I’m grateful to have a new and delightful focus, to balance all my feelings about the EU Referendum, the consequent and potential fallout, the political resignations and leadership contests, recent violence in Dallas and the Chilcot Report. The latter brings back such clear memories of being on the huge London Stop The War march in February, 2003, with Dharmavidya, many other ‘Buddhists For Peace’ and my sister Jan. That was the day I met Susthama for the first time, as she found the Amida sangha. Also I remember how vital was the support and wise counsel of Dharmavidya as I was weighed by depression and agitation at the prospect of so many who would die as a consequence of the decision to start bombing.
So, what is this new focus that I’m grateful for? Twelve days ago a small black and white Lhasa Apso pup came to live with us. Before we collected him we had tried various Tibetan and Sanskrit names, calling them to each other around the house, but they all sounded either ridiculous or like something in English. Tashi, of course, would have been perfect, but that’s the name of our Maine Coon puss (who is maintaining his higher status with some distain). So we decided to call him after his dad, of whom he’s the spitting image. He’s Ojo, a pretty special name.
There are many, many books about puppy training and I’ve been pouring over a number of them. What I’ve realised, of course, is that, as dogs can’t think human, humans have to think dog. So puppy training is, for the most part, people training.
Ojo is proving to be quite a good Buddhist teacher. He’s reminding me, in order that I am ‘pack leader rather than him, to be ‘calmly assertive’. If I rush, if I am ambivalent, if I’m inconsistent, he’ll show me the consequences. Like small children, like the older children I taught, puppies are remarkably adept at reading the finer points of body language - more so, in fact, because, in addition, his nose will tell him the chemical results of my inner reactions.
He’s reminding me of the importance of patience - little accidents are just that. How patient must our own parents have been with us? And tugging at trouser legs or shoelaces needs, rather than admonition, redirection to another activity which he can be praised for.
His getting me out into nature is so therapeutic. I’m sure I’ve spent more time in the garden than in all the previous months we’ve lived here. Who knew that being out in the rain at 6:30 am could be a pleasure? Watching what’s in front of your nose - look, a leaf! Look, a stick! Joy in the mundane. I’m watching the flowers blooming, hearing the wind in the trees, smelling those wonderful early morning scents of wet grass.
I’ve had to be attentive for his sake, too - a bee-friendly garden means fascinating buzzing. A meeting of bee and pup would not benefit either. As well as watching carefully as he delightedly explores, so he doesn’t get into trouble, it’s good to stay close as there are buzzards on the hill - one was circling and mewing above our heads again this morning. A chubby pup would make a tasty lunch.
He’s reminding me that, just with small children, loving doesn’t always mean saying ‘yes’. Boundaries keep you safe. Manners are important. Small disappointments aren’t the end of the world and can be instructive.
It’s a huge privilege to watch a small creature decide that you can be trusted, depended upon. These have to be earned and reinforced, over and over again. Yes, I’ll feed you, yes, I’ll keep you safe. When I took him down to the main road a few days ago, cuddled in a puppy sling, he shook like a little leaf at the sound of the heavy lorries. The next day, as we crossed the road to walk through the park, not so much. Yesterday he was fine, even as an ambulance sped past with its loud siren.
Love, of course, is wonderful and a great risk. Sukha-dukkha. Our hearts will be broken. Right now he’s asleep on my feet. Soon we’ll go out again into the sunshine - how fortunate I am to be able to watch his innocent exploration and to play with him. May we all keep our ability to balance our concerns, to touch that child-like wonder, innocence and delight.
Namo Amida Bu