In the fall of 2005 I noticed a young cat hanging out in my back yard. I didn’t think too much of it because cats like my back yard and I very frequently have neighborhood cats hanging out back there. I noticed that another of my cats, Yogi, really seemed to like this one particular young cat — he’d try to coax her into the house, sometimes sitting inside the back door chirping at her while she growled and fumed outside because she didn’t know what to do with the cat door. She eventually made it inside and promptly parked herself on my couch, refusing to budge for me or anyone else, including Yogi.
After a couple of days I managed to get her to sit in my lap so that I could read the information on her collar. It turned out that she lived about two blocks away, on the other side of a very busy six lane thoroughfare, and she’d somehow managed to get across that road, find her way through the neighborhood, jump the five foot wall around my back yard, and park herself on my couch. So I phoned the number on her collar and eventually reached her owner, who was a young college student who had inherited her when the group with whom he’d been living broke up and no one else wanted her. He was in no position to care for her but wanted to make sure she was OK. When he came to get her I told him that if he decided that taking care of her was too much, I would take her — one more cat wouldn’t make much of a difference.
About two hours later I got a call from the fellow. I could hear a cat hollering in the background as he told me he’d like to take me up on my offer. So a few minutes later he drove up in front of my house and climbed out of his car with this young cat in his arms. She immediately started squirming and hollering, forcing him to put her down. As soon as her feet hit the ground she ran up the driveway, through the carport, and climbed over the gate into my back yard. I talked with her ex-owner for a bit and then went back into the house to discover that the young cat had once again parked herself on my couch, and once again refused to budge for anyone, human or cat. It was as though she had made up her mind that this was where she was supposed to be and no one, not anyone, was going to change that.
Since I like to wait to find a good name for cats and dogs I started calling her “Squirt” after another small female cat I once had, but I never intended for that name to stick — it was just a temporary thing. After about three months I decided I needed to find her a proper name, so I started thinking, but without much luck — nothing felt right. One day I was at my computer and Squirt was curled up on a side desk with her back to me, where she liked to sleep when I was doing computer work. I started looking through baby name listings, mythological lists, other stuff, but I couldn’t find anything that was right. So I looked at her as she slept and thought, “OK, what do you want to be called? What name do you want?” And immediately I felt a thump on the top of my head and I heard the name “Pema” (Tibetan for “lotus”). I looked at Squirt, who was still curled up with her back to me, and I said out loud, “Pema? Is your name Pema?” And immediately she woke up, looked around, looked at me, climbed across the desk and into my lap. Which was unusual because she never, to this day, likes to sit in my lap when I’m at the computer. But on that particular day she did just that: she curled up in my lap and went back to sleep and I had both my hands on her and I said to her, “OK, you’re Pema, but I’m still going to call you Squirt.” And she looked up at me, met my gaze, and meowed/chirped at me. And then she went back to sleep.
Just before Christmas of this past year, 2014, Squirt developed a urinary tract infection. When I took her to the vet to get some antibiotics the vet weighed her and it turned out that Squirt weighed 12.5 lbs, the same as my male cat Stripes. By the end of January (2015) it seemed to me that Squirt was losing weight: she felt lighter than Stripes, and her hips seemed more prominent. I wasn’t sure if that was true, or if it was just my imagination, so by the end of the first week in February I was thinking about taking her to the vet to at least get her weight checked. But she seemed to be feeling OK, eating and drinking and doing her normal cat things — so I wasn’t all that worried.
On the Friday before Valentine’s Day of this year, 2015, I played with Squirt in the morning and then she headed off for her morning nap. That evening I went to my friends’ house for our usual meditation group. When I got home I discovered water on the floor in the bathroom, next to the cats’ water bowl. I realized one of the cats had thrown up. Stripes was Ok, but Squirt was curled up on my bed and fairly listless. My first thought was that the urinary tract infection may have come back, so first thing on Saturday morning I phoned the vet to make an appointment, but couldn’t get in until Monday morning. So I needed to get Squirt through the weekend, and I remembered that I had some left-over antibiotics in the fridge. The antibiotics hadn’t yet expired so I asked the vet if it was OK to give them to Squirt to carry her over to Monday, and the vet said there was no problem. So I gave Squirt the antibiotics on Saturday morning and evening, and Sunday morning and evening until they ran out.
I was awake most of the night on Friday, checking on Squirt probably every hour. On Saturday she was finding her way to the water bowl, but was lying down with her head on the edge of the bowl to drink. She threw up once and I noticed that there was only clear water, no food, so she wasn’t eating. So I pureed some canned cat food so that I could feed her through a syringe if need be.
During the day on Saturday Squirt managed to go outside and sit in the back yard in her favorite spot in the sun. Every now and then I’d go out to check on her but she seemed happy to just lie in the sun and sleep. After the sun had gone down she was still outside, so I went out and brought her in. She seemed much weaker by that time, but she still managed to get herself into a closet where she liked to sleep.
After awhile I sat down in front of the open closet — she was pretty much in the closet opening — and I visited with her. At some point I decided to meditate with her and do as much healing as I could, but with an eye to keeping her going until I could get her to the vet on Monday morning. So I meditated with her for some time, doing whatever healing I could, and all the while I felt the same pressure on the top of my head that I felt when she told me that her name was Pema almost ten years ago. I knew that I was very much in touch with the being named Pema who had come into my life very intentionally those ten years ago, and who had occupied the form of a cat in order to be with me in my life.
I eventually went to bed, still intent on getting Squirt/Pema through the weekend and to the vet on Monday morning. I had been in bed a very short while when I noticed an increase in the pressure at the top of my head and above my head, and I heard a woman’s voice saying over and over again, “happy, happy, happy, happy, happy, happy, happy, happy…” It was as if the words were spinning in a circle above my head, around and around with all kinds of energy and light and bliss. And I knew it was Pema who was saying the words.
And then there was a pause, and the voice, Pema’s voice, said to me, “Thank you for loving me.” And when she said those words I had a picture of what she meant. As much as I loved her as a cat, as a being, what she was referring to was this: More than a few times I’ll find myself, usually in bed, completely immersed in and permeated by an ocean of infinite love. It’s all around me, it’s in me, it’s through me. A couple of times when that has happened my cats have been on the bed with me, and they can feel what’s happening, they can feel the love, and they move towards it. On one occasion I can remember Stripes on one side of me and Squirt/Pema on the other. Both cats had their noses pressed against my ribs, and they were kneading my sides with the paws. And both were purring their hearts out, but especially Squirt. She was purring in large, gasping, orgasmic purrs, and she was so engrossed in the feeling that she was drooling, so much so that my ribs and the sheet on her side were soaking wet from her drooling. On other occasions Squirt would get close to me, usually in the middle of the night, and put her paws and chin on my forearm, and her nose up against my face. And she’d purr her heaving orgasmic purrs, and when I’d turn on the light I could see her eyes, and see that she was lost in bliss. So that was what Pema was referring to when she said, “Thank you for loving me.”
I realized that what she had been doing was allowing herself to be immersed in infinite love. She was allowing herself to be loved unconditionally. And she was practicing so that when she finally left her little cat body she would be able to allow herself to be immersed and saturated with infinite love. Her whole life with me, from the time she very intentionally found her way to my house and parked herself on my couch had been about her practicing allowing herself to be immersed in unconditional love.
I told her that I was very proud of what she had accomplished and that it was OK if this was her time to go, but that I would still try to make sure she was OK, and try to get her to the vet on Monday. Then I heard her say that her body was failing and that there was no recovery, and that there was nothing that could be done. But I still spent most of that night checking on her.
By Sunday morning she had moved from the closet to the corner under my desk, which is where she stayed all day Sunday. Whenever I would check on her I would find her basically lifeless. Touching her was like touching an empty body. There was no life force feeling, no breathing, no movement. But I would scratch her ears and rub her head and suddenly she’d come back into her body, taking a deep breath and raising her head to look at me. Then she’d put her head in my hand and let me rub her ears some more. And then she’d be gone again. It was as though all of her was in an ocean of infinite love except for her little toe, which was still in touch with her body. All the while I could still feel the pressure at the top of my head, and if I switched my attention from the little dying cat body to Pema herself, I would be in the ocean of love with her, and I’d be celebrating with her.
This went on all day Sunday, but by ten o’clock or so on Sunday evening Pema’s connection with her body was growing less and less. I seriously needed to sleep, so I tried to lie down for a bit, but as soon as I closed my eyes I was right with Pema, immersed in the ocean with her. Sometimes I couldn’t quite find her, so I’d say her name and she would kind of half-materialize out of the ocean, not a full form but rather a semi-transparent shape coming together out of the ocean of love.
At one point there was a kind of silence and I wondered where she had gone. And then I heard her say very forcefully and loudly, “Supreme Joy……found it!!!” And there was an explosion of light and energy and happiness.
Some time after that I got up to check on her and discovered that she had fully and finally left her body.
I buried Squirt on Monday morning. But I let her lie under my desk for a few hours beforehand so that my remaining cat, Stripes, could say goodbye. At first he would sit in my lap and look at her and it was as though she wasn’t there: it was as though he wasn’t looking for a live body but rather for Pema, for the being that had occupied the body, and if Pema was no longer there then Stripes couldn’t recognize the body as hers.
The next day, Tuesday, Stripes was going around the house insisting on looking into every cupboard, both bathrooms, the closets — and kept coming back to me to open closed doors for him. Every now and then he’d come back to the corner under my desk where Squirt died and he’d stand and stare into the corner as if he was expecting her to turn up. He’d also stand at the door to the closet where she liked to sleep, and peer in.
By that Wednesday I thought Stripes had settled down a lot, but that evening he went out the cat door into the back yard and I could hear him quietly meowing. The back yard light was on so I could see him standing and looking off into the darkness, so I touched the cat door flap with my foot, thinking it might coax him back into the house. Instead, he wheeled around and came running toward the cat door, all the while meowing over and over in a kind of hopeful meow (you know how cats do it when their meow ends on an upnote?) When he got to the cat door I lifted the flap and he stood there looking in and meowing some more. He was looking for Squirt and I guess he hoped she’d be the one on the other side of the door. After a couple of minutes he decided to come in. He walked past me and into the living room. I followed. I found him sitting and sniffing the brush that Squirt liked to be brushed with — it still had her fur and her scent in it. Stripes then lay down next to the brush and put his head on the bristles. It was so sad. I wished that I could share with Stripes the larger picture of Squirt’s life and death, and her immersion in infinite love. I hope that he knows it on some level, and I hope that he’ll get there someday himself.
In fact I hope that everyone, all beings in all worlds, will get there someday and experience it for themselves. Everyone beats themselves up so much with this spiritual practice, that spiritual practice, this religion, that religion, when really the whole thing is about allowing yourself to be loved unconditionally.