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Not so long ago, I finally figured out where my meditation practice fit in my daily routine, where it belonged. I get up at 4:30 am, feed my dogs, write my morning pages, check email and facebook and my blog, then either go to yoga class or walk the dogs. When I get back home, I shower, eat breakfast, and then, then is when I meditate.

Then is when I should meditate, when I am supposed to, when I plan to sit, and for awhile, it was working. I felt I had finally settled there. Then Dexter was diagnosed with a fatal cancer. Or, rather I should say after about a month of back and forth, trial and error, and one bloody scare where he spent the night at the emergency vet, it was determined that the most likely explanation was a nasal tumor. We would lose our second dog in a row to a treatable but ultimately incurable cancer.

This time, with this dog, we determined the right approach was palliative care, the least disruptive and least harmful option. Rather than grasping, hoping for more time, we accept that Dexter is dying and are committed to doing what we can in the time we have left to keep him comfortable and allow him the best quality of life–even if it will be short. Dexter doesn’t have a bucket list, doesn’t have anything that he’d hoped to accomplish in his life that is left undone. He has eaten the treats, played with the toys and other dogs, taken the walks, and loved the humans. This is all he wished for, everything he wanted. Attempting extreme measures to get more time would be about us, our needs, and that’s not right, not now and not for this dog.

This means we very literally are taking things one day at a time. If he’s had a good day, we agree to go together into the next. And so far the only way his experience has changed is a sometimes stuffy, snotty, slightly bloody nose and sneezing, taking a daily dose of an anti-inflammatory (which as far as he knows is just “I get more treats and attention than before” since each dose is wrapped in something yummy and followed by a “good boy!”), and no more 8-10 mile hike/runs–which to be honest is completely heartbreaking, but I think about it like he’s gotten too old for them, a reality we would have faced it he’d lived to be too old, an option I’d prepared myself for and expected.

Because I need to both pay closer attention to Dexter and my own grief surrounding this new reality, I am distracted, weepy, raw and tired. If I wake up during the night, which I do, it’s hard to get back to sleep, so I’m not getting enough rest. I am doing what has to get done, but almost everything else has been put on hold so I can focus on this change, this caretaking and letting go.

And while meditation is something that would help me in this, I find myself avoiding it, forgetting or even refusing. On the surface, it’s that I don’t have time and when I do, I’m too tired. Underneath, I am reluctant to face the full force of my grief, to sit with my fear and panic, to stay with the uncertainty and impermanence. And it’s easy under stress to slip back into old habits, smashing myself to bits, pushing and doing rather than being gentle and caring for myself. Under these circumstances, I’m finding it hard to get myself to my cushion.

And yet, I knew coming here and telling you, confessing, coming clean, would allow me to forgive myself, to soften and be gentle, to commit to trying again. This morning, after walking the dogs, I meditated. First I listened to Susan Piver, my virtual meditation instructor and friend, give a short talk about meditation and creativity, in which she reminded us (Open Heart Project Practitioners) that all you have to do is start–drop everything, let go, and begin. Even in the midst of meditation practice, if you notice you’ve drifted off into story or daydreams and fantasy, if you find yourself caught up in thoughts or carried away by strong emotions, simply notice and come back to the breath, return your focus to the technique and begin again.

A magic thing happened during my practice this morning. Dexter had been next to me on the floor, playing with his Little D, and when I adjusted myself for practice, he got up on the futon next to my cushion. As I meditated, he rested, and something about his gray dapple against the purple, the morning light streaming in the window over his head, the way he was posed–I was dropped directly into the present moment, a place where he was his most beautiful, a space where we were present and together–a perfect moment. Then he heard a garbage truck and got down to investigate. When his front paws hit the floor at the same time as a breath in/half bark out, he snorted, gagged a bit, a symptom of the tumor, and then he was gone.

I was alone on my meditation cushion, focused on my breath. His absence, the shadow of his presence, was so immediate and tangible, even though his physical presence had gone. In those three or so minutes, our entire relationship played out–our beautiful togetherness, each authentically ourselves and present, followed by a moment of his illness, and then his departure met by my loss, sadness. Through it all ran the thread of my practice, being distracted but noticing and coming back. It was a profound reminder of the way life is, the way love goes, and that no matter what, you can always start again.

Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, “I will try again tomorrow.” ~Mary Anne Radmacher