In September 2019, I decided I would dedicate the last week of each month to a home-based retreat to give myself time and space, sans interruption, for a deep dive into creative endeavors. I paint and make books, write, walk, read, ponder and nap (the latter I learned from Lucky, who perfected the art). Mostly, it’s a time of experimentation and surprises.
You can enjoy musings I’ve already shared on the necessity of solitude, perspectives on relationship and intimacy, the creative impulse, questions about what’s essential, and some other stuff. In these reflections, may you find your own heart-wisdom and beauty mirrored back to you.
With love, Krayna
Image: Marc Chagall
Terms of Endearment: Lucky, Luckster, Luckers, Lil’ Man,
Baby Boy, Demander, Stinker, Littlest One, and finally, Beloved.
Thanksgiving weekend 2004, Bend, Oregon: It’s six months after I found this wee pup running down the road. We’re sleeping on a futon I’ve dragged to the living room for quick access to the door. He’s got diarrhea and is vomiting every two hours.
Who knew this would be the first indication of life-long inflammatory gut issues? Lucky also had frequent urinary tract infections. In 2009, Baby Boy was diagnosed with compressed discs. He was subject to flare-ups in his gut, back and urinary tract his whole sweet life, making differential diagnosis difficult. He’d suddenly hunch up in pain, running around biting anything he could get his jaws on.
My role as pain manager grew, as did the apothecary I had on hand at all times. I’d try to discern what combo of meds to administer and when to vamoos to the emergency room for the big guns.
By the time he died, he’d become sensitive to new environments, so we couldn’t travel. He couldn’t see or hear well, or pee on his own (I learned to express his bladder). He had moderate dementia and other neurological issues that affected his gait (he walked like a drunken sailor). He no longer registered signals he needed to go poop. (Got it?)
I have 33 insurance claims for 2009 – 2017 alone for emergency treatment (pre-2009 claims from a different company are lost). He was seen by the vet, God knows how many times, for dietary indiscretions.
Example: While I briefly had my back turned, Lucky broke into a zippered suitcase to get at dark chocolate covered espresso beans that were sealed in their original package. Not only did he eat most of my treat, he cracked a tooth in the process, which I only learned of when I paid the bill for his annual dental cleaning.
You get the picture, but you should also know that through it all, he was a super-trooper. He was sweet, mischievous, smart, friendly and affectionate. Lucky drew people to him from when he was a pup. I’d meet folks who knew him through his god-parents or other friends who’d say, Oh, so you’re Lucky’s mom! A regular community dog. Everyone was Lucky’s favorite. His gregarious greetings were a source of delight; we all felt special to him. Even so, I must say the Littlest One adored his Auntie.
My life with this 12 pound wonder-pooch was one of challenge and tremendous joy. He was a teacher, companion and a muse par excellence. My world revolved around him for a blessed 15 years and three months. Lucky was the most demanding, humble and innocent guru I’ve ever known, and I, his faithful adherent. He taught me the nature of non-attachment, equanimity, joy and impermanence.
After Lucky lost the use his back legs, we had one last stellar weekend together. His Auntie Janice and I cuddled with him on the sofa the night before he died and watched My Neighbor Totoro, one of his favorites. During a sweet, earthy ritual at home, he scarfed down hamburger, a previous dietary no-no.
Surrounded by immediate family and god-parents, Lucky died peacefully in my arms, just shy of 16 years old, on May 19th at 2:40 PM. But just seconds before the injection that ended his life, the Luckster offered a parting gift: He wagged his tail. Vigorously.
Avec amour, always, Krayna
Image: This is the back of a 2.5 x 2.5 “Tiny T-Art Book” I made from teabags.
Title: Lucky, Nose for Truth. A Biography. A pure muse he was, and remains.
Are they not having a ball? They have no argument
with reality, and in fact, dance joyfully amid the transience of things.
Things come, things go. Can you say “hello” and “goodbye” to what arises in your life with your whole heart? If not, hope and fear dominate the mind and close off rich possibilities. If you are more open to the truth of impermanence, you know an openness that is full of beauty and love. Harmonizing with the fact that everything comes and goes is a gateway to freedom. Contemplating this recently brought to mind Herman Hesse’s poem, “Stages.” This is an excerpt:
“Be ready, heart, for parting, new endeavor,
Be ready bravely and without remorse
To find new light that old ties cannot give.
In all beginnings dwells a magic force
For guarding us and helping us to live.
Serenely let us move to distant places
And let no sentiments of home detain us.
The Cosmic Spirit seeks not to restrain us
But lifts us stage by stage to wider spaces…
So be it, heart: bid farewell without end.”
I have an image I use when I find I’m hoping for something better or fearing what may come: I imagine my beloveds, my body, my travel plans, my beliefs (it could be anything) as a Tibetan sand painting. Those vibrant colors and the awesome design that took so much time and energy to create are exquisite!
When the painting is done, poof! It’s blown away by those who created it into the realm of the infinite. This is big-sky mind, which teaches us to love and hold everything loosely. Nothing to cling to, nothing to reject. What’s left? The dance. So, what if you begin, or continue, to embrace what arises in this dream-like, floating world wholeheartedly, without grasping or rejection? The music goes on, with or without us. Now that is something to relax into!
It is impossible to live without leaving a footprint of some kind, a disturbance. Still, I write this to celebrate Earth and her gifts, even as I register the way life forms are desecrated around the globe. Whatever type of activism we engage in, our joy is needed now. The music offered below is both lullaby and joyous jig. The dance goes on.
“I sit in my office, eyes fixed on a floor lamp. Made in China. Nothing special. Simple brushed silver in a natural shade that’s broad like the hats worn by rice farmers in Vietnam. I’ve learned there’s a high probability that chemicals used to manufacture this lamp were dumped into rivers that flow to sea.
Oceans across the globe are polluted and ecosystems are dying because of human garbage. Undoubtedly, some of my trash floats in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a watery dump twice the size of Texas. I think of plastics that wind up in a turtle’s stomach, a whale’s intestines. Monkeys, dogs, rabbits and rats are caged in sterile labs where they endure pain as test subjects. Other animals await slaughter in cramped conditions on industrial farms that turn out meat products on an exceptionally large scale. It hurts to think about this.
My taxes are used to fund wars and crooked governments. They also support infrastructure, social service programs and public radio, at least for now. I contemplate the devils I pay for my life to work, for my simple comforts. I live in a house with heat and electricity, drive a car, dispose of waste. I drive a Prius, use cloth bags for groceries, buy clothes at consignment shops. I can’t reconcile the ledger.
But bad news and good news aren’t as black and white as I’d once thought. A Chinese parable I heard long ago illuminates this: a farmer gets a horse, which runs away. Bad news. The horse comes back, trailed by another horse. Good news. The farmer gives the second horse to his son, who rides it, is thrown and breaks a leg. Bad news. Soon after, all able-bodied young man are rounded up to fight a war. The farmer’s son is spared. Good news. While his neighbor cries “bad news” and “good news” after each incident, the farmer utters six words: “Bad news, good news. We’ll see.”
There’s no end or beginning to the infinite web of relationships I navigate every day. As I sit with my morning tea, I ponder this as a Zen koan. By their very nature, koans can’t be figured out by the grasping mind. My struggle to land on a path for right living exhausted me. I came to see my quest is best understood by way of the heart or intuition. This insight doesn’t leave me pain-free or self-satisfied. What it does offer is humility and clarity.
I realized I can engage in the messy activity of daily life, allowing both joy and sorrow to enter me and guide me. I had a teacher who once said, “The God-field needs our joy.” I’m not sure anymore what that means, but I do know joy is not incidental on this journey. I’ve learned that this joy fuels my desire for the liberation of all beings. I use that desire to ease suffering however I’m able. That’s it. It’s all I’ve got. To that, I bow, then rise and stumble out into the arms of the world.”
K. Castelbaum, February, 2019
Go deeper: How do you understand “right living?” What enables you do be here, knowing so many life forms are lost or threatened, without giving way to despair?
For your listening pleasure, a Celtic lullaby,”O son do Ar” (The sound of the air), by Luar na Lubre, a Celtic music ensemble from Galacia, Spain.