Photo: Christmas gifts donated by St. Andrews Episcopal Church, 2010
Journal entry. Sedona, Arizona. December 18, 2010.
We had our annual “Christmas Gathering” with the local students (of spiritual teacher, Dr. Hawkins). Food, singing, fellowship. Quite joyous. The fellowship hall (of St. Andrews church) was full. I put together a slideshow of photos of our spiritual community over the last 5 years. It was amateur in skill but made from the heart. It showed, close-up, the many faces of people, young and old, who had come to be at his satsangs, as well as photos of him and his wife, their love for each other, and their pets. I had taken all the photos at their request.
Doc’s comment before the slideshow was: “Christmas is the celebration of Christ as Lord, seeing the Divinity in all things, all the time, God is in everything and is everywhere. I suppose at some university they would call it pantheism. But it is so. God is everywhere. That is the difference – to see that Reality.”
My inner feeling about the photographs was that the Light of God shined through each person and animal. When I took the pictures, I saw or felt a radiance coming through the eyes of everyone, and so I titled the slideshow, “The Face of God.” It was based on Doc’s statement: “When I look in people’s eyes, I see only one Self. The Self of the teacher and one’s own Self is one and the same.”
When the slide show ended, he said to the gathering, “You just saw the Face of God – God is in everything.”
Also, I had this belief that each person in the slideshow – since they were being seen by him – received something of his love and grace. I knew that whatever he glimpsed was blessed.
Of course, the ego part of me suffered with anxiety – was he pleased with my effort? It mattered little to me what others thought. I was concerned only with HIS opinion of it. When I went to his house two days later, I was completely relieved when he said to me, “It was very heartwarming.”
I have a long way to go before I see as he sees: “Christmas is the celebration of Christ as Lord, seeing the Divinity in all things all the time.” I need constant reminders, and Christmas is a great reminder.
Christmas is the remembrance of the Light of God in all things, of the presence of Christ in all.
“You don’t need to change jobs – just change how you’re looking at it.”
That’s what my spiritual teacher (Dr. David R. Hawkins) told me when I talked with him, many years ago. I was unhappy with my academic job. I thought my life would be better if I went into the healing arts profession – something more “holistic.” But he told me that happiness wasn’t something ‘out there’; it was all in how I approached the situation.
Thanks to his guidance, I didn’t change careers; I simply changed how I viewed my job. I began to teach meditation and other contemplative courses at my university. “Holistic” was the approach I took, caring for the wholeness of the students, mind-body-spirit-heart. Then, in 2007, we opened our Meditation Program, one of the first of its kind at any college or university. Here’s a short (5-min) video of our program “changing the world from the inside-out.” This video was published in the Journal of Contemplative and Holistic Education, April 2023.
Often it’s not the situation that causes our suffering, but how we’re looking at it. And who’s in charge of that? We are.
—Dr. Fran Grace, Steward of the Meditation Program at the University of Redlands, author of The Power of Love, a book dedicated to her teacher.
Two years ago, a woman from Ireland showed up in the online course called “Healing and Wholeness.” She attended the class, even though it was in the middle of the night for her! Her name is Caroline McGuigan.
At the first class meeting, I asked the participants to share why they signed up. I will never forget what Caroline said. Her husband had recently been murdered. He died in a pool of blood on the floor of a pub, in her arms. Despite the horror of the situation, she saw her husband’s face melt with love as he died.
After his death, Caroline reached out to a friend who was an expert in bereavement, and this friend told her about the class. She felt a resonance and signed up. Caroline’s sharing throughout the class was profound. There are no words that suffice. Little did I know that, within a year, my lovemate and I would face the sudden passing of her 29-year-old son to Covid. Guess who was there as a friend? Caroline. We knew she understood – there are no words.
Now Caroline is offering a space for meaningful conversations on her podcast, “Caroline’s Corner.”
On Episode 9, Caroline and I have a dialogue about our journeys:
In the podcast, we discuss death, the joy of living, and the e-book, “Love is Forever,” which includes Caroline as an example of the human capacity to endure tragedy and share something meaningful with others out of one’s own suffering.
—Dr. Fran Grace, author of Love is Forever, and also The Power of Love: A Transformed Heart Changes the World. For more information on her “Healing and Wholeness” online course, see the video preview.
Today, Phyllis Kaplan turns 92. I met Phyllis in an online course that I was teaching at the University based on The Power of Love book, and at the end of the first class meeting, she asked if she could sing a song to us. She sang “I Know This Rose Will Open” from her heart and it brought tears to my eyes. It was so simple and trusting. That Rose song became the theme song for our group.
The song was written and composed by a seminary student named Mary Grigolia. She was in a class on Death and Dying, and the professor told everyone to write their own eulogy. Just imagine! Write your own eulogy! Mary set to work on this assignment, but nothing came through until the moment she stopped trying so hard, and then she suddenly found herself singing a little tune under her breath. It was the Rose song, whole and complete! Mary said:
What I take from the experience is the great responsiveness of the Universe/Spirit/ Deep and Creative Self, when we allow ourselves to be present, to listen, to sing along, but not to assume we can control its scope or view….I know this rose will open….I am the rose. We are all the rose. Opening. (Mary Grigolia quoted by Kimberley Debus in “Farfringe.com” blog, republished by the Heritage Unitarian Universalist Church.)
Phyllis introduced me to that beautiful song. She IS the spirit of the Rose in its ever-opening glory. She said she was grateful to be in a class to learn about love. She was 90 but still eager to learn how she could expand her heart. I hope that, if I reach old age, I will be open to love and to learning. That was three years ago, and I still see Phyllis every Wednesday in a weekly online Loving Kindness Meditation group.
Phyllis’s life journey has not been easy. At age 4, she escaped with her Jewish family from Austria during the Holocaust. That set the stage for her life of major losses and constant change. Unlike many of us, she did not allow the pain of life to close any part of her heart. She said in her interview with me: “We don’t talk about what love does not do, because there’s no such thing!”
This week, in the online group, she wore a bold red shirt with large white letters on the front: “BORN AGAIN… AND AGAIN… AND AGAIN!” She’s a Jewish member of the Unitarian Universalist church, and so you can imagine the befuddled faces of Christians of the “born again” variety who want to discuss the topic with her! They soon realize that her take on “born again” is not the same as theirs! Hers is not a one-time moment of surrender. Hers is a continual dying and rebirth to ever-deepening love, as she is transformed by the joys and challenges that Life brings to her. She is an inspiration to everyone who meets her. And – sidenote! – she has several men contending for the honor to be her boyfriend!
That reminds me of two other friends, Lee and Lloyd. They both lost their spouses and then they met each other at a residential retirement place here in Redlands, fell in love with each other and got married in their 90s! I also met them through The Power of Love, when they showed up in the pouring rain at our first book event.
Lee and Lloyd embraced me as one of their own. It is very healing to be loved in that way—unconditionally. We might long for our own parents to love us that way, but perhaps they are not capable, and so, Life brings us other dear people to fill the gap. Lee and Lloyd bought a case of The Power of Love books and sent them to their friends in far-flung places. Their lives are devoted to Love.
You don’t read about such people in your news feed, but it’s people like Phyllis, Lee, and Lloyd who keep the candle lit within the heart of humanity.❤️
—Dr. Fran Grace, author of The Power of Love and director of Inner Pathway.
My teacher, Dr. David R. Hawkins, would always say, “You’ll have what you need when you need it.”
But there was a catch: I had to let go of my attempts to ‘make’ things happen. The ego likes to strive, to plan, to make things happen on its timeline! I was raised by industrious parents who grew up in poverty during the Great Depression. They instilled a strong ego drive in me: “Success comes to those who work hard.” Their work ethic served me well in the world. I achieved several degrees, including a Ph.D. at an Ivy League school, and became a professor with tenure.
At 39, I met my teacher and he introduced me to a totally different way of living. It was surrender, not striving. Alignment with the Higher Self means that your life will be ‘guided’, not planned. At first, I found it very challenging to have patience and to trust the unfoldment coming from another place.
However, my teacher’s path of surrender became real for me while writing the book, The Power of Love. At every turn, synchronicities occurred that brought the encounters and the means necessary to complete the book. Obviously, I was an instrument and not ‘author’ for the book! Those synchronicities continue….
It was published in print in 2019. People started to ask for an audiobook. We understood why – the book is heavy and hard to handle. So there was always the intention to do an audiobook, but . . . it had to wait until the right circumstances presented themselves.
I watched and waited.
In 2020, a college student named Megan Eslamboly enrolled in one of my classes. She was the radio station manager at KDAWG studio on campus. Amazingly, she also had a personal connection with Betty J. Eadie, one of the contributors to the book. I appreciated her delightful personality and keen mind. I remember thinking, “We will be working together one day.”
A few months later, Megan and I started recording chapters of the book in the studio. She is the perfect person for the job, and it was the perfect timing – with the pandemic in full swing and the studio quiet.
It is a great blessing to do what we love with the people we love.
Here is a video of us at KDAWG Studio in December, 2021. We are recording Chapter 17, “Moon Cabin.”
This year, Christmas day is similar to most days, only quieter.
Waking up before dawn. Lighting candles on the altar. Steaming hot coffee. Morning quiet in the dark. Sharing dreams from the night – what are the signs coming from the inner world? Sun rises. Taking care of the animals. Tending the garden.
A winter storm last night – now fig leaves cover the back hill. Bare hands touching the damp earth, picking up the leaves, one by one, thousands of them, large and yellowed. No rake or blower. Just the quiet communion of human and earth, life touching life.
This fig tree is taller than the house… older than I… wiser in the ways of letting go.
The tree is our teacher, if we listen.
Every December, as the season changes, the fig leaves ‘turn’ from green to yellow. How do they know when it’s time to withdraw their energy from a mode of living that is coming to an end?
What would it be like to ready oneself to let go of a branch that has been one’s only home?
Just a few months earlier, the leaves unfurled from that branch. They became themselves. ‘Blossomed’, we say. Indeed, the fig fruits this summer were abundant and delicious.
But, alas, the season changed and the leaves let go and dropped to the ground. They did not cling to the branch just because it was the perfect place at one time. They did not fight the changing season.
Life is always evolving as both creation and destruction. It seems to be the case that: Nothing ever stays the same. Why do humans resist this inevitable truth and hang onto what ‘has been’?
What would happen if the leaves refused to let go?
There would be no springtime, no new leaves, no blossoms, no fruit, no new seeds germinating in the ground. Growth would cease. Would the tree eventually die from its refusal to evolve?
Covid-19 has been that strong wind of change. It has forced me to let go of my life as I knew it. On the personal level, it took the life of our son, four months ago. And then, just as swiftly, vicissitudes of life have taken our daughter unreachably far from us. Both in their twenties.
This Christmas is quiet. The year brought many changes… unexpected endings…
The silence today is real. No grandchildren squealing their delight or little feet running around the house. No adult children bantering with each other about politics. No clanking of crystal glasses around the table.
I am willing to let go of ‘what used to be.’ But, truthfully, I had not expected the emptiness of ‘what is’. This Christmas, I hear only the fire flickering. A gentle rain outside. My lovemate playing a soulful note on her guitar.
The house is so silent you can hear a fig leaf drop.
Perhaps in the silence of its letting go, the tree is saying ‘Yes’ to living.
“Wheresoever you turn, there is the Face of God.” This Sufi teaching can be very challenging! Loss of loved ones, on-going pandemic, collective uncertainties—it has been a difficult year. On a spiritual path, we do our best to embrace whatever life brings us.
Last night, I was in a small weekly group where the members were reading a passage from The Power of Love book and then sharing how it applies to their life… The passage we read was from Chapter Two, the interview with Sufi teacher, Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee; he was answering a question on how people can deal with their suffering:
First, I encourage them to value their experience. Love is beyond good and bad. It is not duality. There is as much love in the mother crying for her dying child as in a couple walking to the altar. Love doesn’t differentiate. In fact, St. Paul said, “Love bears all things.” …. For the Sufi, it is a recognition that everything comes from God. There is nothing other than God…. “Wheresoever you turn, there is the Face of God.”
“Wheresoever you turn, there is the Face of God.” This is the teaching I’ve been working with the last few months, through the various losses and difficulties. For Thanksgiving, we put together a little video in our garden—reflecting on what it would be like to see ‘the face of God’ in everything, even the difficulties? Within three days of the recording, guess what? Yes, more difficulties!
As my teacher, Dr. Hawkins, taught us: if you commit to become more loving, then expect life to bring you the very people and things you will find difficult to love! Why? Because the point of a spiritual path is to get beyond what we want, and become a space of being, in which….
Christmas lights shine through the darkness. Seeds from funeral flowers sprout up in the garden. The secret hope hidden in every heart peeks out and trusts the miracle of life again.
Yesterday, on June 30 2021, Belvie Rooks and I had the joy of being on a weekly radio show hosted by TJ and Taj Jackson, and the DeeDee Jackson Foundation, which was created in honor of their mother who was murdered when they were young. The foundation helps people, especially children, to heal from traumatic losses through music therapy.
We were very moved when we watched the video on their foundation’s home page, of how TJ, Taj, and their brother Taryll dealt with the grief of losing their mother by sharing their music with children. We saw the goodness of their hearts and were looking forward to the interview on their ‘Power of Love’ radio show. I pictured them as struggling-to-make-ends-meet musicians, raised in a rough and impoverished L.A. neighborhood.
The night before we went on the show, I did a google search to try to find that video again, because I wanted to watch it again. Lo and Behold there were hundreds of webpages related to these guys! It turns out they are very famous, of THE musical genius Jackson family. What a shock! They were ‘3T’, the three sons of Tito Jackson, and nephews of Michael Jackson. They had made several brilliant albums of their own, including Chapter III which contains the song, “The Power of Love.”
Now you might wonder: Did knowing they were famous change anything for me? Not really. I’d already seen the goodness of their hearts, and that’s what mattered to me. Outer trappings of fame and wealth don’t impress me if there’s no humility or heart on the inside.
When we entered the studio, I asked TJ : “So do you think it helps that you’re famous – the kids look up to you as a hero?”
He said, “That’s one of the reasons we do the music therapy with the kids. We wanted to use our ‘celebrity’ for something good.”
This reminded me of what my teacher, Dr. David R. Hawkins, told me: “Your gifts and credentials are there just to enable you to share with the world… like my being an M.D., a psychiatrist. I couldn’t help a lot of the people unless I had that title….But that was all just to be of service to them. That’s all.”
Each one of us is given certain gifts and experiences. It doesn’t matter if we are famous or not. What matters is that we use whatever we are, and whatever we’ve been given, to be helpful to others. Betty Eadie, who shares her near-death experience in our book The Power of Love, says that when we leave this world, we will see the ‘ripple effect’ of how our actions touched the lives of others. The size of the action doesn’t matter. Did it come from the heart? That’s what matters.
Thank you Taj, TJ, and Taryll, and the Dee Dee Jackson Foundation, for using your pain AND your fame to spread the healing power of love through music. Nobody’s perfect. We all make mistakes. But if we do a little bit of kindness every day, this is a definite counterbalance because love is exponentially more powerful.
—Dr. Fran Grace, founding director of Inner Pathway
She appeared out of the bushes one day. Frail. Hungry. Frightened. As if she needed a friend. She was Little Black Kitty.
“A divine visitor,” I thought. “I should make an offering.” I pulled a can of tuna from the pantry, spooned it into a bowl and placed it on the ground. “There you go, Little Black Kitty.”
She looked interested, but hesitant. I stepped back a few feet, a respectful distance. “Cats like their space,” I reminded myself. She eyed the bowl and carefully surveyed the area. Coyotes do roam the neighborhood. The coast was clear, and she padded up to the bowl and sniffed. After a few seconds, she dove in with delicate vigor. And, then, without a glance more or “thank you,” she turned on her paws and disappeared back into the bushes.
I was a bit stunned by her sudden appearance in my life, even though I’d prayed for just this. “Please bring me a kitty,” I said to the Universe a few weeks ago. I didn’t want to buy a kitty. I wanted a kitty to “show up” – and she did.
But, to tell the truth, I hadn’t wanted a black cat. Supplications to Divinity are different than ordering dinner at a restaurant. The cook really should make you the dish you order. But, with prayer, you don’t always get what you ask for. “God always answers prayer,” said my teacher, “but the answer may look different than what you expect.”
I got exactly what was needed. It was precisely the blackness of the creature that endowed its appearance with potency. I grew up with the superstition, “If a black cat walks in front of you, it’s a bad omen.” Intellectually, I know better than to believe in superstition. But the collective unconscious is more powerful than the rational mind. I couldn’t help that the black cat evoked a primordial archetype of the “witchy” feminine.
She is the rejected shadow of Western society—the earthy, natural, nonconforming, magical side of us.
The cat archetype stands for the side of our consciousness that will not be leashed up and made to serve a master. It is the potent and independent feminine. The cat rubs against our leg when she feels like it. Yet the female cat is not cut-off from love. She is, for example, an outstanding mother. She is not wishy-washy in the loving and protection of her own vulnerable young, and she has been documented to extend her maternal love to the newborns of other species: puppies, baby squirrels, baby rabbits, and even baby mice. She loves and protects at the same time as she remains a fiercely independent force of nature. She does not obey just because they said so. This kind of instinctual wisdom is our salvation in the face of totalitarian group think. To love beyond our own tribe, and to refuse whatever doesn’t feel right.
Cats can see in the dark. They pounce on a rodent lurking in the shadows before we even know it’s there. The Egyptian “Cat Goddess” was Bastet, daughter of Isis and Osiris. Her music-filled celebrations were joyous and free-spirited, like kitty play. Bastet also had the cat ability to eliminate rodent-like energies in our psyche that prey on us when we are not aware. Without this keen catness, energies of guilt, shame, resentment, and despair nibble away at our inner life. Bastet means to “see,” congruent with persistent folklore belief that the ashes of the black cat heal blindness. Even today, “cat’s milk” is a homeopathic remedy for eye pain.
Why does the black cat trigger fear? We humans often twist something that carries spiritual power into an “evil” force. The number “13.” Sexuality. Menstruation. Tobacco. The snake. Humans are terrified of spiritual power. We behead the mystics, massacre the Indigenous, burn the witches.
In the Middle Ages, the “hammer” of the male clergy came down on non-conforming women. The Malleus Maleficarum (“The Hammer of Witches”) was the legal, theological handbook on witchcraft, written by two scholars from University of Cologne and University of Salzburg (1486). For 400 years, it was the diagnostic manual used in the witch craze, accepted by Roman Catholics and Protestants alike as an authoritative source. It led to the execution of tens of thousands of “witches” and cats. The cats were burned alive in public spectacles, hung, throats slit, buried in mass graves.
The Malleus Maleficarum claimed that witches shape-shifted into black cats and carried out the devil’s malevolence. This was a Christian distortion of the Greco-Roman Goddess Artemis/Diana who was a commanding feminine associated with fertility, nature, and women. Her statue at Ephesus was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. She was believed to change into the form of a cat.
The cat has a will of its own. No wonder it became associated with “heretics” and “witches.” Groups considered “heretical” by the Catholic Church—Cathars, Waldensians, Templars—were all associated with cats. Cats were the prefect symbol for religious proclivities that threatened the established order.
The communities of medieval Europe, after the witch craze, paid a heavy price for their slaughter of the cats: the proliferation of rodents spread the Plague, killing thousands upon thousands of inhabitants. Rejection of our shadow, the inner power, never ends well. Better to face our fear, welcome the black cat energy, nourish her, study her, contemplate the vital role she has in our psyche and civilization.
These realizations about the black cat came later. On that first day, all I could say to myself was, “This is not the ‘right’ kitty. It was supposed to be a calico!” Years previous, a little calico kitty had appeared in the garden. She eventually joined the family as a happy house cat named Kitty Grace. I missed this little calico and was hoping for another “just like her.” Such a wanting always ends in disappointment, for nothing is “just like” anything else.
The next day, in spite of my misgivings about her, Little Black Kitty came again. This time I was better prepared for the hesitant creature: “Fancy Feast – Seafood Medley”! She seemed to enjoy this meal even more than the tuna served at her inaugural visit. I sprinkled catnip on the ground, to give a fragrant welcome. Scents are “good sense.” Frankincense, I hear, is used to dispel the negative and welcome the angelic. Maybe catnip has the same function in the kitty world.
Little Black Kitty came every morning like clockwork. Each time, the same ritual: appearance – processional – offering – recessional. On day three, she lingered longer and moved closer. Within a week, she came right onto my doorstep and spent much of the day in the garden. I looked forward to seeing her and having her near.
And, then, the inevitable happened. I fell in love with Little Black Kitty.
I began to have fantasies of a long-term relationship. I imagined that Little Black Kitty would move in with me. She would take naps in the window, warmed by the morning sun. She would sip from a fountain of flowing water. She would curl up in my lap when I did my morning meditation. She would run across the rug in kitty sprints, then jump up the ladder to the loft—her room—whenever she needed space.
Except that she didn’t run much. And jumping? Not at all. I was accustomed to cats running up trees and jumping up on everything. Only in my fantasy did Little Black Kitty run or jump. I kept expecting that she would, one day, run, jump, and play. I thought it odd that she showed no interest in the finches flocking at the bird feeders on the fig tree. I thought all cats liked to poise underneath a bird feeder, cast their spell on a bird, and wait for the chance to pounce.
I bought a cat toy; I was determined to entice her to play. “This is our most popular toy for kitties,” said the clerk at the PAWS store. I brought it home, excited. When I pulled into the driveway, Little Black Kitty was sitting there, under the pink heather plants. I bounded out of the car and unfurled the cat toy—a long fluorescent string with feathers on the end. “Very enticing,” I thought. “How she can resist it?!”
Kitties live the “play instinct.” They remind us that mere existence is enough. We humans put too much importance on “doingness” and miss the sheer beauty of being. One time, sitting with my teacher, his three kitties went berserk over a toy that rotated with bouncing little balls at the end of long antennas. They pounced on the bouncy balls over and over again, dipping and diving over each other. We watched them with great amusement. My teacher said, “Kitties don’t think. They just are. That’s how love is.” I began to refer to these moments with my teacher as “kitty satsangs.” He said: “The kitty doesn’t ask himself, ‘Do I enjoy playing with this ball?’ He just knocks it across the room and plays with it!” I’m sure my teacher was giving me a message about “just be natural, just be free, just be!” For I can be quite serious about my “spiritual practice.” What an irony that we humans need spiritual “practices” to return to our “real nature.” Whereas the kitty just is, we have to “practice” being spontaneous, natural, free, present in the moment.
Little Black Kitty, however, was not impressed with the cat toy. She looked at me blankly when I presented it to her. I used all of my kitty-know-how to move the feather across the ground in an irresistibly mousy way. Hide and seek around corners. Very s-l-o-w-l-y across the ground and then a little wiggle and hop. But, she was not amused. She had no interest in games. It was no fun playing alone, so I finally put the cat toy away. She was never in the mood to play.
The black cat. She gave the gift of redeeming a lost “shadow” part of myself. No wonder she didn’t want to play around. She was a life-or-death messenger telling me to recover my own “witchy” side that will know instinctively how to love what needs loving and to refuse what needs refusing.
Welcoming the black cat healed a divide. To love a being that has been despised and rejected is to reclaim a part of God’s creation back into the whole. It is to redeem a part of myself that I rejected, what C.G. Jung called “the shadow.” For me, as a woman brought up to conform, to obey, to please, to play a role of ‘nice’ whether I liked it or not, Little Black Kitty represented the “witchy” part of me. She was independent, fierce, intuitive, free, and natural. At seventeen, I joined a church that silenced women, and I lost touch with the “black cat” part of myself. Though I had been a soloist and a public speaker, I suddenly became too petrified to open my mouth. “Women keep silence in the church” was the Bible verse cited by the church elders. I believed and obeyed them for nearly twenty years. It has been a long journey to recover my voice, my instinct, my intuition, my inner cat that says, “I don’t want to stay here.” Little Black Kitty showed up on the cusp of my fiftieth birthday. No time to waste. At fifty, a woman really should be clear about what she likes and doesn’t like. Speak her truth. Move from her soul. Love whom she loves.
I could accept that Little Black Kitty didn’t like to play. Still, I hoped for more of something.
I left the door to the house cracked open and put catnip just inside, to entice her. She came over the threshold and stepped inside. She looked around a bit, but she didn’t stay. She liked being outside. I kept the door cracked open, but she rarely walked through. Love, to be love, has to be freely chosen. I had to let go trying to manipulate her into a relationship on my terms.
One morning, she didn’t seem hungry. I knelt down next to her and held out my hand. She nuzzled her head, and then her whole body, into my hand so that every inch was petted. She was so thin! I could feel her bones. Her fur was mangy and matted. Cats are known for their cleanliness, which accounts for their association to widowed and single women with brooms (“witches on broomsticks”). Little Black Kitty was, to my surprise, not clean. She was grungy and boney.
For the first time, it dawned on me. “She is very sick.”
When gave up my fantasy of how I wanted her to be, I could begin to love her as she really was. I noticed she meowed all the time, as if in pain. I watched her more closely as she ate. She labored to swallow. As the days passed, she ate less and less. She had no interest in “cat treats.” Finally, it seemed to hurt her to eat anything.
I wondered: “Should I take her to the vet?” I tried to imagine the scenario: I would layer a kitty crate with some leaves from her hovel in the bushes, sprinkle them with catnip. The next time she came close for me to pet her, I would scoop her up and put her into the crate. That was my imagined plan. Few cats go willingly into a crate, and she was a feral cat! I was fairly sure I’d lose a piece of my arm in the process.
Assuming I would be able to scoop her up and get her into a crate, would it help her or hurt her? This was my dilemma.
For the purely selfish, there is no such dilemma. They lose no sleep over the suffering of others. They don’t even notice.
For the purely un-selfish, there is no dilemma either. They move swiftly with purity of love to effectuate the perfect response in the perfect measure. They are capable even of saving others by doing nothing. “The sage does nothing yet everything is accomplished,” the Dao De Jing says.
But for those of us who hang in the balance between the “sinner” and the “saint,” we notice the suffering and wish to alleviate it, yet we may waver as to the best means of compassion. “Let nature take its course” or “It’s their karma” can be a pathway of the deepest surrender, or it can be a platitude to excuse indifference. “I’ll do whatever I can to help” can be the prayer of a true servant, or the inflation of a self-appointed savior. Sometimes “rushing in to help” makes the suffering worse.
“Sleeping on it” is my discernment practice when faced with this dilemma. It was Saturday. I said to myself, “I will take her to the vet on Monday.”
Little Black Kitty ate nothing on Saturday or Sunday. She wanted affection, not food. I suppose all living things need the nourishment of pure affection. Food alone is not enough. She rubbed against my leg and my hand so that every inch of her was petted. She hung very close to me much of the day. Her raw need for love and my raw need to give it became indistinguishable. In the reality of love, what does it matter who “gives” and who “receives”?
On Monday morning, you can probably guess, Little Black Kitty was nowhere to be seen. I called her name, for by then, she knew my voice and would usually come trotting up from the bushes. Not this time. I called and called. There was no Little Black Kitty.
I looked in all of her favorite places, but there was no black cat. No eerie yellow eyes peering out from the dark corners of the yard. No “M-e-e-e-o-w” coming from the bushes.
I put out her favorite food anyway—just in case.
All day, off and on, I looked out the window into the yard. Is she there? No. Little Black Kitty was nowhere to be seen.
“She left without saying good-bye.” I cried. “I will take her to the vet if she comes back,” I promised the Universe. All kinds of feelings are normal in the face of loss: grief, anger, guilt, fear of being alone. But Mother Nature knows what we do not. Little Black Kitty had gone to where she needed to go. Which wasn’t to the vet in a crate.
I sprinkled catnip in the place where we had been. I said “Thank you” for the love we had shared, for the revelation she had been. And I cried. I will miss my friend.
On Tuesday, I woke up with this dream:
Little Black Kitty isn’t dead after all! She has come back to life and is on my doorstep. She has been washed clean, groomed and cared for. I say, “Oh Little Black Kitty that’s why you’ve been gone. Someone took you away to be groomed! Washed and cleaned! You look so much better!” Her fur is soft and clean. All the mangy and tangled and dirty parts are gone. She is sitting there on my doorstep, eager and full of energy for life. I can almost swear that she is smiling. I feel super delighted to see her. I can’t believe how well and happy she looks!
I do not know if my love for Little Black Kitty was pure. I can’t help but wonder, “Did I miss a chance for true compassion by not taking her to the vet as soon as I thought of it?” All that can be said is that I loved her the best way I could, with the little bit of light I had at the time. No doubt: the love we shared increased that light.
Fran Grace, Ph.D., serves as director of Inner Pathway, a 501(c)3 organization to inspire and educate on the inner qualities of love, joy, compassion, forgiveness, beauty, and humor. For more, see the book: The Power of Love.
I haven’t faced death in the eye, but I’ve learned from others who have made the journey from this world to …. elsewhere.
It hasn’t always been love and light. When I was 25, a young minister’s wife, I would go visit Mrs. Cook, in her 90s, at a luxury nursing home. We were both members of a large Christian congregation in the Bible Belt. For long decades, Mrs. Cook had wielded a lot of authority in the church. Women weren’t allowed to speak in the church, but the Elders often sought her opinion in private. I couldn’t tell if they thought she was wise, or if they feared displeasing her because she was wealthy and the church budget depended on her donations.
Mrs. Cook spoke her mind, and this was refreshing to me. I tended to be too mousy. I admired her spunk. But I didn’t understand her habit of cutting off people who disagreed with her. Out of four adult children, only one of them ever came to visit her. I felt sad about this. During my visits with her, she spoke bitterly of her children and others who had disappointed her. “They won’t get a penny when I die!”
One day when I went to visit Mrs. Cook, she was trembling and sobbing in her room. Her usual “put together” appearance was all washed out. “I had a horrible nightmare. I died and it was Judgement Day. Christ was separating the sheep from the goats, and he didn’t recognize me as one of his sheep. He thought I was a goat. He wouldn’t let me into Heaven.” I tried to comfort Mrs. Cook, but her spirit was in agony. I was young, and her distress confused me.
How could someone, who had lived her whole life as a dedicated Christian, arrive at the end and be so terrified? I wanted to tell Mrs. Cook to forgive her children. They were in their sixties and seventies now! Couldn’t she call them and say, “Can we start over? Will you give me a second chance?” She had lived a long life. She had gone to church three times a week. By all accounts she was an upstanding Christian. But had she missed the lesson of forgiveness? We people do horrible things to each other, there is no point denying it. But how to die in peace?
I promised myself I wouldn’t get to my 90s, knocking on death’s door, and have no mercy in my heart for family members and those I traveled with in this life.
In 2016, I interviewed Betty J. Eadie for The Power of Love book. She wrote Embraced by the Light, which is one of the most comprehensive near-death experiences (NDEs) on written record. In her experience, she was embraced by Jesus Christ— “There’s nothing on Earth that can compare with that unconditional love.” She said she felt like a “sinner” because she had not been very religious or moral. He said, “Everyone makes mistakes. This is so you can learn.” Betty was shown many things in this experience. “I saw the ripple effect of everything I’d ever done, both positive and negative. I saw that the smallest of actions – a kind word, a smile – has a great effect, far beyond what you can imagine.”
This week at work, I was aware of the ripple effect. I’m a college professor and spoke sternly to a student in the Meditation class, bringing her to tears. The whole scene was unpleasant, and I wasn’t able to sort it out until a few hours later. How embarrassing! To be aggravated, of all places, in the Meditation class! I had hurt the student’s feelings and injected negativity into the class atmosphere.
I thought of my death—how I would cringe at seeing the ripple effect of my anger! I immediately reached out to the student and apologized. At the next session, I apologized to the class. I led us in a ritual to work through group hurts. We watered the flowers of mindfulness and forgiveness. I hope and pray that when I die, I see a ripple effect of forgiveness from this moment and not a ripple effect of anger.
As far as I know, I’m not close to death’s door. Still, “every day is judgment day” – this is what my teacher, Dr. David R. Hawkins, said. Each moment gives me the chance to prepare for death by living well. What I’ve learned is that the simple interactions of ordinary life matter most. Caring for a stray animal. Listening to a friend. Letting someone go in front of me in traffic or in the grocery line. Forgiving a family member. Encouraging and loving a child.
“Life is really very simple. But – it’s difficult to realize that.” This is one of the last things my teacher said before he passed. A lesson for the living, spoken by the dying.
Dying in peace doesn’t require that we live perfectly but that we’re willing to transform our mistakes into a means of grace.
Fran Grace, Ph.D., is founder of Inner Pathway, a 501(c)3 organization to inspire and educate on the inner qualities of love, joy, compassion, forgiveness, beauty, and humor. A year after writing this article, she and her lovemate lost their son to Covid; their journey of this experience is shared in their e-book, Love is Forever. Fran is also the author of The Power of Love.