March 12, 2012: Impermanence, Revisited

Ginger is gone now. We had to put her down last week; her eyes and body told us it was time.

It would be easy to focus only on the sorrow, but I am grateful that my meditation and mindfulness practice helps me acknowledge the joys, too – memories of Ginger romping ahead of us on the wooded path, her curly tail waving as she chased a squirrel…Ginger grabbing a stick, inviting one of our sons to play tug of war…Ginger running toward us when it was time to get back in the car.

In the abstract we know that nothing ever stays the same, but sometimes we are faced with this truth on a deeper level. The Buddha taught that attachment to things and people and ways of life are futile. Attachment leads to grasping, which leads to suffering, or dukkha. The solution to suffering, I have oh-so-slowly come to accept, is to end the grasping, like the Buddha said, rather than try to escape from the universal law of impermanence. 

Through all these years of walking Ginger in the woods and postage-stamp prairies tucked in and around Iowa City, Ames, and eastern Iowa, nature has demonstrated the law of impermanence. Bloodroot pushes out of the ground in April like old, gnarled palms that turn youthful and flat as they rise, then old and leathery as spring progresses. Sweet Williams release their aromatic lilac scent for a few days in May, after which the smell turns musky and then fades. Purple coneflowers bloom in June like they’re forever, and then suddenly they’re passing the baton to their grey-headed coneflower cousins with the yellow petals. In the fall a deer carcass gets picked over by hungry, cawing ravens; a hawk flies over with a mouse in its talons. Canadian geese honk southward and then north again, leaving the old and sick behind.

At the end, she sniffed more than ran in the woods. Her eyes turned milky and she chased squirrels only in her dreams, her paws twitching.  

If you let go a little, you’ll have a little peace, the Buddhists say. If you let go a lot you’ll have a lot of peace. If you let go completely, you’ll have complete peace.  Mahusukha, the Great Happiness…the great release – nature knows this and Ginger knew it, too. It may take me a lifetime to bend my own mind to it, but I can’t say that I haven’t had a good teacher.

Rest in peace, dear beast.

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