The (Re) Cycle of Life

A couple times a week I leave my home and drive eight miles down the mountain to do my food shopping and errands. The first couple of times I did it, I will admit, I was terrified. I’m not used to driving windy country roads and I also have problems with vertigo. Going down anything, especially a mountain is not my favorite thing to do. The way I got through it (and still do), is to say mantras and keep my eyes on the road.

This morning I felt more relaxed and actually could look at the scenery while I drove; that’s how I noticed several huge birds flying around. I thought, They look like turkey vultures. Turkey Vulture in flight

A minute later I saw why they were flying overhead. A dead deer laid by the side of the road and three turkey vultures were feasting. I’m guessing the others were flying, waiting for their turn or were scared away by the passing cars. I only looked for a couple seconds. My heart felt sad for the poor deer.

As I continued down the mountain, I thought about the impermanence of life and yet at the same time, how all sentient beings really never die. Well, that’s what Thich Nhat Hanh said in one of his dharma talks and it makes sense to me. Yes, the deer was killed but it soon became food for the birds and whatever other critters might have shown up. The essence of the deer became part of the birds, who ate it’s flesh… and someday those same birds will become food for something else. Maybe not for another creature but their bodies will decompose and become part of the earth, which will help grow flowers or grass or trees.

Even though I understand about impermanence, I still felt sorry for the deer.




Celebrating the Life of a Bodhisattva

am celebration

Today I celebrated the life of a Bodhisattva. Her name was (is) Anna Marie (A.M.) Collins and she is a perfect example of what a Bodhisattva looks like. She is the kindest, most compassionate human being I ever met and she taught me a lot about forgiveness and non-judgment.

I learned a few things about her today I never knew; she lived in a commune when she was in her early twenties; she studied Buddhism and Astrology; she was an AA sponsor; she wrote a successful play, “Angry Housewives” (does that name sound familiar?); she worked as a phone psychic and went on to working with dogs. Elephants were her passion. She was booked to return to volunteer at an elephant sanctuary in India this spring.

A.M. died suddenly a couple weeks ago from a massive stroke, a reminder of  life’s impermanence. She walked the earth for 59 years and what an impression she made while she was here. A.M. touched so many sentient beings’ lives. This is a sign she wrote and kept by her work desk:

AM quote

The first time I met A.M. was when I was going through cancer treatment. She worked with my husband, John at a doggie kennel, and offered to sit with me one day while he ran errands. I was too weak to be left alone. As soon as I met her, we clicked. I felt like I knew her for a life time and this was before I studied Buddhism. I was just a chick, a very sick chick, who was trying to get through the day. A.M. brought along a book to read in case I slept through her visit. It had to do with Buddhist teachings. I don’t remember all of our conversation except that I wanted to know more about Buddhism and something called, “sentient beings”. I wanted to learn how to be like her.

Over the past five years, that I knew her, I never heard her say a bad word about anyone. Last summer John was “jumped” by five teenage boys at his workplace. It was nine o’clock and he was alone at work. When he came home with a swollen eye from being punched, A.M., who was his supervisor, got an “earful” from me when I called to tell her what happened. I yelled at her for at least ten minutes. John told me a few days later, that A.M. admitted to putting the phone down so I could let off steam and she wouldn’t have to deal with all my negative energy. I laughed about that, well, sort of. I had to let it go, after all, she wasn’t the one who punched John.

Two years ago, A.M. made us a home a made Christmas card with pictures of my doggies on it. I still have it. We didn’t spend a lot of time together but we exchanged gifts many times. I treasure them now.

There are wonderful, famous Buddhist teachers, many of whom I follow, but I think the best “teachers” are the people we meet everyday. They never write books or have websites.They aren’t guests on Oprah, but the impression they make is just as “real”. They work in dog kennels, are AA sponsors, volunteer at sanctuaries, or bag your groceries. They walk the earth and make everyone they meet feel welcome, just like A.M.

She donated her organs and left her body to science. She continued to give even after she took her last breath.Thích Nhất Hạnh says we never die. We just live on as something else; the air, the trees, the wind. A.M. lives on in the bodies of a few people. Her heart continues to beat in another person fortunate enough to have it. Will this person ever know how kind she was? Who knows? I’m sure it isn’t important to A.M. She’s happy to know she could help someone who needed it.

I am grateful to have known this woman, she made my life better.

I want to carry on her legacy, and “be willing to help all beings”.


AM elephant

Namaste A.M. — until we meet again over the Rainbow Bridge.

Oh, I almost forgot, another friend of hers wrote a beautiful piece about her life in the local newspaper. If you would like to read it, click here.



The Earthworm


Four times a day, I take my doggies out for a walk around the condo complex where we live. Sometimes there are snails crossing the sidewalks or other small creatures. I make sure to go around them so they won’t get stepped on. They are sentient creatures who want to live as much as me, so I make sure to watch out for their safety. This morning we ran into a neighbor, Joe who walked with us. He was chatting away and I listened, all the while looking for creatures that might be in our path. About a foot ahead of us was an earthworm and I knew Joe and the worm was on a collision course.

In an instant I pictured myself pushing Joe into the grass to save the worm from sudden death. But what if Joe fell and broke his arm? Would that be considered assault? Would the judge take into account, I was only trying to save a sentient being and then have to go on to explain that worms do fall under that umbrella? Hasn’t he seen the move Seven Years in Tibet?

Inside my head, I completely panicked. I knew what was coming and had no way to stop it. Everything happened so fast. Joe never looked down to see what I was looking at. I don’t think the worm looked up. It never knew what hit him– or was it a she? I couldn’t look at the poor worm. I know it was no match for Joe’s size 11 dress shoes.

I am sorry I wasn’t able to save it. My only hope is that the worm comes back someday with a body that at least has a hard shell.




Jinx Died

jinx dinner time

Yesterday, Jinx my 17-year-old kitty crossed the Rainbow Bridge. Luckily I was home when it happened. Two years ago a mass in his chest was discovered. We never knew exactly what it was, but our vet suspected it was cancer. After hearing that news, we knew he was using up his remaining nine lives.

I was upset when I realized he was taking his last breaths, yelling his name several times as I held him in my arms. I don’t know why I did that, except that I didn’t want to let him go. Hubby wasn’t home at the time, so I sat with Jinx in my arms and we waited. I cuddled him and told him how much I loved him. About a half hour later hubby arrived. We took Jinx to our vet have his body cremated. In about a week he will come home and join our other fur babies on the family alter.

pet alter 002

Our home feels different now that he is gone. The energy isn’t the same. It’s too quiet. When we rescued Jinx off the streets of San Francisco, he was two years old. He was always quiet and the sweetest cat I ever lived with — and I’ve lived with a lot. We still have four others living with us now. The last couple of years Jinx became more vocal. The vet said he probably had some dementia because he always wanted food. There was nothing wrong with him (except for the mass), he simply forgot he just ate something. Jinx meowed a lot, wanting to get my attention. I think it’s his meowing that I miss too, even though at the time, I admit, he drove me a bit crazy with his demands.

The Buddhist teachings about impermanence helped prepare me for his death. It helped me understand and accept that every thing dies one way or another eventually. The key is to enjoy and appreciate my life and my family while we are here. Getting caught up in the busyness of life, its easy to lose sight of that. I am working on it. I want all my family members to know they are loved. My pets are included in my family.

A few years ago I was separated from my family for several months, looking for work and new place to live. When I got home, I vowed to never leave them again. I missed them so much.

Impermanence reminds me that our time here is limited. I want to live in the present moment and enjoy every minute of it. Jinx is gone physically but I am left with wonderful memories of our life together. I wish I had remembered to chant Om Mani Padme Hum while Jinx was crossing over, but at the time I panicked. So tonight I will chant it and think of him as I meditate.

I found this poem on the online magazine, Elephant:

Life and Death are but an illusion.

Happy and Sad are just a state of mind.

Love and Compassion alleviates the suffering

Of All sentient Beings — those who have been

our Mothers and our Fathers.

To recognize the interconnectedness of all beings

Is to know peace! ~ a Buddhist Homage.


This poem is from the Rainbow Bridge website:

Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.

All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor. Those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent. His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.

You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.

Author Unknown

Om Mani Padme Hum Jinx