My Guru, My Dog

photoGurus are great Yogis who teach the wisdom and practice of Yoga and how to integrate practice into your life.

Yet if you think over who and what has taught you things that turned out to be truly significant, you realize that life sends all sorts of teachers.

They may not even know what yoga is; yet somehow – through something said or some unexpected action – these accidental Gurus open your heart and mind to new understanding and self-awareness.

In this category of accidental Guru I have to include my 13 pound Shi Tzu, who came into my life just over 2 years ago as a barely alive rescue from a puppy mill in Arkansas, and turned out to be one of the most demanding teachers I have ever had. Like all true Gurus, this little Ewok of a dog led me to look deeply into myself and be honest about what I found.  Because of him I came to reexamine things I thought I understood perfectly well, and learn things I thought I already knew.

Patience…..

As a congenitally impatient person, I taught myself patience like a second language – with difficulty and diligence.  A good student, I practiced daily, in time gaining some fluency and ultimately feeling really proud of the patient person I’d become.  To prove the point, I had only to refer to the strong, steady patience with which I’d handled a long line of robust, verging-on-aggressive dogs. I simply assumed that shy, reticent Boo, who had spent his first four years in a cage, would be, by comparison, a piece of cake. Much to my surprise, I found that getting Boo to cross the street demanded far greater forbearance than teaching my tank of a Bulldog not to lunge at every passing Rottweiler. Any flicker of frustration, any note of tension in voice or body, whatever trust we’d built was shattered and it was back to square one. Boo was a living illustration of Buddha’s dictum that one moment’s anger – even in thought, even the whisper of a thought- can destroy a thousand years of peace. It seemed I might not know as much about being patient as I thought I did.

Wanting And Expectation…

I picked Boo from one photo out of  2,384 pictures of Shi Tzus on Pet Finder.com.  If that isn’t indicative of some kind of law of attraction or karmic connection then I don’t know what is. Yet telling myself that 50 times a day didn’t change the underlying fact that he was not dog of my dreams.  I wanted a dog that loved to be held and schmoozed; a responsive dog that enjoyed meeting people and playing with children. Boo, who looks like he was born to cuddle, doesn’t really like to be held, and isn’t really responsive to anyone. I could tell myself that I loved him anyway, but that didn’t alter the fact that I was disappointed.  In fact, when I really got really down and dirty in the self-examination department, I had to admit that my whole attitude toward Boo was determined by my wants and my expectations, not by his needs. I could practice being patient with all my might, but what Boo needed was the real thing, about which I seemed to know nothing. I could love him with all my heart, but what he sniffed out in his doggy being was my disappointment.

A paradigm shift…

I began to look at Boo not as the dog he isn’t but as the dog he is.  I became fascinated by this mysterious little creature who is so self contained and cautious, yet very curious; so sweet, yet so undemonstrative.  I began to admire the quiet bravery with which he dealt with a world he had only known as hostile, and the jaunty, bouncing gait with which he set off on a walk. As, slowly, he emerges into his essential dog-hood, doing doggy things like kicking up dirt, running after a ball, and chewing Bully Sticks, I stand and applaud.  Boo will never be an outgoing dog, but he does – sometimes -acknowledge a stranger who wants to pat him, or run to greet me at the door. He doesn’t like to be held, but does lie close to me on the sofa while I read and sleeps curled at the foot of my bed.  He is not demonstrative, but the face he turns to me is full of absolute love and absolute trust.

Acceptance…

Only a great teacher could have led me to admit that what I’d called patience was nothing more than a tricky little system for not getting angry, a way of disengaging and holding back until irritation passed.  What I learned under Boo’s tutelage is that being patient is a very active form of engagement,  reaching out and staying open to the needs of another being – for as long as it takes. The reward – and it’s big – is not his response to me, but my unconditional acceptance of him, and the utter ease of a relationship free of all personal expectations.

The only thing that ever stood between me and Boo was that my idea of what I wanted a dog to be kept me from appreciating the dog I had.

Not the dog of my dreams. But the perfect dog for me.

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