Right now I’m sitting in my study, looking out the big window as dusk settles over the treetops, thinking back to about a dozen years or so ago when I’d just got my cat. I’d never had a pet before. Lots of reasons for that, but most of all I didn’t want to own a living, breathing being. It just seemed wrong for me, though I played plenty with other people’s pets and didn’t mind at all that they owned theirs.
The problem was I needed company. I do much of my work at home, and I live alone in the woods. Alone. I’m surrounded…engulfed really by life. Summer nights it sounds like a drumming, the chatter of life’s so loud. I used to see luna moths stuck to my screen door in the mornings like lime green paper sculptures, but not recently. There’s some skunks that stink up the place sometimes, and they are be-e-e-eautiful. This year the fireflies have come back with a force; hadn’t seen them in a couple years. But, back then, a dozen years ago, I was lonely and I figured I needed some living soul inside the house with me. A friend couldn’t keep his cat; would I take it? I said yes.
I met the cat the day I picked him up, a two year old orange tabby with gold eyes. One of those weird things happened when we met, as if a little invisible spark had jumped between us. My friend noticed; he admitted he was a little jealous as he said goodbye to his pet, now my pet. A condition I’d not really prepared myself for.
Jet was the cat’s name, for some reason that eluded me. So I changed it to Pico della Mirandola, and called him Pico.
Now Pico was not an alpha male; he adjusted quickly and recognized his new name in short time, was not very willful unless I’d missed a playtime with him. And then I too learned quickly and recognized my new playtime was very beneficial to me as well as to him. And, to my surprise, it didn’t feel at all like I owned him. He enjoyed stillness. Which meant he was good company but not a distraction when I was concentrated, working…or meditating. Meditating. That’s where I was unprepared for Pico.
My daily practice is really simple, hardly any process. The goal, if there is one, is to just concentrate and still the mind to a very innocent state, completely aware of sensations but devoid of intellect and personality. This is quite therapeutic and carries through to normal life activities in various positive ways. But one effect weighs more than any of the others. The openness of mind enables, or maybe expresses, at times that are unforeseen, unitary experience, epiphany, a mystical sense of oneness, carried on the senses, not the intellect. These experiences are dazzling and profound, difficult to describe, but one has no control over when they come or how long they’ll last. I’m not suggesting a person must meditate as I do to have epiphanies, but for me the meditation does seem to keep the mind in an accessible state for when they may arise and ring in the mind for days and days afterwards, like a gong.
As to that, although I meditate daily, I’m not now nor was I then a religious person; still, it’s helpful to recognize that all of the major world religions contain traditions of unitary mystical experience embedded in them somewhere if not as part of their formal, principal structure, even though their processes, practices, dogmas, and philosophies differ. We can think of Taoism, Zen, Sufism, Tantra, Shamanism, Kabala, Quakerism, and the Carmelite Order as examples among others.
The mystic experience confers no words in itself, but each experience, no matter how long or short, imbues a sense of surety, of deepening wisdom, a non-thought, sense-driven knowledge of connection with everything real that then accumulates in the mind and heart, which makes it something large and precious in our lives. Make no mistake, it is completely other than a pursuit of rapturous pleasure in holy disguise. Some critics have judged the mystic life and experience as being just that, a form of pleasure addiction, something like an induced endorphin rush…unless they themselves experience it, which many eventually do. In fact, anybody can. Epiphanies are not uncommon. Gaze at the stars on a clear night, or at the ocean at dusk with lightning clouds out on the horizon, or into a bonfire, or even listening to or performing music. Be a little open to it, relax and concentrate, and in due course if conditions are right time will stop; your ego will drop away; the chattering calculations in your mind will die; you will become one with the stars or the ocean or the fire or the music itself. Try and explain it later in words, and they will be inadequate. As mine are now.
Pico, at first, wouldn’t stay in the room with me when I was meditating. I’d be alone when finished. But soon enough he started to be there, sphinx-like, when I was done, his saffron eyes half closed; and he became my partner in practice, and by extension part of the deepest part of my world. It continued this way for years.
When my dad had to undergo treatments for his cancer and life became difficult for him, I closed my house, put my projects on hold, and moved in with him along with Pico. This phase of my life was incredibly hard but immensely rewarding. My dad was larger than life and brilliant, but also light-hearted and funny, full of stories about his adventures and Egyptian history. And he loved to play with Pico, who loved to play. But Pico always came with me for my meditations, never missing a single day.
After Dad passed, we moved back to the deep woods. I was crushed by the loss. But I’d shared the whole experience with Pico who now shared the recovery with me. With his presence there I gradually regained my balance. I resumed my work, and life normalized for us.
Then, in January of this year, I noticed that his fragrance—which I’d always found to be oddly spicy—changed, his fur became oily and matted, he began losing weight. His feline kidney disease, which I’d been successfully managing for a decade, became unmanageable. He lost his appetite, and wasted, and slept.
When it became clear he was only suffering, I bit the bullet and had him euthanized. Hardly need to tell you how difficult that was. I wept like a child on the floor of my house. But I didn’t stop meditating; in fact, it was comforting; it was somehow as if he was still there. Even when I’d finished, and there was no golden boy sphinxing next to me, I felt like he was still there, only deep inside, one with me, with everything. I feel this still. I keep his ashes on my tiny homespun altar, with the picture of my mentor, and the Tibetan bell, the incense, the candle, and the single flower.
I have another cat now. A rescue. He’s a gray English shorthair with olive eyes, an Alpha male. I named him Mr. Moon. I call him Moonster. He’s very demanding and lively. He loves hunting, much to my occasional dismay. He sleeps in my bed with me, though not under the covers, as Pico did.
The days go by.