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.

A Good Enough Day

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Upon returning home from an idyllic two-week trip to my favorite place, Chautauqua , I was met by a frantic puppy with sharp little teeth, loads of laundry, work to catch up on, and a world in upheaval. Being the highly sensitive person that I am–a middle-aged goober who can feel overwhelmed in crowds or when witnessing conflict–it all seemed too much. So yesterday I concentrated on the basics: Take a shower, make at least a little progress on an editorial assignment, and keep the two appointments I had scheduled. I’m glad I did, as I’m always made better when I get up and go, even if the movement is slight, like a short walk through my neighborhood. As evening settled over Nashville, I headed for my gratitude journal. This practice of stopping and taking stock both reassures and renews me, and I can get off center fairly easily if I don’t do it. Honoring that which matters is a sacred act.

To wit: Friends who didn’t freak out when I met them for lunch and said, “Good to see you. I may cry while we eat.” Instead, they offered, “Go ahead. We might, too.” The three of us are in that stage of life where we’ve lost—or our losing—our parents; our health is throwing us curve balls; and we’re letting go of some time-bound dreams while still pursuing the ones we care about the most. We are doing the best we can, and we are not giving up even if we have to slow down a bit and order salads instead of cheeseburgers.

In my younger days, I probably thought “good enough” meant I wasn’t living up to my potential, or that I was settling. At this stage of my life, I know it means the freedom and self-assurance to live well, without comparison to others’ accomplishments or accumulations, without wondering “Would my life have been better if…?”

So on this day, I’m thankful for a good therapist, the playfulness of said frantic puppy with the sharp little teeth, a husband who knows how to cook, my writing partner who sat across from me for three hours as we wrote our hearts out, and this amazing sky.

It is good enough and plenty.

Amy Lyles Wilson

P.S. What are you grateful for, at this very minute?

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?

On Dreaming {Waking Up Worried}

dsc_0066.jpgThis morning I woke up wondering how to make amends for having offended someone. We were at a conference and I’d tried to sit next to him during the lunch break.

“You can’t sit here,” he said. “I don’t want to be around you because I saw you do something I didn’t like.”

It might be merely sad if I were worried about someone jerky enough to refuse to sit by me because of a perceived slight I might not even have been aware of making, but the thing that makes my concern even more pathetic is that it was all a dream. After dreaming about a man, someone I did not recognize from my waking life, being rude to me, my response was to blame myself and beg for forgiveness. All this before I’d even brushed my teeth.

This can’t be good, right, that I allowed a dream to make me doubt myself? That my first inclination upon waking was not, “What a beautiful morning” (which it is here in Nashville) or “Aren’t I lucky to have a husband who brings me coffee?”

Instead, I opened my eyes and thought: “I can’t believe I made this guy so angry with me. What could I have done wrong?” Blink. Blink. Blink. “What can I do to make it right? How can I make him like me?”

“That’s a stretch even for you, Babe,” said Precious when I told him I woke up worried. “Usually we make it to noon before you take to fretting.”

I think he was kidding, but he knows I’m an anxious sort, that I have the potential to assume responsibility for actions that take place five counties over. That I can imagine all manner of things to be sorry for just sitting in the den.

But I’m working on it. I’m learning the art of presence. I’m practicing being centered in today instead of borrowing trouble against tomorrow. I yearn to be respectful of, and grateful for, this very instant. This one right here. I don’t want to be the kind of old woman who wanders too far afield into the unknown of the future or stays mired in the over and done with of the past. Today, though, I feel like my dream conspired against me.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

In training to be a spiritual director, we’re doing dream work, which is new to me. We’re asked to make notes of our dreams and sit with images that come up. Maybe this dream is inviting me to let go of what people think of me. Maybe this dream is reminding me that I can’t control how others react to me and that, alas, not everyone will like me. (This one still breaks my heart, that not everyone thinks I’m fabulous. And that there’s not a darn thing I can do about it.) This wouldn’t be the first time such propositions have been hurled in my direction. Maybe now I will get the message. If not, there’s always tonight, where another dream awaits.