Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Another You


Imagine if a couple of crazy bio-engineers knocked on your door one morning and presented you with an almost identical clone of yourself. It looked like you, walked, talked and acted in the exact same way as you do; it had the same scars and wrinkles, the same weight and fitness levels, the same dreams and ambitions… the exact same potential…

The only difference, they said, between this new you and the older model you inhabit is that when the recent arrival set its mind on a task, whether great or small, it was able to apply tireless dedication to the job of completing that task.

Rather than sitting on the couch, eating comfort cream cakes because you broke your healthy-eating pledge within 12 hours, after succumbing to the understandable temptation of a milk chocolate Hob Nob, then decided you were a complete failure at everything and always had been, the driven you – having lapsed for an almost identical, tasty biscuit - would be out on a brisk walk, taking the opportunity not even to start again, but to continue, recognising that a biscuit does not herald personal Armageddon, and that a few extra minutes of stomping the streets will soon burn off the calorific content of the sneaky snack.

And while you’re glaring at the computer monitor - obsessed with levelling up your Norwegian Forest Cat character on World of Hello Kitty Craft - your facsimile is getting on with the creative projects that you could, without all the procrastination, have finished literally years ago. They’ve just written ‘The End’ on that first novel you’d given up pretending to yourself you’d ever finish, and it only took them weeks of disciplined work to get it done, at last.

Your clone decided to give up the bad habits you shared. It made the choice and just did it – no whining and no looking back. It breathes fresh air, eats mostly healthy, nutritious food, takes regular exercise. If it goes out on a social whirl, it drinks responsibly and arrives home conscious, able to make it out of bed with ease at dawn the next day, while you’re still groaning and kicking yourself at Sunset, nursing a hangover so severe that you become convinced that an Eastern European government agent must have spiked you with some cruel and agonising poison that was leading you through to a lingering, miserable death.

With the money it saved on cutting out all the unnecessary and impulse purchases (of diet drinks, chocolate bars, tobacco, wine, etc.) even its bank balance was looking healthy.

Without doubt, even though the two of you were on exactly the same footing, with the very same potential, before the experiment began, you can guarantee that ten years down the line (and barring the occurrence of an unfortunate accident or ailment), the clone is going to find itself in a much more comfortable position in life, compared to the apathetic, unmotivated, self-defeating Mark I who blew that same decade on hope and good intentions.

And ten years later, to the day, those mysterious men come back to check on their experiment. The clone has done so well, won awards and even become something of a minor celebrity, so the scientist can’t even take it back to the lab for the thorough autopsy they were so excited about performing.

You look at this other you and realise it doesn’t look like you any more. It looks like how you wished you looked. It has achieved things you wish you had achieved, been places you’d always hoped to go but never actually made it to…

And then the bio-wizards reveal the awful truth…

… that there was never any difference between you and your double. You were perfect copies and all along, you were always just as capable of invoking the same determination that would have allowed you, too, to live your life to the same fullness.

Monday, 7 October 2013

A Cat’s Guide to Coping with Grief



The past two weeks have been an ordeal for us humans here at the homestead, but through the sadness of losing their Mum, our remaining cats - brothers Titan and Orion – have been a constant source of comfort and kitty cuddles. Their father ran out on them before they were born. Scratchy was their parents, and now they are orphaned. It really should be us furless ones consoling them.

Yet, the boys get along with their cattypuss routine just as they did before. There’s a little more food in their dish at din dins, a little less poop in the litter tray and extra space on the bed to choose from when curling up to sleep, but there’s no trauma… no frantic pacing of the house, crying and howling, mourning the loss of their dear mother.

As the cyber-pandemic of hyper-viral cat memes shows, we like to project opinion upon our kitties, and though I’m sure there have been a number of moments and incidents since Scratchy died that I could narrate as the boys recognising their loss, they would be romantic imaginations.

One such event was that I was cuddling them both on my bed and – which happens rarely – they were close beside each other. Titan gave a polite nod to Orion, before bopping foreheads, and – almost unheard of – Orion didn’t feel he had to retaliate. He bopped right back, with a purr. I wondered if they realised it was just the two of them, now, and maybe they were becoming closer because of it. Almost the instant I thought that, Titan bit Orion’s ear. He couldn’t resist it. It’s what he does. Orion leapt up and swiped Titan across the face, then he jumped off the bed and ran downstairs.

The truth is, they’re just getting on with their lives, doing what they always do, and though, through the filter of the human ego, it may seem they’re coldly aloof to Scratchy’s disappearance, it gives me peace that they don’t grieve like we do.

Eckhart Tolle famously wrote:

“I’ve lived with several Zen masters - all of them cats.”

Such truth, and we can learn so much about present awareness just by making our fluffy companions the focus of our attention… and, thus, zoning into the moment. Depending on their schedule and assuming they have free time for a massage, lovingly stroking a kitty is a perfect portal to a wrap-around experiment in mindfulness.

(There will be so many people out there who will insist that practicing mindfulness is too difficult, to the point of assuming it’s personally impossible, yet they’ll do it like masters when they’re pampering their pussies.)

In the first few days after Scratchy departed, I’d look at Titan and Orion and get a sick feeling in my chest, wondering which one would be next… which one would be left… how much longer would I have with them? I soon recognised and recalled, though, that that was just my stupid ego-brain thinking – not to be listened to, as usual - and miring myself in such consideration was wasting both our time.

Now, once again, I find myself hypnotised by them as they flop down beside me, purring and snuggling in beside my chest, or as they dance around the garden, tails up, chasing a moth or something that most likely isn’t even there. I watch, listen and feel… and smell, too, occasionally, when they yawn mid-cuddle and I get a waft of cat breath. (I was going to say that no, the final of the five senses is off the agenda when immersed in the cat appreciation experience, but I swear, sometimes Titan lets one off and it is so thick and rancid a pollutant of the air, you do seem to be able to taste it, even if you evacuate to other areas of the house.)

Focussing the senses allows us to become reacquainted with joys the mind has long-ago labelled mundane. You can drive through the same stunning woodland every weekday morning, but only ever see the road. You can look at your partner and see a familiar face, rather than get that rush of adoration, lust and gratitude that used to hit you in the early days of your relationship. A purr can be just a noise you hear.

Invoking present awareness gives us the opportunity to refresh our experience of life. It can be a challenge to keep on refreshing, especially when you feel like you’re under artillery assault from the encircling armed forces of Shitland, but the wild thing is that – truly in every moment; including the toughest moments – we can step back into our tranquil centre and let go… even just for a little while… shutting out the mental clatter and all the drama that whistles and whirls around us as we forge forward along these paths we choose to walk.

I’d like to come back as a cat, if reincarnation works. Our ‘superior’ Super-Ape brains are good for a great many things – such as inventing the Internet and discovering the perfect recipe for Carrot Cake – but, despite all the philosophical rumblings from humanity over these past few thousand years of so-called civilisation, cats are far our superior when it comes to just chilling out and letting worries drift away.

Cats are indeed our little Zen teachers, and not everyone will be fortunate enough to learn from them, but I am grateful for all the lessons from my feline friends, past, present and future. I will aspire to be more like a cat from meow on!

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Awakening (Part Three) - Reawakening



I was sitting out in my back garden, a few nights ago, on the old, broken-armed office chair that was once in my room, and I was crying my heart out, lost in what felt like a new depth of sadness and grief. I’ve really never had to endure such emotional trauma in life, before.

Losing my precious and beloved kitty, Scratchy, last week, and with my Mum’s passing still seeming so raw, as well as my eldest brother’s precarious state of health and a close encounter with the afterlife by my Dad… and add in my own near-fatal medical emergency, last October, and you can perhaps empathise, if not sympathise, with the overwhelming feeling that life has been a rotten bastard to me this year.

I sat there, looking up at the stars but not seeing them, and I knew that I was just a few days into what could be months of grieving. Scratchy was my family. Some people won’t understand that, and I pity them. She’s been such an important part of my life for sixteen-and-a-half years. I love her. I miss her. There are too few cats in my house, now. Her loss is massive.

I couldn’t see the way forward. All I wanted to do was collapse in some dark, warm corner, wrapped in a big duvet, and ride out the next few months by sleeping, but that would spell absolute disaster on the accommodation front. I need to make money, but inaction is not conducive to the income of shinies. Yet, I felt emotionally wrung out and just so consumed by misery that I couldn’t imagine being able to write anything creative, positive or inspiring to make money from, at least for a good while ahead.

I got annoyed with myself, thinking: ‘Why don’t you practise what you preach, Les?’

With that reminder to myself… that break in that turmoil of emotion I was choking on… I sat up straight, put my hands on my knees, closed my eyes and listened to the night; the faint hiss of traffic on the motorway, a few miles away; the light breeze in the trees and the soft rustling of leaves; the cries and hoots of a very vocal owl that has taken up residence somewhere in the village over the past few weeks…

A few moments later, I felt as clear-headed and tranquil as I did on the mountain in Lochgoilhead. Just as I’ve written, so many times, all that emotional agony slipped away and I was at peace again. Even though this period of life could be fairly described as the worst I’ve ever experienced, I was able to invoke present awareness and return to my calm centre.

Wiping the tears from my eyes and face, I questioned myself again. There was nobody else around. I’d been sitting there, crying alone, so who was this show of sorrow for? For me? Really? When what I needed most in my life was strength, I was disabling myself with grief?

The tears weren’t helping my Mum or Scratchy – they weren’t going to drop on the ground and magically bring them back to life. Nor did they have any healing benefit to my sick brother or my Dad, or any financial value that I could add towards securing accommodation and a stable future. And they most certainly weren’t helping me in any way whatsoever.

It dawned on me that grief is just another manifestation of the ego and, however many excuses I could make and reasons I could find to justify my weakness, I was feeling sorry for myself – and, it was only that which was separating me from a return to having a happy and productive life, to building a future of my own design.

I’m accepting of death. I don’t fear it. Wherever my loved ones go to, I’ll follow, when it’s time. Whether that be to some sparkly afterlife or an eternal sleep is not important to me, while I’m alive. I know they’re at peace and I’ll join them there when I have to.

The thing about grief is that it’s so addictive. You don’t want to climb out of it, as if wallowing in that hole is some kind of show of loyalty or respect to those you’ve lost… but like I’ve written before in my blog, those same souls would never want to expose us to such terrible emotional pain. They would want us to be happy – no question about it.

So, it all boils down to the same egoic process of malfunctioned thinking that finds pain in the mismatch between what the mind wants, and what is real and tangible in the world we experience.

Many people have told me that it’s okay to cry… even that it’s necessary… but it’s okay not to cry, too, and I don’t mean to any longer, now I can see so clearly that I’ve been crying for myself.

The housing situation became unexpectedly critical over the weekend, with my eldest brother telling us that – because he’s coming up to 12 weeks in hospital, in a period of one year – most of his benefits are due to be stopped, since the government see him as effectively living in hospital. My other brother and I just can’t afford to keep the house on, as things stand, and this was another thing that was eating away at me… not so much losing accommodation, but losing the home I’ve spent most of the days of my life in and all the memories and sentiment attached to it, as well as the fact that I have dear kitties and other creatures buried in the back garden.

I’m not worried about that, now. If I have an attachment to this house which will cause me pain when I’m parted from it, then I have to let it go. Perhaps some new family will take over the tenancy and dig up the bones of my pets, but those bones are not the creatures I loved so much.

The weight of the world has fallen from my shoulders. Life is exactly the way it is, and I choose to accept that, rather than wish, to no avail, it were different.

I feel as present and serene as I did when I experienced my 'Awakening’, back in February 2010, and do feel this is a ‘Reawakening’. I’ve managed to purge all the junk in my head and open my heart to a new beginning… to accept loss of even this magnitude as part and parcel of life… and to know that there’s nothing now that can happen that will drag me so far down, again, into that emotional tar pit I’ve been struggling through over the course of the past twelve months.

So, whilst enduring my greatest weakness, I’ve found my greatest strength again, and I’m reminded of how powerful a tool present awareness is, as well as how important it is that I keep sharing my experiences. I’m qualified to write and talk about mindfulness and death, now – which, before all this cascading tragedy began, I knew would be my greatest challenge to practicing being in the moment. I’ve passed the test, and I’m sure there will be many out there in the world who would like to learn how to alleviate their own pain in such times.

I also want to teach young adults present awareness. As much as I accept my life as it has been, and many of the ‘failures’ have helped build spiritual muscles that I was never aware of before, I spent too many years deluding myself that the world was torment, when – apart from the sad song of depression I kept singing to myself – it was actually pretty cosy. There are too many people who are lost in depression when they could and should be having the time of their life, and it would be great to nudge some of them towards a more positive and enriching way of living.

I feel a little like the protagonist in a three act structure of a play. The rules are, at the end of the second act, the protagonist must face an almost overwhelming challenge that threatens to destroy them in some way, yet they come good and conquer it.

From Wikipedia:

“They must not only learn new skills but arrive at a higher sense of awareness of who they are and what they are capable of, in order to deal with their predicament, which in turn changes who they are.”

And if life has meaning and there’s a purpose to everything you experience and process, then I regard my Awakening in 2010 as preparation for the times I’m living through, at the moment. Without that event, I wouldn’t be here. I couldn’t have faced things of late. Now, though, I feel like I’ve moved up to a new level, and perhaps this new strength and wisdom is in preparation for something else? As I said, I can’t envisage anything worse than losing those I love, so maybe my Act Three is about teaching and learning and living a good life, spreading peace and the jollies wherever I go and in whatever I do?

I choose that path.

Awakening is a constant process of adaptivity to change. It’s a spiritual bullshit detector that filters out the falsehood of the egoic mind from the true joys and beauty in life, which you’ll see when you look at it right.

It’s not a magic trick. It’s not a superpower. It’s a truth at the core of us, and we are all able to access this strength, whenever we need it. Some of us have just forgotten how, so I’ll make it my mission in life to remind them – and myself.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Goodbye Kitty


Curled up forever in my toasty-warm heart...

I was there the moment Itchy died, on Midsummer’s Eve, fifteen years ago, and I was there for his twin sister, Scratchy, earlier this evening, when the vet injected her with anaesthetic, prior to administering the heart-stopper medication.

She was calm and didn’t struggle or seem disturbed in any way. I looked into her eyes and told her I loved her – and I love her, oh gosh – and then her eyes weren’t seeing me any more, and never will again.

My beautiful little girl. I am typing this with tears streaming down my face. It was the right decision, because she was so weak and frail and ill… but, damn, it hurts so much to know that she’s dead. Gone. No more purrs or head-butts or tail slinking around my lower leg as she brushes past.

I explain how I first met her, along with her brother, in my A Tale of Two Kitties blog. She’s been a constant source of love since we were introduced, when she was an inquisitive kitten of eight weeks old. I’m coming up to 40 and she’s been with me since my early 20s – sixteen-and-a-half years… 82 cat years. She is such a massive, massive part of my life… such an important part of my family… and I just watched the light go out of her eyes.

Scratchy (left) and Itchy

Fierce kitties!

Titan, Scratchy & Orion