One of the dogs on the “Mommies and Mommies To Be” page looks so much like Mikel that she could be his sister. Her name is Carmella.
Impulsively, I send off an email, asking if Carmella is due to have a litter in August. Jeri replies a few hours later. Carmella isn’t expecting, and they don’t plan to mate her before Thanksgiving. But there are some beautiful puppies available right now, and another litter due early in July. If I’m interested in a puppy, the first thing I need to do is complete one of their Arizona Shih Tzu questionnaires, which she’s attached.
I’m not surprised, or even disappointed. If it isn’t Carmella it will be one of the others. At least, I know where my puppy is going to be born. I save the questionnaire for later.
Meanwhile, my own dear Mikel is gone. It hurts every time my gaze falls upon his water dish (which I still keep filled with fresh water) and every time
I look up and he isn’t there. Even when he does come back to me, he’ll be another dog living a completely different life.
Christians believe in an immortal, individual, unchanging soul, but
Buddhists believe in something more ephemeral which they call a “continuity of consciousness” created by the circumstances of each of our lives and continually transforming, like waves that rise, break and subside. It is this continuity of consciousness – rather than a single, individualistic ego – that reincarnates, moving from one life to the next the way a caterpillar moves from one blade of grass to another. The Dalai Lama explains it this way:
“The successive existences as a series of rebirths are not like the pearls in a pearl necklace, held together by a string, the ‘soul’ which passes through all the pearls; rather they are like dice, piled one on top of the other. Each die is separate, but it supports the one above it, with which it is functionally connected.”
The Dalai Lama would say I’m selfish for wanting Mikel to come back as a dog, rather than enjoy a human rebirth. Being born into the animal realm is not considered as good a rebirth as being born human. This is because although animals can do good or bad things, only human beings consciously choose to be good or bad and it is this choice – or intention – that constitutes virtue and creates karma. “This is why,” writes the Dalai Lama, “that although many types of being have evolved upon this planet since its formation, those who have brought about the most improvement are human beings, and those who have learned how to create the most fear, suffering and other problems – threatening even the destruction of the planet – are also humans. The best is being done by humans and the worst is being done by humans.”
Dalai Lama or no Dalai Lama, I don’t feel guilty about wanting Mikel to come back to me. Besides, it’s too late. He’s already on his way.
Meanwhile, the days are slow and sorrowful. I can’t concentrate.
Everything in my condo reminds me of Mikel. In the months after Rollyn died
I’d found some respite from grief in long, long walks. But going outdoors in southern Arizona at this time of year is like walking into an oven. People who don’t live here just can’t imagine what it’s like during the summer. It’s not just a few days of hot weather. It is weeks on end of temperatures over a hundred and ten degrees. And there’s no respite. The streets and sidewalks absorb the heat and radiate it back, so that it never really cools off, not even at night. That’s why everyone goes away.
Mikel and I used to go away, as well. One summer, we toured the National Parks. Another summer, we went to the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Canada. Last year, we went to Northern California. Mikel loved car trips, and he was a wonderful traveling companion.
But heat or no heat, dogs have to do what dogs have to do. During the summer months we always walked early in the morning, just after the sun rose, and then again at twilight. But without Mikel, I have no reason to go outdoors and so I’m spending long, silent days alone, sitting on the couch watching television and drinking too much wine.
Jeannie and Bob are going to their place in Rocky Point for a week.
“Why don’t you come, too? You haven’t been down since before Mikel got sick, have you? If you want, Bob and I can check your condo for you, just to make sure everything is okay. But you know what? I think you should come. You need to get out.”
Like Jeannie, I own a beachfront condominium in Rocky Point (or Puerto Penasco) just over the border and an easy, four hour drive from Scottsdale. I bought it seven years ago. In fact, that’s how I met Jeannie – I ended up buying her condo when she bought a larger one. And I have always loved the beach, and the sea. Mikel and I often went to Rocky Point for a week or more at a time, and at one point (when I still lived in Tucson) I even considered moving there permanently.
I’ve never been to Rocky Point without Mikel. My first thought is that it will just be another place full of memories, and I don’t know if I can handle it. But it isn’t all that far, and there’s nothing to stop me coming back to
Scottsdale if it’s too painful. I bring Mikel’s leash and harness along with me, as well as a framed photograph that was taken just days before he got sick.
And I talk to him during the drive and when we stop for gas in Ajo, as I always did.
But the first few hours after we arrived are really, really difficult. All the Mexican staff at the Sonoran Spa have known Mikel for years, and many of them loved him almost as much as I did. So naturally, everyone wants to know where he is. Again and again, I explain (in halting Spanish) that he’s gone, that he’d died two weeks ago, that his heart had stopped beating and the doctors couldn’t make it start again. I’d memorized the Spanish words before I left Scottsdale, because I knew everybody would ask. I still can’t talk about it without crying, and many of the women weep with me. They are so kind to me. They say, Lo siento – and they hug me.
The condo seems hollow and quiet. I fill Mikel’s water dish, as I always do. And I hang his leash and harness in their usual place on the door. His little wicker basket full of toys is there by the window, just as we’d left it. I can feel his presence, very strongly. It’s almost as if he’s glad to be here.
The balcony of my condo has a raised banquette running the length of it. I’ve got cushions for it, which I always bring inside when I’m not here, so they won’t fade. I put them back as soon as I arrive and this was one of our rituals, unlocking the condo and opening the sliders and putting the cushions on the banquette. Mikel made a game of it, eagerly leaping up on the cushions as I put them down so that he could lie in the sun and watch the comings and goings on the beach far below.
I begin to cry as I put the cushions in place, thinking of him. In my mind’s eye, I imagine him leaping happily up onto his favorite cushion, settling himself and staring out at his beach, his ocean. And he’s here, after all. I can feel him. I sit down next to where he would be if he was here physically, and gaze out at the sea. We used to love sitting here in the sun, watching the waves and the people on the beach.
Being here isn’t as bad I’d thought it would be. It’s high tide, and the gulls are swooping and diving, catching fish.
I pour myself a Scotch, and watch the sunset. Mikel is not with me all the time, but he’s with me now. I expected that coming here without him would be unbearable, but I’m not without him. He’s in my heart and he’s also a presence, a psychic presence. He’s somehow telling me it’s okay, but without language.
The doggy steps are still in place pushed up against the side of the bed.
The little dish that I kept filled with kibble (for midnight snacks) is still here and I’m tempted to fill it with kibble and put it on the bed, the way I always did. But I don’t. Instead, I look at Mikel’s photograph, which I’ve propped on the night stand. I kiss his dear little face and turn out the light and close my eyes.
The ocean is just yards away and one of the things I like most about being here is being able to leave the sliding glass doors open so I can fall asleep to the sound of the sea. But tonight a group of women renting the condo directly below mine is celebrating something, playing loud music and shrieking with laughter. Even with the doors shut, I can still hear the racket.
Some people go wild when they come to Mexico, behaving in ways they’d never behave at home. Jeannie says people don’t have manners anymore, and maybe she’s right. Or maybe we’re just getting old. When I finally do fall asleep, it’s almost morning.
The next day I’m tired, irritable and out of sorts. I don’t feel like walking on the beach, or going for a swim or doing much of anything. When
I sold my house in Tucson and moved to a condo in Scottsdale, a lot of my books ended up here in Mexico. My eyes fall upon a boxed set still wrapped in cellophane. Meditation for Beginners.
I meditated for the first time 25 years ago, while I still lived in
Australia. I’d attended a seminar presented by Ian Gawler, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer and had turned to meditation when doctors had nothing more to offer. Eventually, his cancer disappeared. Gawler subsequently funded the Melbourne Cancer Support Group, wrote books and presented seminars like this one. We did a group meditation during which hundreds of us closed our eyes and meditated for about 20 minutes. I thought it was interesting, although I never quite got around to meditating on my own. However, when I saw these books in a sale some years later, I bought them.
Now, I tear off the cellophane and open the box, which contains a spiral-bound manual and two CDs. Settling myself comfortably on a cushion,
I play the first CD, a guided meditation. There’s gentle music. A soothing, quiet voice tells me to begin by making myself comfortable and closing my eyes and just listening, becoming aware of the sounds in my environment.
Little waves hitting the sand, the cry of a sea bird, a dog on the beach, barking. Just listening. I do this for a while. Then the voice tells me to begin to pay attention to my breathing, to the feeling of my breath in my nostrils as
I inhale and exhale. That’s all, says the voice. Just your breath.
It isn’t what I’d expected, but it is certainly easy enough to do. So I sit there feeling my breath fill my lungs, feeling it leave my lungs and move through my nostrils. I notice the space between breaths. I have never really paid attention to my breath, before. My mind wanders to other things.
Concentrate on your breath, says the voice. If your attention begins to wander, bring it gently back to your breath. I do, but moments later I find myself wondering whether the horrible women renting the condo downstairs will be there again tonight. And whether or not I ought to complain to
Management about the noise. Again, the quiet voice reminds me to bring my attention back to my breath. You’d think just paying attention to your breath would be easy, but it isn’t. The thoughts just keep coming. Years ago, a Buddhist friend told me that I had a chattering, monkey mind. Now I understand what he meant.
The track comes to an end. I open my eyes, and unfold my legs. Half an hour has passed, and that surprises me. I would have thought I’d be bored, sitting for half an hour with my eyes closed and trying to think of nothing. If anything, I feel serene, and that surprises me, too. Any minute it’ll start hurting again, I think. But it doesn’t. Instead, I have the completely crazy feeling that Mikel approves, that meditation is something he wants me to do. I gaze across the room at his photograph, and he gazes back at me. Mikel is here. Mikel is all around me. It’s almost like the feeling that enveloped me during the drive home from Colorado, the absolute, unquestioning certainty that Mikel’s psychic presence was in the car with me and that Mikel himself was on his way back to me. I continue to sit very quietly, because I want the feeling to last.
The manual is lying next to me and I open it and begin to read.
Meditation, I learn, is about learning how to be wholly in the present moment. Mostly, we spend our lives remembering, or anticipating. Yet in reality, we only live one second at a time. This moment – right now – is all
we have. The past is gone. The future hasn’t arrived. There is only this moment, this breath.
I sit reading for an hour or so and then I go for a swim in the pool.
There’s hardly anyone around. I’ ve got the pool to myself and while I’m swimming I think about mindfulness. I feel the warm water slapping against my arms and legs, and the hot, afternoon sun on my back. I swim mindfully, back and forth across the otherwise deserted pool. I can almost believe that if
I look up, I’ll see Mikel curled up on one of the deck chairs, watching me. Of course, I can’t. Yet, he’s here with me. I can feel him, as surely as I feel the water, and the sun.
Though most of my life, I’ve lived in coastal cities – Miami, Los
Angeles, San Francisco, Kailua, Sydney. I’ve always loved the beach, and the rhythms of waves and tide. There’s something about the sound of the waves hitting the sand, something about the salt air. Back upstairs on my balcony, I sit and watch the changing patterns of the sea. Here, there are only natural sounds. The waves. The birds. The breeze clicking softly through the palm fronds. They say that the sea, the mountains and waterfalls all emit a special, healing energy.
I’m still sad. I still miss Mikel. But something has shifted. Perhaps it’s the absence of traffic noise and electronic devices, or the gentle, pulsing rhythm of the falling tide. Jeannie was right. I did need a change. This is a good place to be. I decide to try to meditate every day, even if it’s only for a few minutes.