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Captain oh my Captain

You never know where your most profound teachers will manifest. Often, it isn’t in a classroom. Almost 4 years ago, we thought it would be a good idea to get our 8 year-old daughter, an only child, a puppy. This decision happened to coincide with two significant life events for me. The first was a career change, ending my hectic 10-year commute to Boston.  The second was beginning a meditation practice. 

So came our apricot colored mini-labradoodle Captain. She was sweet and adorable and of course we loved her instantly. Soon, however, it became clear that I was the primary caregiver for this little being. As cute as she was, I felt my resentment and exhaustion grow, sitting in the backyard at 3am potty training, obedience classes, daily walks, grooming…wasn’t I just coming out of this phase with a young child?

I tried to look on the bright side. I could finally be one of those people who runs with their dog. I imagined us flying down the boulevard, human and beast, hearts thumping, tails wagging. I’ll be so fit.  We’ll, it turned out that Captain, at 20lbs, is not a runner. She isn’t even a linear walker. In fact, sometimes she doesn’t want to walk at all. 

Usually when we leave the house, she gets as far as the front walk and stops in her tracks, no budging. This used to aggravate me tremendously. “Come on Captain! You have got to walk.” One day, instead of stressing out, I decided to just watch her. I remembered my meditation practice had introduced the idea of putting a gap between yourself and your habitual reaction. Ok. Ok. I’ll try.

What is going on here I wondered? Her head, tilted up-wards, eyes alert. I noticed her little milk chocolate colored nose. She was intensely sniffing the air…smelling every nuance of the new day. This sometimes takes several minutes…at a certain point when it seems she has assessed the climate, she looks at me with a subtle nod and we walk. How interesting I thought. Curiosity started to replace my frustration. 

She often stops and smells every flower. This would sometimes stir up such exasperation in me that I’d get aggressive. Then I slowly felt myself surrendering to her meanderings. I realized that I always had some sort of destination in mind, a pre-conceived route. I thought, drop it. Why should I impose my human agenda on an animal? She loves what she loves. As a being with such a short time on the planet, shouldn’t she be able to navigate her own experience? “Let the soft animal of your body love what it loves…” That is what the poet Mary Oliver would say. She loves the little mossy patches along the sidewalk. She even has a few spots that she comes back to again and again, like little energy centers. She just hunkers down there to feel the earth against her belly. What does she know that I don’t? 

I watched my aggravation melt into gratitude and I started to appreciate the gaps she provided for me to stop and witness the natural world around me. I learned that my speedy aggression created a sort of blindness. This slowing down even opened up a whole new avenue of inspiration for my painting. I used to take my neighborhood for granted. Something you see everyday, often becomes slick. I gradually became captivated by little spaces between houses, flowering trees, everyday spaces that I was moving too quickly to appreciate before. My everyday life took on a new dimensionality. 

The confluence of these 3 life events: my career change, my dog and meditation allowed me to slow down and experience my reality with more gentleness. To quote my favorite yoga teacher, “What I initially experienced as an obstacle, became a doorway.”                                                  

Not moving so quickly created surprising momentum. 

Thank you Captain for being such a wise old soul. Until next time, notice where your teachers turn up and the lessons you might learn by surrendering. CREATE.