Lenny and Me (written 2016)
We have a terrier. Although we've both loved dogs and mostly had at least one in our life at a time, a terrier is something new. Well, the fluff ball puppy we brought home is three years old now...new enough. Terriers are high energy creatures, and they tend to have strong wills as well. Not at all like the laid back, please-you labs and retriever crosses we've grown accustomed to. But we knew what we were getting. Or at least we thought we did. This little fella of ours demands that his aging “parents” get play into every day, and rewards us with personality and enthusiasm as well as affection. But he can be a handful.
Because our regular walks are on a country road that runs through an acreage subdivision, it can have quite a bit of local traffic. This is one good reason for leash training for even a “country” dog. We let him have space on a long retractable leash, but he's been taught a few appropriate commands: “By me” means to come in close and heel. “Have fun” means go ahead and use the leash length to explore the ditches or run ahead...maybe even lag behind to sniff something good more thoroughly. But “Keep up” means it's time to move along and remember you're not in charge here.
The restrictions we put on Lenny* insure our peace of mind and his safety. They also make for a more harmonious relationship in this little family. This is the way it is with mindfulness and the peace, happiness and harmony it brings to my own life.
Many teachers use the comparison of a puppy or a monkey or a small child when describing the impulsivity and energy and general lack of discipline of the ordinary human mind. You might think yours is unique in its wild and wide ranging adventures, but believe me, if you talk to anyone out there who has looked inward at all, you'll discover this is the human condition. This can be a good thing. In bounding around we often make new discoveries, write gorgeous poetry, imagine amazing possibilities and go where no man (or woman) has gone before. So far, so good. But like my beloved terrier, the mind needs to be watched over. We need to know when to say “have fun” and when to say “by me”. This distinction is made through the wisdom of seeing where our adventures are taking us.
If my vivid imagination is weaving a tale around the tone of voice that a co-worker or friend used, then I need to rein it in. This kind of unchecked wandering can lead to suffering on my part over some slight that was not intended, or even to speech or an action on my part that harms another, if I decide to confront or get even. If my pocket book is empty, I am not being skillful to incite the desire for expensive and frivolous items by exploring the on-line catalogues of appealing products. If I have an exam next week, I am not being skillful in postponing study yet being anxious about the dire consequences of failing the exam. I need to watch over the mind to understand the tricks it's playing. I need to be gentle but firm. My dog is not a bad dog because he needs to be told to keep up or to stay by me. He's just a dog. And I am not a bad person because a critical thought or resentful thought appeared. It's what I do with that. I call the dog in, I call the mind in. This is part of the effort of being mindful. Not just seeing what arises, but steering the mind in a direction that leads towards its own peace.
No one wants to be unhappy. This may seem like a truism. Yet so often we do not notice that our wish to be happy and our behaviors are out of alignment. It takes persistence to train a terrier. It takes love too or you'd just return the little rascal to the breeder. The same goes for this mind. It's the one I have. I'm working on patiently and lovingly making it a happier place to hang out.
* his registered name, which the breeder kindly allowed me to choose, is Skylark's Tribute to Leonard...Need I say, I am pretty much a lifelong and devoted fan of the late, great Leonard Cohen