frequent topic when we get together. As practiced by most Westerners Buddhism is a discipline, rather than a religion, since there is no worship and no affirmation of a deity.

And, in fact this is apparently exactly what the Buddha in mind. He was not concerned with religion or the hereafter. When some of his students came to him, saying they were leaving because he had not told them what happened after death, he asked, "Did I ever say I would address the question of the hereafter?"

"No, Master, you did not," they answered.

"No," he replied. "I only said I would teach you to deal with suffering, and it is suffering that leads you to worry about the hereafter."

As I see it (and I am no scholar) my practice of Buddhism serves to discipline body and mind, encourages me to live a useful life, and helps as I struggle to grasp the nature of reality. By the time you are in your late 60s and have lost grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, children, siblings, cousins, friends, co-workers and colleagues you begin to realize that we are all temporary manifestations of energy in an unending dance of cosmic energy. We wink in and out like lightening bugs on a summer night.

When I grasped the nature of reality, and accepted the nature of birth and death I found a visceral sense of being at one with the universe. I think that is what is referred to as enlightenment. It's not some sanctified state of bliss, or any kind of holiness. It is knowing to your core that this is the moment you have now, and with it you build your life as a carpenter builds a house with wood and a box of nails. It is the knowledge that we create our own reality. We find (and we see) what we look for.

You can fret over past hurts, wrongs and anxieties or worry about what tragedy may come tomorrow. You can spend your time struggling to control others or in amassing things which mean nothing. When you bang your life together with greed, selfishness or resentment the character you build is as plain to the onlooker as is a house thrown together by a disinterested carpenter. The character of the craftsman is revealed by the work. Even a simple house is beautiful when crafted with care.

I've come to feel that the more you attempt to explain the peace that comes with living in the moment the less understandable it is. You cannot absorb it from someone else, buy it or attach yourself to it. You can only learn it by practicing it. You practice by attending to the moment, and by letting go of your expectations that it is someone else's responsibility to provide you with happiness. You practice it by bringing your thoughts back to the now and living in the moment at hand with discipline and responsibility.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Bearable Only Through Love

There's this thing about cats. Not having one is a disaster. So when Salvador the Maine Coon died last February, though I swore at the Vet's office that Sal was our last cat, within 48 hours we had adopted a gorgeous long-haired silver tortie named Smokey.

We were told Smokey was three years old, and thus was fully grown. He seemed very small compared to Sal's hefty 22 pounds, and weighing him he did indeed weigh in at just barely half Sal's weight. We joked that he looked like he was walking sitting down, because not only was his hair very long his legs are very short. Sal could jump five feet straight up. Smokey can't even jump on the bedside table. He can barely jump on the bed!

But he's a sweetheart. Obviously never cuddled in his former home, he was not a lap cat when he arrived, but within weeks he loved being held on his back and rocked just as much as his predecessor, and every other cat I've ever been owned by. He also didn't purr when he came to us, and with a little purring encouragement, he was soon "voicing" his pleasure in snuggles and conversation.

He is the most social cat we've ever had. He loves everyone! Sal would run to the bedroom when visitors arrived. Smokey runs to the door. Smokey runs out the door and soon was running up and down the hall looking for people to talk to every time the door opened. Several times a day I'd prop our door open and let him into the hall, where he'd run the length, sniffing at the doors where other four-leggers live, greeting the neighbours, greeting and playing with their dogs. Everyone knew Smokey.

As time went by we noticed something. Smokey was growing. Smokey shouldn't be growing, but he has gotten a full third bigger since he arrived, in both height, length and weight, so we think he was probably more like a year old. His teeth are still "kitten" teeth, very sharp, no wear, and he is extremely playful and energetic. But he's a good boy, and we don't mind that he's younger than we thought he was.

There's a rental unit down the hall. A young man moved in there about two months ago. A young man with a large, aggressive pit bull he can barely control. This ended our hallway walks, visits and playtime. Everyone is cautious of their animals now, no one wants to encounter this pitbull in the hallway. So Smokey has to stay inside.

He begged at the door for hours at a time, he scratched and cried and begged some more. He gradually became discouraged, simply lying on the mat with his nose stuck under the door. He grew clingy and depressed, wanting to be rocked and held for hours every day, sleeping much of the day. He cried when we went to bed at night. He didn't want to play. It was obvious we had to do something.

Enter the something: An eight week old tiger-striped male kitten we have named Sal2. Smokey is face washer, guardian ("Why is my baby crying?"), playmate and comforter. No more boredom. They wear each other out.

Smokey is huge compared to Sal2. He jumps on top of this tiny kitten and appears to be intent on killing him. The kitten screams like a banshee, crawls out from under the mountain of fur, sidewalks like a crab, growling fiercely, and then leaps on Smokey's back like the cowboys in the old west movies leapt on their horses. They go tumbling all over the floor, screaming and hissing until they lie panting in each others' arms with big cat grins on their faces.

Smokey is one happy camper. Sal2 is a happy kitten. When they lay together and Smokey washes Sal2's ears and face, the kitten gets the biggest smile on his face, and his purring can be heard across the room.

I guess what Carl Sagan said applies even to cats. “For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.”