Having just had a birthday, I am now 78 years old. That means that I have one more birthday before my 70's become my 80's. I watch TV, listen to the radio and read the Sunday papers and inevitably there is mention of some celebrity or other who has just died aged between 75 and 85. There is no escaping the fact that this particular lifetime is nearing its close.
Does this worry me? I would be lying if I said no. I am fairly philosophical about dying but I have a fear of suffering. The idea of a stroke fills me with terror. Every time I get a niggling pain somewhere I think to myself "Is this it?"
Sadly I had a reminder of the impermanence of life when my dear old dog Donut became terminally ill. He began vomiting and was reluctant to go out for walks. He lived for our twice daily walks and would bounce with glee when I reached for his harness and lead. The vet said it was likely something he ate and suggested chamomile tea. He hated chamomile tea and the vomiting continued, so we went back to the vet. He continued to recommend the tea and suggested I squirt it into his mouth through a syringe . Donut got worse so I decided on a second opinion and took him to another vet. He immediately took blood samples and kept him in over night.
When we went back to the vet the next morning there was very bad news. He was suffering fro chronic kidney failure. They were going to keep him in over the weekend with continuing treatment but he warned us not to be too hopeful. On Monday morning he was obviously very ill and distressed. The vet said there was nothing further they could do other than put him gently to sleep.
I couldn't believe how distressed I became and my wife and I hugged each other as we bawled our eyes out. He was just a scruffy old dog who we had got from the Animal Rescue Centre in Mahon. We had had him for just 2 years but my bond with him was so strong and even now, over 6 months later I still feel sad and miss him.
As a Buddhist I am often asked if I believe in reincarnation or re-birth. I try to give a sensible answer but I don't know what happens when you die any more than anyone else. All I have are some gut feelings and I have written about this elsewhere in this blog. I believe our karma plays a part and although I couldn't give a cogent explanation I have a gut feeling that there is more. If we all felt this way it would probably make us more determined than ever to save our planet from destruction. If we knew that there was no escape, that would couldn't walk away from our responsibilities because we are going to keep coming back . Will I meet up with my old friends on 'the other side'? It would be nice to think so but I doubt it. But we must try to leave this lifetime as carefully as we can knowing we have may have a lot of sorting out to do in our next lifetime.
Thursday, 25 January 2018
Mindfulness is simply paying attention in a special way, non-judgementally and in the present moment. In the Mindfulness of Breathing meditation the focus is the breath, but it could be almost anything. You could be mindful of a flower or the flame of a candle. This morning I discovered that it can also be the mindfulness of walking a dog.
This Mindfulness of Dog Walking doesn’t take place on a deserted beach or on a cross country ramble, but just an ambling walk around town. Dogs love routine and although I have always tried to avoid becoming a creature of habit, since we came to live here and particularly since we adopted a scruffy dog, I have come to enjoy the routine of our regular walks. This morning I decided to pay attention to every aspect of our walk around the small town of Alaior in Menorca.
The walk was fairly typical. We left the house at just before 8.30 in the morning and as usual turned right. This takes us to a large plot of weed covered land where Donut the dog can do his business. Although it is off the pavement, I always make a point of using a poo-bag – something the locals are rather lax about. At this time of day parents are taking their children to the adjacent school. There is quite a large population of Muslims in our town and the number of hijabs tends to grow every year. The women all seem to be frightened of dogs and pull their children close to them as they pass. They also avoid eye contact so whilst the locals always give you a cheery “bon dia” they always remain silent. I wonder if they are forbidden to speak to strangers, particularly men.
We run into other dog walkers, nod and exchange ‘bon dias’ whilst the dogs sniff each other’s bottoms. I don’t know if there has been research into what dogs learn about each other from these encounters. It is obviously very important to them. Most nose to nose meetings are friendly with much tail wagging but occasionally, for no obvious reason, they can react with a growl. So whatever information is being exchanged it seems essential to scent mark every tree and lamp post in the neighbourhood. I like to refer to it as sending and receiving ‘pee-mail’.
We head towards the centre of town, enter the square and take a seat outside one of the coffee shop. The Spanish love their coffee but unlike Costa and Starbucks; they serve coffee in sensible sized cups not giant pint-sized mugs of weak coffee topped with 2 inches of foamed milk and sold at extortionate prices. I have come to love my early morning café-con-leché together with a freshly baked croissant shared strictly 50/50 with my dog.
The winter is the peak time for citrus fruits. Everywhere you look orange trees are laden with fruit. Consequently a popular alternative to coffee is delicious, freshly squeezed orange juice. The oranges are enormous and far juicier than anything you would find in a British supermarket. They are also extremely sweet but seemingly not sweet enough for Spanish tastes as they are always served with sachets of sugar.
The town used to have many traditional bakers but most of them have closed. Mainly because all the local supermarkets sell freshly baked bread so cheaply. The bread is baked on the premises but there are no bakers needing dough and baking in traditional wood fired ovens; the dough is produced elsewhere and delivered daily to the supermarkets who cook it in electric ovens with pre-set baking times. Usually these baguettes and pans are slightly over baked for our English pallets so bizarrely we buy our bread in the petrol station. They also have dough delivered but the pointy ended pans they produce are whiter and more to our taste. Our regular morning purchase of bread at the petrol station has become so routine that they see us coming and it is already on the counter waiting for me as I open the door. Each pan costs just 95 centimos, about 75p. Brilliant value but I feel slightly guilty for not supporting the few remaining traditional bakers.
We pass one of the depots where the supermarkets’ dough is produced and where they make many types of cakes and pastries. The smell as we pass by is unbelievably mouth-watering. We have come to know Tollo, one of the bakers. He must start work incredibly early in the morning and around 8.30 he emerges covered in flour and heads to the nearest bar for a much needed cup of strong coffee. He is a strikingly handsome man. Aged about 40, very personable, with a full jet-black beard, he looks like a character from an old Spanish movie and must surely make a few women’s hearts flutter. He speaks excellent English and we always exchange a few brief words before he hurries back to tend his ovens. How he copes with the extreme heat in July and August goodness only knows.
The circuit has taken just under an hour and now leads us back home where Donut will be fed and we will start our day. Naturally, as the seasons change, so do some of the rituals of our walks but it remains a charming way to begin the day.