Not the least of my challenges in sitting zazen are the dogs. The year-old puppy likes nothing better than to sit in the room with me, gnawing on his bone and occasionally trying to share it with me, although in his puppy brain "share" is spelled "let's play tuggies." Of course, playing tug of war is not conducive to the spiritual process of letting go, but the puppy doesn't seem to mind.
I try to remember how fortunate I am. After all, how many people around the world, sitting and meditating at the same time I am, have the opportunity to seek enlightenment against the backdrop of teeth scraping across femur? Not many, I suspect. I'm a lucky man.
My 12-year-old dog, though, mostly minds his own business. He and I -- well, we've been through the wars together. He was a rescue pup I met when he was one year old. When we first met, he looked at me as if to say "Well, what took you so long?"
He and I have been inseparable ever since. He was beside me on that long, lonely drive across the country after my mother died. When the oak tree tried to kill me by falling on my head, he did his best to take care of me. And when I got hypothermia while rolling logs in a foot of snow during a blizzard, he was the first one to say, "Dude, you're a wreck. Get inside."
He's been there for the good times, too, like when my then-10-year-old daughter conquered Mt. Washington, and when I caught a monster-sized rainbow trout in a stream that shall forever remain unidentified. He helped me raise my girls; I always counted on him to be my proxy, ensuring my family's safety when I wasn't around. Yeah, the old guy is part of the warp and woof (so to speak) of my life.
Old age isn't being friendly to him, though. His joints hurt in the morning, and he's got some sort of tremor, and more damn lipomas than a billiard table has balls. He has also gotten a little curmudgeonly, a bit stand-offish. He'll come if you call, will welcome a tummy rub, but rarely requests my affection.
So his behavior when I sat down to meditate this morning came as a bit of a surprise. As I was settling myself in with my first few conscious breaths, he came over to my side, and leaned up against me. He didn't lick me or look up at me. Just leaned in on me.
Without breaking rhythm, I pulled my hands apart and draped my arm about his shoulders, feeling the warmth of his body against mine. In the flickering of the candlelight I looked down at the old guy, thinking about all of the breaths that we had shared in the making of a home and the raising of a family.
"Well," I thought to myself, "I guess today's meditation will be about love."