[Read the abridged version on Elephant Journal.]
My heart is empty.
Lucy was with me for nearly nine years, since my parents gave her to me when I graduated from college in May 2002. I loved her so. My constant companion died Sunday in the early evening.
A surreal flurry of fleeting emotions pass through my dazed, grief-stricken consciousness, more noticeably than ever. Oftentimes, the pain is so powerful, sobs overtake me.
When I am fully in the present moment, I feel a sense of abiding peace. I suffer when I wish to change the past or worry over changing the future.
I had taken her to an afternoon potluck at my friends’ beautiful penthouse apartment not far from my house. She ran around and played with kids and made people smile like she always did. At some point, I realized I hadn’t seen Lucy in awhile. I started looking for her, and gradually, everyone remaining at the party did too. Was she hiding? Had she stowed away in someone’s purse? No, no, no. She would never do that.
Dusk was falling, and I was breathing deeply, reassuring myself that she would come scampering from some secret room unscathed. I started to freak out when we couldn’t find Lucy anywhere in the apartment. In a daze, I walked down the stairwell, futilely looking on every floor. Thanks to whatever higher power exists in this strange thing we call Life, my dear friend and yoga teaching partner, Ash, followed me down. She kept me calm, though I eventually started crying, overcome with fear. At that moment, my next-door neighbors and good friends, Phil and Deb, walked out of the elevator with sad faces.
“Did you find her?” I asked.
“Is she okay?”
“No. I’m so sorry, Michelle. She’s gone.”
Lucy the Chihuahua had fallen fourteen stories to her death. We didn’t realize there was a small area on the otherwise safe balcony where a piece of protective glass was missing. No one witnessed her fall, but Lucy didn’t intend to jump. She loved life too much. It had not once crossed my mind that she might have fallen. That was just not an option.
I could not accept it, but of course I had no choice. I was at one with despair. How silly to deny a fundamental truth of nature: impermanence.
I was hit with hysteria. “No!” I cried. “She can’t be.”
Of course, I never expected her death to be so sudden, or soon, or dramatic, or traumatic. Thankfully, I was able to express my most intense emotions in those first moments after discovering the tragedy. Deb and Ash hugged me tightly. I would have surely not been able to stand up without them.
This gorgeous penthouse apartment, the place where Lucy died, is also the place where I teach yoga on Thursday evenings. So I will go back there every week and face reliving the day of her death. While teaching yoga. It’s not going to be easy.
I could keep going over and over it in my head. I could dwell. I didn’t take her for a walk on her last day. I didn’t keep her with me. I didn’t prevent tragedy. But I won’t. I will prevail thanks to mindfulness and compassion for myself.
Thanks to mindfulness, you catch yourself early. You switch from feeling guilty to noticing a lot of feelings of guilt: a subtle but essential difference.
Lucy weighed only four pounds, but every ounce was feisty. She expressed the unconditional love only pets can offer, without the pesky judgments and grudges that come along with humanness.
Lucy loved yoga… of course she did the best downward dog. She especially loved it when people did yoga and would immediately jump on me (and anyone else who happened to be there) in any seated or lying down pose. Up to her last day, frolicked and played like a fresh puppy, so full of life.
Ash said, “Now Lucy is a legend. She’ll never grow old.” Like Marilyn Monroe or James Dean. She left us in her prime. She went out in a flash.
As long as I’m in the present moment, I feel Lucy’s eternal devotion in my heart. But when I (oh so frequently) shift into the past or future, I buckle under the weight of loneliness and sorrow. I didn’t know I had this many tears.
Lately, I’ve been studying the Buddhist concept of emptiness. There’s an excellent explanation of it in An Open Heart by the Dalai Lama. His Holiness describes two levels of mind: 1) the clear experience of knowing, and 2) the “realization of the absence of the mind’s inherent existence,” which is emptiness.
In Lucy’s absence, my heart is full of sadness. But my heart is also empty, drained completely. The (not “my”) shock, angst, and depression are all being duly processed. This experience is bringing me a new, hard-earned, incredible understanding of the ultimate paradox of life — that everything is simultaneously meaningful and meaningless. Our emotions, thoughts, sensations and ideas and stubborn beliefs and attitudes color our every experience. Without those, the experience is empty.
I took Monday off work, did nothing but grieve. Got dozens of sweet condolences. Everyone was mourning with me, it seemed. Friends across Texas, California, and Guatemala were sending me love, and I truly felt it. It helped.
I can’t yet bring myself to meditate in my regular spot in my bedroom. It’s still too hard. Lucy had developed the habit of coming up to my fingers, outstretched in jnana mudra, to maneuver her way into a head scratch. Sometimes I would pick her up and hold her while meditating. She was pure, unconditional metta. So I’m finding other places to meditate, for now.
Lucy left her canine body last Sunday evening in Guatemala City. But with all the merit she earned in her lifetime of licks and love, I feel she must have earned a human rebirth, or perhaps as one friend suggested, she has skipped humanity altogether and attained full enlightenment as she fell from that great height. Perhaps she is, indeed, now a part of everything.