If you can sit quietly after difficult news; if in financial downturns you remain perfectly calm; if you can see your neighbors travel to fantastic places without a twinge of jealousy; if you can happily eat whatever is put on your plate; if you can fall asleep after a day of running around without a drink or a pill; if you can always find contentment just where you are:
you are probably a dog.
(A Lamp in the Darkness: Illuminating the Path Through Difficult Times)
By KM Huber
There is an enviable equanimity—an evenness—that we associate with dogs. They can meet a moment with all they have and let it go. Humans have to work at equanimity for often there is a well-established mindset that stifles such openness.
My mindset in reading the Kornfield quote was, “Great! A pithy, Zen quote about how to meet difficult moments.” Well, it is and it is not—such is the nature of Zen. Mostly, however, I thought of a dog named Gumby.
An aged, beagle mix–maybe dachshund, maybe rat terrier, maybe neither–Gumby was mostly black and tan with a bit of white on her chest. Long-legged yet petite.
I thought of the evening when diabetes claimed her sight. We were on our walk with Gumby determining our route, as always.
In an instant, her long legs searched wildly for the sidewalk that seemed to have disappeared. Yet, she did not stop but kept going until she found her stride again.
That evening and every walk thereafter, she decided our route by beagling– scent memory. She walked me miles—some days as many as five—I followed, trusting her to take us where we needed to go.
Blind but completely present, Gumby walked me into the world so I could see it as it was. It was not the world I wanted but it was the world we had. We walked, every day and every night.
We even appeared on the evening news as concerned residents regarding a dangerous crosswalk. Gumby’s blindness went unremarked. Few ever noticed she was mostly blind, unless they looked directly into her clouded eyes. And even then, who could be sure?
But if any light ever entered her eyes it was in listening to Puccini’s La Boheme. Whether it was a Live at the Met matinee performance on a Saturday afternoon or from a CD, we sat through all four acts together every time.
She came to me as an older dog with few teeth—hence the name, Gumby–I never knew the origin of her love for classical music or opera. It ceased to matter, how she had once lived before her life with me.
She taught me to meet the moment with whatever I happen to have wherever I might happen to be. She took me many miles through many difficult moments. Years later, I am changed and unchanged.
I still sit through all four acts of La Boehme, present in its story, as if for the first time. It was my favorite opera before I knew Gumby but now each performance is a new experience. Was it her favorite opera? That has ceased to matter. It was the only opera we sat together in complete, meditative stillness.
Mindset comes from experience, our memory of a time past. But sometimes, with enough time and space, we can reflect on difficult moments, returning to the unchanged as the changed being we are.
I took her beagling. She taught me Zen.
KM Huber is a writer who learned Zen from a beagle. She believes the moment is all we ever have, and it is enough. In her early life as a hippie, she practiced poetry, and although her middle years were a bit of a muddle, she remains an overtly optimistic sexagenerian, writing prose. She blogs at kmhubersblog.com, may be followed on Twitter @KM_Huber or contacted by email at writetotheranch[at]gmail[dot]com.