Saturday, July 5, 2008

Zen and the Art of Dog Walking

Sand and grit trickle between toes exposed by summer sandals. The dogs gambol and cavort, whimpering in an excess of joy that threatens to overwhelm, sides quivering, ears pricked, struggling to contain exuberance and walk sedately as demanded. Light glitters and refracts from the still surface of the lake, reflecting back into eyes hooded by dark glasses, sparking a yearning which I throw out to the water which stretches into an infinity of possibility before me, horizon and lake melding and melting into a homogeneous string of maybes that beckons with a mesmeric compulsion.

As we enter the off-leash, I release the quivering beasts and breathe deep their simple joy in freedom. I watch the dogs gambol, in their world of here and there is just warm breath and fur and the wonderful burning feel of muscles as they stretch their legs and run and bark to a sky they never question and the sweetness of another furry body matching their own and the sweet intensity of smell and feel and just being and I see in them a profound wisdom.

I find a measure of peace, sharing in their spiritual journey of living in the now and envying them too their simple acceptance of what each second brings and yearn for the same simplicity of purpose and existence.

I think man’s greatest gift is also his greatest curse… this ability we harbour to question.

Our restless, probing minds refuse to simply exist but must instead constantly ask and demand answers from a universe which simply exists and can provide no profound rebuttal to the whys. And yet, and yet … quixotic and contrary, I have such treasured memories of the smoky, warm closeness of the Social Club and passionate anger and spirited arguments and the grasping of universal truths and the rejection of measured logic for the simple joy of contrariness and a desire to provoke. Beer, warming in palms sweaty from passion and time which sweeps through the night like a comet trailing possibilities and devours the hours of our lives with an appetite made voracious from denial.

And in those halcyon moments, I sit suspended, youth and passion and the hard hot reality of need forever etched in the twists and turns of mutable time, forever caught as if in amber, the remembrance of what was.

The dogs yelp and tongues lolling leap into the lake which laps placidly at the stony beach, their bounding feet churning sediment and sand and clouding the clear water. There is sun and cool water and the simplicity of strong muscles and endless energy and play and they are and they exist and they do not question.

I know that when I walk the dogs from the Humane Society, as I pause in front of the pen of the dog I am going to walk, there is a sudden realization in their sad, dark eyes that for that moment, their lives have blossomed and opened into a multitude of possibilities. That when I take them, bodies quivering and pulling, my arm flexed, muscle straining as I seek to hold back their captive spirits which batter against the shackles of reality, that for THIS moment, there is a terrible freedom that for that second of their life, is absolute.

Not for them the dragging of memory to smother and distort the simplicity of the moment; rather, they embrace with an enthusiasm to be envied the pure delight of this second in time. In their simple and complete acceptance of the moment, dogs have a profound understanding of the universe that rivals the most erudite of speakers or philosophers.

Ultimately, Buddhists (particularly Zen Buddhists) see the ultimate goal of our reality is to eradicate the line we falsely and stubbornly draw between “being” and “doing”. Dogs have achieved a state of wholeness that human beings can only hope to emulate. For them, there is no line between the mind and the body and the reality of the moment, no alienation from the totality that makes them dog.

So encompassing is their embrace of the now that there is not even a concept of “dog” simply being and as I watch them tumble and run and stretch muscles designed to move, I find myself losing my own sense of alienation. Somehow by sharing in the absoluteness of their existing in that second, I find my own mind relaxing and opening, expanding to embrace and welcome the totality of my body.

The Zen philosophy teaches that “spirit of love and compassion for all beings is developed through continual spiritual purification, the cultivation of a deep sense of responsibility, and most importantly, through self-discipline” and I sense as my spirit calms and my mind slows, as my heart expands and reaches out to the beauty of motion before me, a sense of comradeship with these elemental creatures of muscle and sinew, a connection to the simplicity of living that ignites in the greyness of heart a small, flickering flame.


Buffalo said...

Commenting on the utter quality of your words is redundant. Your mastery of your media is to be rejoiced.

Your observations are dead bang on. I studied Buddhism for a time. I wish I was capable of practicing rather than just studying.

selkie said...

Buffalo .... that is my eternal dilemma ... I KNOW what to do but it is in the doing that I falter!