For as long as I’ve been alive, I have loved and lived with cats.
By consequence, to this day, they hold an indelible place in my heart. I’ve come, with time, to appreciate what can seem perplexing to some others: their apparent aloofness and notoriously uncompromising sense of independence. In fact, I’ve become so accustomed to their character that within two months of living in Florida after uprooting my life back in 2015, I told myself and my then-fiancé that I could not bear to live without one.
And by a flash of synchronicity, I was divinely guided to rescue the being I named Alice the night before Halloween.
Initially, the intention was to keep her inside for a couple of days in order to protect her from drunk or sickly superstitious people who might come to hurt her simply because of her colour. However, soul recognition quickly emerged and my human heart would not permit to let her go. And so, despite already having one small yet unduly territorial dog, we kept Alice as our own.
In the past seven years, Alice has been the evergreen in each season of my life. The anchor. The rock. The solid oak tree. Her mere presence alone has brought me unwavering comfort and peace. Whenever I look into her eyes, I see not only her face but feel her effervescent spirit shining through her physical form, just as the luminous rays of the sun reach through the glass windows to envelop me in an all-encompassing embrace on a fine summer morning.
What I have with her is not only a parent-child type of bond, but also a deeply spiritual connection that transcends the limitations of reason. She is more than an animal to me—she is a guardian angel. A fairy-godmother-like entity. The life underneath a frozen ground, ready to sprout with hope and the enterprise of light after long, cold months in relative darkness.
Clearly speaking, she rescued me just as undeniably as I did her.
However, seldom did I account for the real possibility that I might one day be faced with a demon that I could not as easily save her from. That is, the ghost that hides in her cells and DNA. And that is precisely what finally revealed itself two months after I brought her in for a check-up at the vet. It was discovered, after a series of tests, that Alice has a condition called feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and low-grade hyperthyroidism.
Upon receiving this news, it seemed as though all the lights went out. Suddenly, my whole world went black. Tears rolled down my cheeks as the doctor brutally explained the nature and trajectory of the condition and I thought: Why her? Why me? Why this? Why now?
In a typical human way, I made her body’s unwelcome inhabitant into a personal problem I wanted to get rid of and thus viewed it through the lens of a separate self, blind to the potentiality behind the stark event and unable to see the paradoxical perfection in the seeming imperfection which is the omnipotent totality of all that is.
Prior to the visit to the vet, I was in the process of remembering what I am and uncovering myself accordingly, layer by layer, to allow my essence to shine through and illuminate every corner of my life. I was forcing myself to slow down, only to the extent that I feasibly could, so that I was able to fuel my finite body and mind with the infinite life force energy that is my soul. I was planting metaphorical seeds and watering the grounds daily, so that the earth upon which I stood could blossom into the garden of Eden, a place where I could dwell in paradise when the illusion of separation disintegrates into the ethers, lost to and gone from what I refer to as no-one.
So, after the diagnosis, I was faced with two apparent options, according to the seeker in me:
1. Collapse with grief and self-pity for the form that is slowly breaking down and see only separation, or…
2. Consciously decide what or who I am in relation to what is appearing and be the untethered witness who sees the higher benefit beyond the labels “good” and “bad.”
And, yet, here I was, sad, concerned, and even feeling sorry for myself in that moment. The all-too-familiar separate self had re-emerged from Plato’s cave, from some-one.
The long drive home from the vet was shrouded in a medley of thoughts.
Perhaps I should simply give up on my quest for personal growth.
Maybe this is life’s way of telling me that this is not the right time for me—that is, the real me. How can I focus on myself when I am so fearful for my cat who is elderly and in need of care?
And what about all of the programs I am enrolled in to become a life coach? Perhaps I should just forget about that dream, as well. How can I become the kind of coach and spiritual teacher I want to become when I can’t even accept the natural laws of gain and loss? I can’t guide others to enlightenment when I have never even tasted it myself.
I spent an hour watching grey clouds of thought move in and seemingly obscure the light that I already am.
Over the next couple of weeks, I found myself alternating between intermittent tears followed by brief periods of hopefulness. Then, I witnessed anger and panic arise. Afterwards, there was some numbness followed again by cycles of tears and triumph.
It hurt to see my cat as she was—even when she was doing the normal things she’d always done—knowing ever more intimately how frightfully mortal she was. Yet, simultaneously, it pained me just as much not to see her at all. I rushed to greet her each morning, to assure myself that she was okay. And I kissed and said goodnight to her each and every evening before bed, as though she might not wake up the next day. Never again would I ever take her presence for granted, I promised myself.
Each week, I cried during my coaching calls, telling the group about Alice’s recent diagnosis and that I felt I wasn’t spiritually evolved enough to face the inevitable, right here and now. My own coach listened to me carefully as I sobbed through the speaker for half an hour, telling her that I wasn’t ready to lose Alice despite what I knew about the futility of attachments to any and all physical forms. Comforting me with her words, she gently reminded me that I was already going through the stages of grief and not to be so hard on myself while it was all still so fresh.
At one point, I said, through my tears, that I had known several family members who died within the past 10 years and that even though I believe in a continuation, I never seem to feel them in and around me. She replied, “Sarah, do you know something? My mother is still here. She lives in another town. When I go to visit her, I cannot feel her. I’ve never been able to feel anyone’s presence through my own.”
That last statement struck me as a subtly profound one, but I wasn’t quite sure how to fully assimilate it into my current understanding of what was happening to me. So, instead, I sat on her words for a while and tossed them around until I was able to come to my own reconciliation with them, on my own time and in my own unique way.
The following week, the vet called again to tell me that Alice’s heart condition was more serious than they’d suspected and she was at a higher risk for blood clots. My own heart dropped into my stomach as I listened. I could barely hear a word. She was then prescribed a medication called Atenolol, a beta blocker which helps to reduce the heart rate and left ventricular outflow tract obstruction. Although I initially felt hesitant to put her on pills, I knew that the side effects of not treating her were imminent, and other treatment options left me feeling nebulous as well.
So, reluctantly, I agreed to have her treated. I was confused, saddened, and had reached the peak of frustration. I drove to the park to cry alone in the wooded area. Later, I sat to meditate among the trees, feeling hugged by nature itself. During that time, I thought to myself, there must be a higher good beyond the “good” and “bad,” so why can’t I just trust it? Why can’t I trust that life is happening for me rather than to me? I can’t just go from fearing death to total acceptance of it over night, and that is precisely what life seems to be demanding of me now.
For the past several months, in addition to being more and more intentional about increasing my consciousness, I’d also been listening to spiritual teachers like Anna Brown, Ram Dass, and Rupert Spira. I remember a video I had come across on YouTube where an audience member who had just recently lost her father asked Spira a question. She told him that she felt her dad in her heart more fully and wanted to know, from his perspective, how he would describe the place where our loved ones go after death.
Thoughtfully and eloquently, he said:
“How would I describe that place? I would describe it simply as your heart. They didn’t actually go to that place; they were always in your heart as your heart. That is what the feeling of love is—you and I are one. Your father always lived in your heart; its where he only ever lived. He only seemed to live outside you—down the road, or in the city, but that’s only really true. That was just at the level of appearances. Really, he always was in your heart. Now you can’t find him down the road anymore, so the only place you can find him is in your heart. That’s how to understand death and the ones you lose. You don’t lose them; you gain them…”
Years ago, those words would have sounded only like a poetic sentiment to comfort the bereaved, but because I’d been noticing the life underneath the mere physical appearance and letting go of a universe composed solely of matter and nothing else, this time I resonated with them. I recognized them as the life beneath all apparent forms. I knew it to be true.
In addition, I knew that the truth didn’t need to believed in; that belief was for the mind, the person, a security blanket for the character in the dreamed world. Moreover, I thought about all of the persistent physical illusions I’ve had to bury long before the realization that consciousness is not a product of matter. I’ve had to collapse the belief in separation many times over and never have I come out of it less wise and less open.
Perhaps, I thought, I could face this ordeal just as consciously and come out more equanimous than ever before. Furthermore, I remembered the enlightened words of my spiritual coach, who said, “The whole point of relationship is to decide who and what I am in relation to it (or them).” I’d never forgotten his words. So, I continued, what am I in relation to my current circumstances? If I truly am the untethered observer of all the sensations, thoughts, and perceptions that are arising in consciousness, then it would follow that I am necessarily watching events unfold on the level of form to the body, the character I am playing, and not to the essential being that I am in the absolute, or in the grander scheme of all that is. In absolute terms, I remain intact and unbothered.
And just like that, this revelation set me free from the bondage of my physical circumstances. Although sadness and worry still arise here and there, I am no longer consumed by them. In fact, I welcome them simply because they show me where I am still attached, and they inspire me to let go and remember what I am not—which is the one who sees a universe of random events, matter, and separation.
Nowadays, when I look at my beloved Alice, I know what it is that I am responding to when the experience of personal love arises. I am, whether consciously or not, reacting to her energetic vibration, her infallible spirit. I remind myself that what appears to the physical eyes is only a molecular dance; that all of what we see is vibrating energy. No one can make me feel love. Instead, only I can generate my own love and claim, through the limited mind, that love was triggered by someone or something outside of me based on what is occurring in that moment.
Additionally, as the first law of thermodynamics states, energy can neither be created or destroyed. We are energy. Everything is energy. And, yes, love is the single most powerful energy there is and those we hold dear do indeed exist in our heart as our heart, as Spira so beautifully stated. And that too, can never be diminished.
Furthermore, I humble myself to remember that Alice never really belonged to me. Alice, at her core, is her own sovereign soul and her visible presence is only a physical manifestation of the one great mystery. I remember the words of Khalil Gibran, who once wrote, “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.”
So, we can express gratitude for what we’ve had the privilege to hold, but we must remember what we are and where we come from, and when the time comes, we let go.
Death is just a stripping away of the body, the dissolution of the character on the grand stage. I, myself, am learning to die before I die, and Alice too is taking her own spiritual journey back to her essential nature, in her own way, right along with me. The unfolding of her life’s events parallel my own, like the soul mates we are to each other. They, too, are among my greatest spiritual teachers, because when it comes right down to it, we are all here to remember who we are.
Below is the Rupert Spira video that changed my entire perspective: