Learning to Wait: Walking the Dog as Contemplative Practice

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Norval takes a rest.

This is pretty much how our outings go. I move, Norval doesn’t. If he’s not sniffing, relieving himself, eating sticks, or barking at Gus the Goldendoodle, he’s most likely defying me. He knows he gets rewarded for “good walking,” so when he loses the mood, and he doesn’t see me reaching for the treats in my pocket, he simply plants himself. Dog as immovable object.

“No peanut butter crunchies, no walkie-walkie, Lady Who Thinks She’s in Control,” he seems to say.

“Spoiled,” offers a friend.

“Stubborn,” declares Precious.

Just as with some other concerns in my life, I need to adjust my thinking about this daily routine. For if I continue to focus on my frustration, we’ll never make any headway, the dog or me. If I see only what’s going wrong—dog not training as fast as I would like—I won’t notice what’s going just fine—dog making some progress and spring on its way.

Lately I’ve been feeling put upon, what with Precious being sick, and my books not being published. Granted, I haven’t written them yet, but several authors just had readings in town and I’m hooked on the acclaim and the accomplishment, not the hard work and the hustle.

So this morning, while Norval splayed himself on the pavement, I listened to the birds and admired the trees about to burst. I gave thanks to God for the progress Precious is making with his cancer treatments, and for my writing that has been published. I waved at the new neighbor, and wandered down memory lane upon seeing the forsythia on the corner, as that particular yellow always takes me straight back to Grandmother Lyles’ house on South Ninth Street in Oxford, Mississippi.

These are simple things, and they may sound hokey to you. But such small shifts led to my looking heavenward and saying a prayer, instead of cursing under my breath. They reminded me how adorable Norval is most of the time, and what he means to Precious and me. They convinced me that pulling on the leash was not the answer. Waiting was the answer. And so I did.

Eventually, Norval deigned to move, and we made it back home at our own pace, one paw in front of the other, with our behavior, and our gratitude, intact.

Watch Your Step {On Noticing}

IMG_7718While walking in the Radnor Lake Natural Area near her home in Nashville over the weekend, MayBelle stopped to watch some deer feeding among the trees. Lovely, calm creatures nourishing their bodies while MayBelle filled her soul. It was one of those quiet, still moments that keeps MayBelle going when she thinks all the noise and unsettledness in the world at large might overtake her. She has come to crave time in nature, finding it to be as sacred as any brick and mortar church she’s ever knelt down in.

Soon she heard some Very Loud People headed her way, in the form of two young women debating with enthusiasm the best bars in Tuscaloosa. MayBelle heard enough to be able to make some recommendations, so let her know the next time you’re headed that way and she’ll hook you up. Consumed by their chatter, they almost ran smack into MayBelle, who had stepped to the far side of the trail. She had not called out to the women so as not to disturb the deer. MayBelle is nothing if not polite, even when meandering in the woods.

“Oh,” said one of the women as she stopped short in front of MayBelle. “What are you looking at?”

MayBelle tiled her head in the direction of the deer.

“Wow,” the other woman said. “We hadn’t even noticed.”

Indeed, thought MayBelle as the deer skittered away.

There were other delights during MayBelle’s time in nature, like the big woodpecker beating his heart out; the call of the turkeys; lines of turtles on logs. And, alas, there were other Very Loud People. But MayBelle is learning, slowly, how to tune out what she doesn’t need to hear and instead concentrate on what really matters.

 

Take a Seat {On Mindfulness}

Photo by Christie Walkuski.
With thanks to Christie Walkuski for use of her photograph. https://christiewalkuski.wordpress.com

“This is mindfulness,” said my insight meditation teacher last night as seventy or so souls from various walks of life sat together in silence, all of us letting go of our baggage and our histories and our dreams for an hour in the sanctuary of a church in Nashville.

“This is mindfulness,” he repeated. “Knowing your experience with compassion.”

I’m trying to get the hang of this mindfulness thing and to me it means, at least in part, being able to sit with what you’ve got, whether it’s sadness or anger or fear. Anticipation or joy or nervousness. We’re invited simply to be, which can be tricky if you’ve got even an ounce of Type A in you or if you’re prone to wanderlust or if you like to keep score. Can I get an amen?

So I sit. Day after day I set my Insight Timer app and go to my favorite spot in the front room of my house. Or the faux wicker chair on the deck. Or the parking lot of whatever restaurant I just had lunch in. Some days it goes better than others, this fledgling practice of mine. Sometimes I can hardly believe it’s been twenty minutes when the bell rings, and other days it seems like the timer will never go off to signal my release.

And I read. I search online for “centering prayer,” “insight meditation,” “the contemplative life.” I look to Cynthia Bourgeault, Thomas Keating, Tara Brach. And I listen to Gordon Peerman with Insight Nashville every chance I get.

And then I sit some more.

As far as I can tell, mindfulness is the opposite of running from your emotions or tamping them down or eating your way through (my personal favorite) them. It’s about sitting still with your experiences, without judgment or reaction or censure.

Then there’s that tricky part about being compassionate with yourself. Is that allowed? This will be news to some of us, that it’s okay, even necessary, to care for your own heart with the same understanding and tenderness you use to love your friends and family members. Apparently your soul counts, too. Don’t forget that.

How can you bring mindfulness into your life this very day?