The following poem is rendered from a nighttime dream I had when I was younger, in which I conversed with a Cheshire-like cat. I was a cat with a human soul, primed for a hyper-real experience with potential consequences.
A cat spoke to a man in a dream:
Say you are blessed with nine lives,
how long does each life last?
Returning the gaze with cat’s eyes,
the man answered in cat language:
Long enough to gain a foothold
in the next life.
The cat smiled, and spoke again:
How do you measure a life —
in years, deeds, thoughts, or feelings?
The man could not answer for a life,
and he began to fall – running time —
the numbers clicking off: three, four, five…
His life was a single digit waiting for him
as he dove toward a hole in the ground.
How long would it take to count to ten?
Twisting in the air like a circle synching
his head with his feet, he was almost floating.
It no longer mattered if his body seemed older
than age, or if his life had an assigned number.
If a cat has nine lives, It is not keeping count.
In the dream, I remember falling, as if I was falling through all the years of my life. I remember hearing: The cat who ran from time. I realized I had been the cat running from time. I also realized that the phrase seemed like an oxymoron, because I knew cats did not run from time. Something flipped in me. When I hit bottom I didn’t die. I woke up. Age and the physical limitations of my body did not matter in that moment. I realized that time was not as important as the sense of awareness I felt as I was waking up. I realized that the measure of our lives was a string of waking moments that could not be measured in a linear fashion, and that I was not confined to the body of time.
When you come into perception with the reality of no-death, that you are more than your physical body, you transcend the notion that you are the life span that will be conventionally represented in years. A mythological/transcendent moment can become your transport. A dedicated practice or intentional lifestyle can prime the perceptual pump.
Shamanic practitioners can experience the stream of life — an identity that transcends our physical body — by merging with Light or Soul, exploring the Web of Life, and disillusion of the body into some aspect of cosmic awareness. These experiences are ecstatic, and one should set their intention to return on callback.
Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) teaches the Three Prostrations. In the first prostration one connects with their spiritual and familial ancestors. (In shamanic practice, this could take a single journey). There is reverence of ancestral strengths and acceptance of ancestral limitations. In the Second Prostration one connects with all people and all species in the world. Again, a broad practice focuses on both the fortunate and unfortunate. In performing the Third Prostration one lets go of the limits of the body, time, and life span and embraces the stream of life. There is no time. The individual body disintegrates into a larger consciousness. There is no distinction between animal, vegetable or mineral life. Thay states that the wider we cast our perception in the first and second prostrations, the easier it is to enter into the Third Prostration. Thay states he spends about 10 minutes practicing the Three Prostrations prior to sitting meditation.
It is our effort to integrate an event, to wrap a moment with art, and to recapitulate impermanence that can further liberate experience from time. The poetry of our lives is more important than a strict narrative. Mythological moments are constantly shining through the pores of material existence, the radiance streaming like rays of light through clouds – Nature making the ordinary extraordinary. It is our task to anticipate or quest the floating moment and bear witness. Time through a cat’s eyes.