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Lions Roar : March 2011
SHAMBHALA SUN MArcH 2011 35 there are two struggling contemplatives here: Ani and her witless human companion. I had such high hopes for this puppy, and though hope is a legitimate focus, it’s unwise to skip blithely to attachment, especially when goals are idealistic. After almost forty years of contemplative practice I still struggle with the basics: expect nothing and live calmly with the dogs that life gives you. In my case, those have been challenging dogs. In the last thirty years, I’ve made homes for Toby, the incorrigible runaway; Shep, who stole food so obsessively that I had to tie a bungee cord around the re- frigerator; and, lately, Star, who herds my grandchildren. I resolved this time around not to fall for the first pair of sad eyes at the shelter. I researched gentle dogs, child-friendly dogs. I looked into breeding and bloodlines and settled with a sigh and a wad of cash on a nine-pound coton de tulear whom I brought home from a conscientious breeder. Cotons are tiny dogs with clownish personalities set deep in a cloud of white hair. My part- ner, Robin, and I are hospice volunteers and we wanted a little doggie assistant. I could imagine a tiny, white dog snuggling up to a sick person. At the breeder’s house, a five-month-old puppy trotted up and pointedly chose me—but maybe not to be a therapy partner. A few weeks later, when I had to write down her breed at the puppy socialization class, I carefully inscribed “hellecat.” “Hmm,” said the trainer. “That’s a new one for me.” Ani was aggressive and barked insanely from the get-go. She was soon exiled from puppy soc, and then from doggie daycare— Hush Puppy IlluSTRATIonSbyAndRéSlob Training her mind, training her dog—Mary rose o’reilley on the pleasures and pitfalls of learning to sit without barking. In fRonT of My meditation cushion is an altar where I keep my Tibetan bell, an image of Kwan yin, an icon of the Virgin Mary, and a screaming red plas- tic hotdog that squeaks when you squeeze it. When I tell people I’m teaching my dog to meditate, they snicker, be they buddhists or dog trainers. but meditation is, among other things, simply a long down-stay. We show up, shut up, and hold a space. both humans and dogs need to learn these skills. Twenty- five years ago I adopted a border collie whose needs ate into my early morning prayer time. I began multitasking. I’d meditate with her beside me on command. once she learned not to bite out the candle flame, things went better. People meditate for many reasons—among them, to enter a space of holy presence, to train the mind in stability and peace, and to work with deep-seated emotional patterns. Many dharma teachers speak of “purifying the unconscious” in ways that bring healing light to what lies hidden within us. Is any of this useful for dogs? Some would say that dogs have no spiritual nature, but I am too much of a franciscan to believe that. When I lead my animals into the meditation room, I go with them not only as a teacher, but as a member of an eccentric sangha. our training in stability and inner quiet evolves as a kind of mutual illumination. When I am calm, riding the current of breath, the dogs pick up on it, and when they are at peace, I let their rest quiet me. I bring my current puppy, Ani, to Kwan yin. I’ve reached the end of my rope trying to train this flibbertigibbet. let’s note that