The Tao of Walking the Dog

road less travelled

In ancient China, the artist/philosopher/scholars who retired to nature to contemplate the way of the Tao kept cranes for pets.

It was believed that the crane, even tamed, remained an integral part of the natural world and therefore could be a mediator between nature and man.  Accompanying a crane on its slow, silent passage through his garden, the scholar/philosopher gained entry into the rhythm, mystery and flow of the sacred, silent Tao.

Now, I live in New York City.  The nature available to me is a small neighborhood park jammed between busy streets, traffic, gas fumes, sirens, and the unending drone of city sound.

And I have a dog, not a crane. And my dog totally disrupts the quiet flow of the Tao – chasing squirrels, charging into flocks of pigeons, even daring to bark, from a safe distance, at the lordly geese who live in the duck pond at the south end of the park.  Yet, somehow, accompanying him on his morning walk has a transformative effect on my mind.  His pure joy in being outdoors, and the open, tension-free intensity with which he investigates all he encounters, is contagious.  Watching him takes me out of the mental yakety-yak of morning to-do lists, scheduling strategies and general mental junk, into a quieter inner place. Gradually I find myself aware of fresh air on my face and the way the trees create a tunnel of green over the path. City noises somehow fade, and I actually hear birds, or the sound of water running over the rocks of the little man-made waterfall that feeds the duck pond.

We live in a world separated from the natural flow of things, our loss of connection with nature and the creatures that live in nature, almost complete. Our animal companions offer us the simplest and most direct form of reconnection.  Like the Chinese scholar with his crane, I am led by my dog into a more natural, open state of being, and am gifted with entry into Tao of the world  – as it can be experienced in a city park.

THE PRACTICE

Walking – with dog or without – is the most basic, organic way to take your yoga practice off the mat, out of the studio and into a daily activity.

Turning a walk into meditation requires observing the two essential supports of all yoga practice: ‘abhasya’ –  discipline; and ‘vairagya’ – detachment/renunciation.  In other words, you have to keep your attention on your dog, or your surroundings, or on walking itself – which takes discipline; and you must resist – be detached from – the distractions which take you away from that attention.

Walking meditation doesn’t happen if you  1) talk on your cell phone; 2) text;  3) listen to music 4) or be lured into any mind activity that keeps you out of the moment.  Because then you’re not really taking a walk, you’re not with your dog, and you’re not in the park, or wherever else you’re walking. You’re engaged in some other activity, somewhere inside your head, unaware of where you are.  You’re completely out of the moment – which is not only not meditating – it’s a waste of a walk……

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