sand mandala death ritual

 Kamal Ratna Tuladhar on WikiMedia Commons: “Newar Buddhists of Nepal make a mandala (sand painting) depicting the Buddha as part of the death rituals on the third day after death and preserve it for four days.”

Trigger warning for vegans, vegetarians, and people who will not occupy their current body forever: This post is about ingesting–and inhabiting–meat.

So this happened: I started to be aware that I would die someday. No, more honestly, I became aware of that deep-down, subtle snicker that says I am the inexplicable exception to this reality, universal but for me.

Some Buddhists practice meditation at burial grounds, and I myself have walked the cemetery at midnight. For a while I worked with people who were near death. Sitting with my own parents, I discovered that I could breathe exactly in sync with my mother, but I needed to go twice as slow to match my dad. I’ve meditated on my own death, but really, on an average day it seems totally unlikely. Period. It’s not what’s here, now. So since I happen to be alive at this moment, being really present to that life inside (a kind of vibration, somewhere between a quiver and a shimmer) seems a sensible response. Literally. I understand death as the silent absence of the shimmering.

Not long ago, I discovered how much my body craved protein after all these years. Very specifically, animal protein–pea protein powder was not going to cut it any more. So now I eat meat, often with a light awareness that I’m an animal eating an animal. The wheel turns. I’m not above the law.

Recently, I’ve also noticed some places where I can grab a handful of myself (the word “flab” would be more efficient here but sorry, not usin’ it).  I guess it’s both because there’s more to grab and because the flesh is, well, looser on the bones. Beauty ads tell me that’s the collagen breaking down (they offer various, sometimes odd, substances as cure). When I slow down and experience preparing the meat I eat, I notice how the heft of the chicken breast is like that handful of my own body. An animal and an animal.

Two days ago, I saw an ant die. It was a shockingly moving experience. It happened like this:

Occasionally I see a few tiny ants in the bathroom. They’re always alone and obviously confused, or maybe a couple of them confer on the tiles above the sink, but it’s not like a nice straight line of marchers heading for a prize. These ants have drawn the short straw. They’re on a dead-end reconnaissance mission, sent to a place with nothing good to eat, now just looking to get back to the invisible portal they came through.

I stood in my morning shower and noticed an ant at about eye level on the tiles. It took me a moment to realize it was an ant. It was moving, but bent at what seemed a strange angle. Ant bodies do come in two parts, but its shape was somehow not right. This ant looked–ill. I was startled to realize that I knew this. The ant waved its front half around–its back half seemed paralyzed. I kept watching.

Then after a few moments, the ant raised its front and stretched up a limb in an indescribable gesture. I swear at that moment the words “Oh God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” came into me. I stared, shocked, as the water rained over me. Then the ant dropped back and a moment later, in a kind of L-shape on the tiles, it stopped moving.

I’ve stepped on many an ant, and I’m unmoved at the thought of taking measures to keep them out of the house. But I’d never seen an ant just…die. And though it’s of course ridiculous to think an ant could be anxious like dying humans sometimes are, or to think it could stretch out its arms and call on its God in despair like Jesus Christ Himself, I was shaken by what I witnessed.

Yesterday, the vet called in the middle of Silkie’s surgery. He said the tumor was much worse than he’d thought, it had spread to the bone. He continued speaking, gently. At last I said, What I’m hearing you say is that the options of sewing her leg back up or of amputation would not be kind to her and that she should be put down. Yes, he said. I think he was relieved that I finally figured out what he needed to say, and said it myself.

Silkie was already asleep and didn’t need more goodbyes. She was a sweet dog who taught me a lot about where I’m stiff and constricted and the love doesn’t flow freely. An ant came to prepare me, so I could break open with the enormity of life going out of a body.

Thank you Silkie. Thank you ant.

They are still, but for this moment I am shimmering.




Blog contents © 2016-2017, the author.



2 thoughts on “Meat

  1. jmk (Judy)

    I’m shimmering all down my face now.
    Your ant story really struck a chord with me. I simply cannot watch animal programs on the telly, not even the dinosaur ones! There’s always at least one animal that gets injured, can’t hunt/forage, gets weaker… Argh! Can’t go there! I have less trouble with people dying.
    Sending kisses to Silkie, and hugs to you.



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