For the Love of Lucy

I hear that Lucy arranged herself just so.
Just as if she knew it was time to go.
And finding a position for her limbs, she passed.

The posting titled Animals and End of Life Issues, has stimulated quite a bit of feedback. The following letter is from a former congregation member in Edmonton and I know just how hard it was for her during and after the family dog Sandy died. So I was especially pleased to receive this letter. I believe it is not uncommon for this kind of resolution to come via a dream. Some dreams have a particular quality to them and can convey a teaching or, as in this case can console and help set grief and loss to rest.

Dear Reverend Master Mugo,
I caught up on your website and enjoyed your recent postings about animals. I especially appreciated the writing about Peter the cat and the kind act that the neighbor performed. I was holding onto a little regret and self-blame with Sandy’s death – it really hurt to think of the suffering she endured near the end. About a week ago, she appeared to me in a dream. I gave her a meal and she stepped up to place her paws in my hands- we were standing face to face. She was completely content and joyful and communicated the utmost gratitude towards me. It really helped me to start to let go of those feelings of regret and guilt.

On this note, could you please offer merit to Jasper the dog? When Chris was here last, we happened upon a dog that had just been hit by a car. It was in front of a neighbor’s house and the dog was just a pup. It was really admirable how Jasper’s person handled the unfortunate situation. I could tell that she was upset but she remained calm and was most worried about the woman who hit Jasper who was very shook up. She consoled the woman and tried to assure her that it was not her fault. I ran into my neighbor last night and she informed me that Jasper had been put to sleep. His leg was broken in two places. She thinks that Jasper was chasing a butterfly when he got in the way of the van driving by.

I last saw Lucy in Montana four years ago when this picture was taken with one of her loving companions. The list is long. Leo and Buddy come especially to mind this evening. Perhaps we will all meet in our dreams.

I’m in Whitefish Montana.



The Peace of Wild things

When despair grows in me
and I wake in the middle of the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come to the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light.
For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Wendell Berry

The following is part of a comment left on a previous posting titled Animals and End of Life Issues.

The situation of Peter Cat reminds me that, just as for humans, it’s helpful to have written Last Wishes for one’s animals in case they die while under the care of another person. Continued…

Be it forethought of grief or afterthoughts of grief, rest in the grace of the world. In wild places.

Many thanks to Nic for another great poem.

Smelling the Flowers with Fiona

To-day Fiona Robyn is visiting Jade Mountains on her blog tour. Welcome. Fiona’s new book ‘small stones: a year of moments’ has not reached my hands because we are on different continents however I have visited her blog, a small stone. Before we talk here are a couple of pictures with text to give you an idea of what the stones look like.


The bush’s branches are clotted with red berries. From inside the house three ginger cats eye me as I walk past.


the fur stroked out
of her silver coat
rests on her back
downy dandelion seeds
waiting to be blown away
on a -puff- of breeze
to take root in
the earth, to grow

I’d intended to do a back and forth instant messaging conversation with Fiona but the time difference and prior commitments had me writing down questions instead. They stir dim memories of exam papers, not something I’d want to inflict on anybody. But needs must…

Do you go about your day getting on with things and then at some point sit down and see what comes to mind in terms of a ‘stone’ to post. Or do you find yourself deliberately taking a mental snapshot of something in particular and then translate that into words when you sit down to write?

A mixture – but I think the best small stones come from the latter, when I see or touch or hear something and think ‘ah!’ and make a mental (or physical) note to write it up later. The alternative is trawling back through my day for something that struck me, and I find it quite difficult to capture a kind of ‘freshness’ when I haven’t made a mental note at the time.

Would you say to a certain extent you are looking out for ‘stones’, something to post about?

I do occasionally look for small stones in a conscious way, especially when I’m travelling – being in a car or a train seems to help me to open my eyes. But the ideal would be to live my whole life as if I was noticing a small stone. It doesn’t matter too much if I write them down or not, because the act of noticing them is the whole point. It helps me to engage with the world – to get in close.

The closest I get to what you do is the photographs I seem to be taking currently. I say ‘seem to’ because I can honestly say I’m not looking for anything or to convey anything through them either. Would that be where you are with writing or are you purposefully trying to say something?

Hmm – I’m definitely not thinking about what I want to convey with individual small stones, e.g. ‘ah, a homeless person, I’ll write about him to highlight the issue of homelessness’. In a way I’m trying to say the same thing over and over with every small stone – pay attention! Look at things properly! Wake up!

I know you have an interest in Buddhism. Have you anything you would like to say about that? For example from where you sit now what impact does it, the theory and/or the practice have on you in you day?

I didn’t really know anything about Buddhism when I started writing my small stones. I discovered Pema Chodron first, after finding her quotes scattered across the internet and buying one of her books, and this led me to Suzuki Shunryu, Charlotte Joko Beck, Jakusho Kwong and Natalie Goldberg. Soto Zen as a tradition probably appeals to me the most. I like the idea of non-clinging, as a way of engaging more fully with what is there, and I like the discipline of ‘just sitting’ (I have a modest practice and sit for 20 minutes in the morning). I like the idea of ‘big mind’ and of interconnection. It has become very important to me as something I continue to learn from, and although I don’t know if I’d say ‘I am a Buddhist’ I’d definitely say ‘Buddhist ideas have been hugely important to me’. I dedicated the book to Suzuki Shunryu as I was so moved by his presence through what is written about him, particularly after reading his biography, Crooked Cucumber. I hope he’d approve of my small stones, as my attempt to ‘just notice’ and then ‘just write it down’.

The late head of our Order would often encourage us to take time to smell the roses. I guess that’s what Fiona is encouraging us to do too. Thanks for the reminder.

Up For Adoption

Today I wrote the following in an email to a sangha friend. She is readying herself to part with her dearly beloved cat companion. Life circumstances have configured in such a way that having the cat adopted is the only real option. They have been together for many years and the parting, like any parting, is heart wrenching.

Hang in there re the cat adoption. If you would like to write about the whole business please do. I ask that because I’m starting to publish material from readers. You have a way with words and letting go of a cat for adoption, or animal of any species for any reason, is a major life event. I still think of my pony who had to go and live at a riding stable when I left home. And I wonder if he is alive or not, probably not. I wonder where is he buried and how did he die, I’ll never know? I still don’t like to think of him as dead even now. As a matter of fact I had a dream about a gray pony last night and we were having a fine old time getting to know each other. My pony was gray.
I guess our animal friends never leave us and yet all relationships must end, sooner or later.

In gassho,

The email has been slightly edited and additions have been made.
For those who adopt, are adopted or will adopt in the future. Animal or human.

Animals and End of Life Issues

Dear Reverend Mugo,
I wonder if Peter could feature on your blog as part of my asking for merit for him? He was an old boy of around sixteen. A friend adopted him when he was about seven and had him for nine years. She moved away four weeks ago and he stayed with me (much to Matthew Cat’s disgust). Sadly he passed away on Saturday with the help of the vet. His body was in a parlous state and I feel very sad for him. I would like to celebrate his being with us and share his picture (with others).

Dear Friend,
Sure I’d be glad to publish the photograph and may I publish the information in your email please? Mugo
Absolutely. It may give others confidence to do what seems crazy but was so the right thing!
Best wishes and love xxx

Photograph of Peter the cat, recently deceased.

Reverend Mugo,
The actual process was awful. I could tell you the details if you want. It isn’t nice and easy at all. I felt bad that I hadn’t handled it well. Because the cat had only been with me four weeks I hadn’t thought about what I would do re burial etc. When the vet said “shall I take him?” I didn’t know what to do as my garden is too small and my friend suggested it would be better to let the vet take him for cremation. She was trying to be kind to me as I was distraught and traumatised. This was Saturday evening. I woke in the early hours and thought I could have buried him in the allotment and imagined him all uncared for being put in a pile of animals and treated not kindly (although the vet had said they do it sensitively). I felt he was just as important as my own cat and I wouldn’t have dreamt of letting Matthew go to be cremated without a proper send off.
Then this morning (Monday) I sat with it and asked (in meditation) if I really should ask for the cat’s body back from the vet – and the answer was ‘yes’. They were great, acted like it was a perfectly normal request. He was wrapped neatly in the red blanket I had given to the vet as he left and Peter was curled up inside like he was asleep – quite stiff so had obviously been put like that before this morning. I was able to say goodbye properly.
And strangely, I saw a neighbour as I was setting off to fetch him. When I got Peter I began to go to the allotment and something said – that neighbour lives next door to where Peter lived and perhaps he would be willing to let him be buried in his side garden. I went home and asked and he came straight out and found a lovely spot by bushes, against the wall, dug the hole for me, filled it in. Came to my garden and collected a large thin piece of stone to put on top of him and made it the right size. All this with no big fuss and a kind hand on my shoulder because of my tears.
So Peter is buried properly in a place he used to hang out in and I can say hello to him as I pass by.
What a lovely man. He loves birds and isn’t fond of cats but he did that. He knew Peter and had asked about him when his person left the village and the cat came to live with me. He said it was fitting Peter was buried there because he spent a lot of time in his garden and he had even been found once asleep on this man’s bed.

Recently I’ve been witness, indirectly via email, to a number of animal deaths. All came about through the intervention of the vet administrating a lethal injection. Anybody who has ever been in the position of having to make that decision will know how difficult it is. There are Preceptual issues. There are personal ones both practical and emotional. And there are the other people surrounding the animal and their fears, desires and issues to take into consideration.

When possible we perform a funeral for animals. This can be a simple ceremony or a more elaborate one as circumstances allow. However an animal goes be it by lethal injection or otherwise the important thing is to love them with all of ones being. And in their passing it is important not to harbour regret or self blame.

Published for all those who have been in similar circumstances.