May 31, 2014 |
This week I learned again, at the death of my friend, Night, that if pain is not to become our master it must be our teacher. Granted, it is not easy to listen for the lessons of pain when it is burning a hole in your chest. Yet even in that grief, I think I can hear, ever so faintly, a voice of growth.
Specifically, it was in how I had to physically let her go. This was my first experience with euthanasia, and frankly, I hope it’s my last as well. I approached this decision as I have all the other, smaller problems of my life: asking for help (this time, crying out for it); casting the I Ching; meditating, silencing thought and fear until I could hear the voice of truth from somewhere inside.
Maybe that’s why this agony of loss began to whisper lessons, even as I held my old friend near me while the doctor pushed the death-giving drugs into her body. Some time later, alone at home, I recalled what had happened. He had come into the room with three syringes. I had already been there half an hour or so, holding my beautiful friend and saying good bye.
Three syringes: one white, the second green, the third pink. I guess the color-coding is meant to ensure against any error in the order of administration. The doctor quietly explained what would happen in the next minute or so: he would flush the IV with the stuff in the white syringe; the green would sedate Night completely, basically knock her out; and the third, the pink, would end her life. And that is exactly what happened: seconds after the green had gone into her, she settled more deeply beside me, soft and relaxed. The pink then went in; the doctor pressed his stethoscope against her heart and seconds later muttered, “she has passed.” He said I could stay with her as long as I wanted and left.
I did stay a while longer, holding her, nuzzling her dead body, weeping quietly into her lifeless fur. Pain’s teaching was probably already working then, on my unconscious being. But it needed time to reach awareness. At the time, the only thing I felt was the hot razor of grief, calmly and thoroughly disemboweling me from within.
I went home and sat in a wretched meditation of desolation. But I have learned, time and again, that there is wisdom in desperation, even in a howling pit of darkness and loss. So I waited.
The image of those three needles returned. What could be done with them, now that they were no longer physical but metaphorical needles –now that they were syringes of memory? White, green, pink: the white clears the way and ensures that nothing can obstruct what follows it; the green slows noise and movement, thought and emotion; the pink finishes the job and completes the kill.
What am I proposing to kill? Who or what is being euthanized? Not a body, not a real being: an illusion, a vapid fantasy that we know as “I”, the ego. What is the benefit of this euthanasia? The awakening of true being; the return to the ordinary and original self. It can happen through the regular and rigorous process of injecting that other made-up, dream being with the fluid light of death and transformation.
Flushing, stilling, eliminating: the white, the green, the pink. The metaphor seems complete and exact. And as I did recently in “real” life with my cat friend, you hold the being that is killed within you, close to you, until it lets go of life. So you can then let it go.
Flushing is cleansing the living self with the gentle but urgent call for help from the universe beyond our own. It opens the field of being for stilling, which is the medicine of cessation — slowing the cycle of thought and emotion, quieting the repetitive drill of fear, guilt, and self-abasement. Once that happens, the pink syringe’s work might be easy: death to that distorted and disguised life of I, of ego.
Of course it is not at all like what I experienced with my cat. It is not one-off and done. This euthanasia would be a life process, a recurring practice of self-repair. It would never really be complete, but it would help us to play the game of I, navigate the social illusions of the ego-world with a freer and lighter heart, an open hand of awareness within. For becoming free of attachment does not mean losing connection. It only means giving love a clearer field in which to play. Therefore, killing ego is not a matter of separating from the world but of entering it with everything you are and have within, unencumbered by the constrictive corset of self-image and expectation. As I have said before, it is about becoming comfortable with your natural psychological body in its beautiful, original nudity.
Once again: this is all, so far, a lesson of grief, of a loss that has shaken every cell and quantum fiber within me. It is still so raw, and I am, in any event, a beginner. Though pain does not destroy or empty the bank of experience, it is true that every great loss throws us back to the place from which we began. Therefore, this teaching of suffering must be examined, tested, worked carefully through before it can be made a part of my inner and outer life. I will try it and report back. One thing I am sure of in this moment: were she sitting here beside me still, as she did so many days and nights these past 13 years, I am certain that my friend Night would offer me her familiar two-eyed wink, brush her whiskers on my hand, and say, “why not see how it works?”