“One of my goals in life is to do the slowest Primary Series anywhere… rather than the quickest”. Richard Freeman

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Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Bereavement practice and new Home Shala

Nietzsche ( chinchilla) died Monday night, he'd been with us for eighteen, going on nineteen years. 

I usually go up to him at eight-thirty in the evening to let him out for a couple of hours, for the last couple of months he'd have a quick roll around in his sand bath and then rush under a blanket and settle down between by ankles, burying his nose between the soles of my feet and staying there for  two hours or so while I'd read or watch something on the box.





When I got upstairs Monday evening he'd braced his head under a wooden chew tower he had in his cage and wasn't moving. I scooped him out and put him on my lap guessing that he'd had another stroke/seizure but that this one was more serious than the previous two. He laid on my lap until M. came home and we called a taxi to take him to the vet, I really didn't want him to suffer. Just before the Taxi arrived he had another fit, stretched and stretched and slowly let out his last breath and was gone.

Let me tell you about my boy Nietzsche
I'd found him in a pet shop in Canterbury when I was a teaching assistant at UKC, in the Philosophy department. I hadn't planned on bringing him home, but what can you do, he was tiny and fluffy and, well , you know....

I borrowed a shopping trolley from Sainsburys on the way home and he stayed in that for the first few months. He was so tiny though that he somehow squeezed between the bars of the trolley and I would wake up to find him sitting on my head eating my hair.

He liked to squeeze himself into the tiniest spaces. Chinchillas tend to look pretty round but they seem to be able to flatten themselves pancake like. He'd squeeze himself under and behind bookcases and wardrobes and make his loud screeching sound, either to say "I bet you can't find me"or "Please find me because getting in here was one thing but....", was never quite sure which.

When we moved to Broadstairs, in a flat by the sea, I built him the biggest, tallest cage ever and would leave the door open all night. M. was up working on her Masters back then so they would keep each other company. In the morning he would be back in his cage. One morning however he wasn't there and we couldn't find him anywhere, after pretty much giving up we found him high up the side of the fridge freezer in a gap three centimetres wide.



So we started trying getting him back in his cage every night before we went to bed, this it seems was a fun game for him.... less so for us

Nietzsche was a pain....in fact I wanted to call him Che on account of his South America origins but he was such a pain in the backside and yet lovable that I called him Nietzsche instead, besides he had these long whiskers...

He would constantly try to eat any wires he'd hunted out ( can't tell you how many headphones I've been through, almost all of my books have Nietzsche bites) or seemingly just about anything and you constantly had to get up to move him on to something else. I bought a couple of water pistols and used to shoot a little water just above his head which would gently drop down on to his tail and he would quit whatever mischief he was up to. Unfortunately I forgot to tell M. the full plan and found out later that she had been shooting him head on and had become quite a good shot, was horrified : )

After M. finished her Masters she went back to Japan and I followed a little later. The vet didn't seem to know what he was and put him down as a rabbit and I managed to talk the pilot into letting me take him in the cabin with me. The flight attendants upgraded us to club so I could have a spare seat for his travel box and even bought him some freshly julienned carrots as an in-flight meal.

And there are tons of stories of course, one of my favourites though was actually somebody else's. M and I had gone away, for a week or two ( might have been our honeymoon in Hawaii) and left him in the care of a friend. One evening she found he had gone missing and guessed that he had got through the doors onto the balcony and basically gone over ( we were ten flights up), she was beside herself but then heard his little screeching noise. Seems he had squeezed under the partition and was hiding amongst assorted debris on the neighbours balcony. With little to no Japanese she had to go next door, and try to explain to them why she need to go out to their balcony. Oh did I mention that Nietzsche has never liked being picked up. I heard this story almost every day for a year as my friend used to teach English in the next cubical to me, her task was for her students to decide the best thing to tell me when I we got back from holiday, assuming he had gone over.

When we came back to the UK ten years ago he had to go into quarantine for six months and we would take turns going down to the centre to sit with him for a couple of hours, two or three times a week, he had better housing than we had, and almost as expensive too, was good day when he finally came back home for good.

Quarantine
He's put up with a lot, my playing Sax, practising scales for hours on end and later hot, sweaty Ashtanga practices until we moved to where we are now and he got his own room.


Thank you to everyone who sent us condolences via fb yesterday.
M. took the day off and we ended up clearing his room ( a chinchillas room ends up with the walls covered in cardboard, things to amuse and entertain everywhere), that was tough, the messages coming in throughout the day helped get us through it a little more gently.

What to do with his room, I didn't want to end up avoiding it as well as memories of him so ended up embracing it instead and turned it into the new home shala.

I don't know that much about shala/meditation/puja room theory but I know a little.
It should be clean, neither too warm nor too cold, well ventilated. It should ideally, even if it's just a corner of another room, be just for the practice, whatever that is. You should never fight or argue with anyone in that space, it should only be associated with good thoughts, perhaps, ideally, have a devotional aspect of sorts.

This is where my boy was for five years and by association echoing back the eighteen years years he was with me, lots of good feelings in that room.

In loving kindness they suggest you begin your loving kindness meditation by directing it at your Mother, or yourself, a child or even a 'pet' (never really thought of him as a pet or as mine), you direct it somewhere with only warm, unselfish feelings of love, devotion etc. Then, as you go through the rest of that meditation directing it towards other members of family, friends teachers, community even up to your enemies you bring that feeling as a base note. I always began with Nietzsche, the feelings were warm, the sense of concern and care is basically unselfish devotion, no expectations for anything in return. That's a good place from which to start for a home shala.

May you be happy
may you be well
May you be safe
may you be peaceful


Maybe I think of him as some kind of Japanese, Shinto, Kami,
a protective spirit of the  room, even if that spirit is only my feeling of affection that I place as boundaries around the room, for the room.

This practice can build up the ego rather than reducing it. One way to avoid that is to dedicate your practice, surrender it up, to use the S word I'm always so uncomfortable with. A picture of a teacher or a deity can be enough, a little shrine like space is a development of that. I've never had one but understand the benefits of rituals to put you into an appropriate frame of mind. Never believed in Astrology or Tarot etc. but kind of get the idea that all of the theatre involved in that can focus your thinking, your intuition, effectively.

And so I made a little 'shrine' for the shala made up of Nietzsche's old red blanket, his old well chewed house and mineral stones, some sticks, all gnawed up over the years. Also his food bowl is there and part of the ritual is to put a cranberry ( he loved cranberries) in the bowl. At the back are the little posters I made up of Krishnamachary's pictures from Yoga Makaranda and Yogasanagalu. There too are Pattabhi Jois' Yoga Mala and Ramaswami's Vinyasa yoga book.

Got a bit carried away with the annotation, indulge me, feeling at a bit of a loose end in the evenings now


In Yoga for the Three Stages of Life Ramaswami mentions that before practice you should hold your teacher in your mind and then your deity in your heart. Before my practice I light a candle and offer my practice up to Krishnamacharya and Ramaswami if it's Vinyasa krama, Pattabhi Jois if it's Ashtanga, and now too, make an offering of a cranberry to the rooms Kami, my boy Nietzsche.

Sometimes only Ashtanga will do.

Big boys don't cry but we can sweat a bit.

I Practiced full on hardcore, by the book Ashtanga Primary yesterday in the new home Shala. It gets hot in there and practice was hot and sweaty and floaty, best practice since I don't know when. Along with what detox sweating may or may not have there was also a detoxing of negative, emotions, feelings of guilt, regrets, misgivings that perhaps you could have done more, spent more time with him, been a little less stern at times, more attentive, more loving, kinder.

Perhaps the salt in the sweat can be seen as having a purifying effect, getting rid of any remnants of the negative stuff and setting the room, the home shala up nicely for the future.



22 comments:

  1. I'm so sorry for your loss, Grim. That chinchilla was a cute little guy!

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  2. Hi Grimm

    I'm so sorry indeed to hear about Neitsche....it's really difficult when a pet passes over...nothing really prepares you and the greiving is remarkably difficult. I lost my 16 year old cat on December 14th and couldn't practice for about two weeks - rather gave up. I am fully confident that all animals have souls however and either go to pet heaven or seek a higher rebirth. Maybe it was just my emotions getting the better of me but on the first day of my resumed practice when I came to sitting after Savasana I felt the presence of Lottie so incredibly keenly sitting in front of me it took my breath away.

    I wish you and M the speediest of recoveries and a happy reincartion (if you are so inclined!) for Neitsche.

    with every best wish, KateR

    ReplyDelete
  3. Sorry to hear about Neitsche. It's tough to lose a pet. When we moved to the country, we lost both our cats within a few months. Even now, the catflap stays open - just incase.

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  4. Oh! So sad! He sounds like a great friend. Thanks for telling some of his story here.

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  5. Pets are beings like us. We care for them like any other family member. You delivered a good life to him! Prayers.

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  6. Sorry to hear about the loss of your beloved pet :-( Sounds like he had a very happy life with you.

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  7. Oh Anthony, I am SO sorry to hear about Nietzsche's passing. I always loved when you blogged little updates and stories about him. This post is such a lovely tribute to your friend. It's nice for me to get to know him a little bit better through your words. And I can't think of a more love-filled way to honor him than to devote his room to your new practice space. There has to be so much positive energy swirling around in there... I'm sure Nietzsche will watch over you both and will feel what's in your hearts just as surely as he can appreciate that beautiful shrine you made in his honor. I'm so sorry though. It hurts to lose a friend and nothing anyone can say can lessen that grief.

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  8. Beautifully said. You captured the essence of what it means to care for another animal, human or otherwise. I love that you made his space your own, how perfect.

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  9. N's shrine is just beautiful and i am so sorry to read of his passing. but how special it was for him to be able to die with you. he was waiting for you to go to him, you know.

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  10. Such a beautiful tribute, and again, I'm sorry for your loss. Your decision to turn his room into a practice space sounds like a constructive way of dealing with the grief, another type of practice, in a sense. Take care.

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  11. Thank you for sharing this story of you three (plus a friend, so of three-plus). Nietzche created a nice piece of world and I belive that rest. Just as I think of my cat who has gone rescently. Those feelings rest and this is love.

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  12. I take it you won't be doing the bit about washing the walls of the new shala all over with cow dung. I'm sure that the good memories you have of Nietzsche will bring all the calming and cleansing your beautiful new practice space needs. May you indeed be peaceful there.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Beautiful tribute. We've lost a few animal family members since I've had my yoga room. All of them loved to hang out a bit during practice time. I think of them (& miss them!) often during practice. I guess it's because when my heart really opens -- they're who're inside.

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  14. Oh, sweet thing, loved watching that last video. I like thinking of him as the protective spirit of the shala like you say, as the wise yogis say, he has not gone anywhere, just transformed. But we will miss his presence. God bless!

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  15. that was a sweet and lovely tribute, thank you for sharing your heart with us.

    He will live on in your hearts, but I am sorry for your loss.

    Love and blessings.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Thank you everyone, from both of us, for all the kind comments, it helps you know... softens it somewhat. And yes, I guess I know how this stuff works, it's tough, really tough at first, tremendous sense of loss mixed up with the bitter sweet of the nice memories but after a time it's just the nice memories that come through as the stupidest little thing reminds you of something and brings joy. Luckily M. and I have each other and can go through this together, must be just awful to go through it alone, my sympathies to any of you who may have had to face that.
    Sorry to hear you lost your cat recently Agata, hope it's getting a little easier.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Lovely post / story about your life with a little chinchilla friend. That's the sad thing about animal friends - being (mostly) shorter-lived than us, they do die and leave us behind. Thank you for posting it - and you'll probably be glad you did in the future - you will be able to go back and remind yourself about your time with Nietzsche.

    What a wonderful little creature, and what a wonderful life and adventures he had!!

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  18. This is one of the most loving tributes I've ever read, human or animal. Thank you for sharing it with us - and how fitting that you've been able to focus your sadness and loss, and made something beautiful and meaningful by which to remember him. That's one purpose of a shrine - to honor the lights that have blessed our lives. May it bring you solace!

    ReplyDelete
  19. My first thought was just, "No." Non-acceptance.

    I am very sorry for your loss.

    May your and your readers' memories of him be sweet for a long time to come.

    P.S. There's a new book on Vastu by Robert Svoboda, available direct from Namarupa press.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, it was expected I guess, old boy and there had been signs lately.
      "Non-Acceptance" is less of an option when they go on your lap. The part re the room isn't so much to hang on to him, I know enough about how grief works that you don't have to worry about that, the slightest, stupidest thing can bring back memories of those and that which we loved...there are countless madeleines it seems, It was rather to make use of the good mental space associated with him, the care...you know, and to use it to take practice foreword somewhat.
      Thanks for the reminder re Svobda's Vastu, saw the notification but hadn't got around to reading what it was about, interesting was going to fish out my Bachelard, this is a nicer idea perhaps.

      Delete
  20. I'm so sorry for your loss. Krids like Neitsche are incredible blessings. No words I say will make you feel better, but if you meditate on love, you will feel him.

    ReplyDelete
  21. RIP Nietzsche....I hope your loss brings you closer to your loved ones. If it's any consolation, nineteen years seems like an awful long time for an animal that size. Of course, I don't know anything about animals, but it does seem like a full life. I wonder if you ever had him try that Nietzsche "Will to Power" bar, I always see that energy bar at the bookstore....

    ReplyDelete

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A Reminder

from Kalama sutra, translation from the Pali by Bhikkhu Bodhi This blog included.

"So, as I said, Kalamas: 'Don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, "This contemplative is our teacher." When you know for yourselves that, "These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering" — then you should abandon them.' Thus was it said. And in reference to this was it said.

"Now, Kalamas, don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, 'This contemplative is our teacher.' When you know for yourselves that, 'These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness' — then you should enter & remain in them. Buddha - Kalama Sutta
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