It was hard to meditate with Hank lying directly in front of me. I had already folded myself into a cross legged position and started the timer on my phone for 15 minutes when he ambled into my room, turned around a time or two, and then sank his 11 year old body to the ground with a groan. I had been staring at a point on the carpet near its edge, where the oriental design met fringe, but Hank had interrupted my view as he lay down. I refocused on the same point, but I was aware of him just under my line of vision because he had an equally steady gaze fixed on me. He was probably wondering what the hell I was doing. I’m still new to meditation and have only recently started practicing at home. Hank kept jutting his chin up a notch in an effort to catch my eye. I resisted making eye contact with him, knowing that even one glance into those gentle, milky eyes would undo me. It was hard enough to stay focused when I could feel heat emanating from his body, and a not entirely unpleasant dog smell wafting up to my nose.
After several moments of this tension between us, Hank’s stare boring into me like a beam of energy, while I struggled to keep my attention on my breath, I suddenly felt him place one paw delicately on my calf, careful not to let his nails scratch my skin. Almost as if he were asking me where I was going. Still I didn’t look at him, but I couldn’t help smiling. The exquisite love and loyalty of dogs, I thought, my chest filling with emotion. Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale I breathed, trying to come back to a rhythm, to let my thoughts drift away like flotsam down a river. Finally Hank sighed, and laid his head down on his paws in surrender.
My son tried to get me to meditate six or seven years ago, when he was still in high school, and learning how to meditate himself. “I don’t have time,” I told him, which sounds ridiculous to me now. “You should make time,” he said, “you need it.” It’s true that I am a highly-strung, sensitive, and reactive person. But back then I had three children at home and a plethora of pets to take care of, not to mention a failing marriage, and I couldn’t face one more thing to do, or to learn even. I was strung out, my batteries on fumes, and I didn’t have the energy to expend. Or so I told myself. But now I think I was just afraid of what I would find if I went into that quiet place inside me. It was much safer to stay on the outside, in the busy world, focusing on everyone else’s numerous needs. I went to bed at night fried from the daily domestic tasks of cooking, cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, dog walking, driving to school, to practice, to doctors and dentists and tutors, to the vet, helping with homework, organizing schedules, social lives, holidays, dinner bath bed hours etc etc. But I was a worrier, which probably exhausted me more than anything, and meditation would have helped greatly. Nevertheless, I avoided it because I knew it might change me. And I wasn’t ready to change.
My phone started beeping, the timer finished. Hank’s head rose at the sound. Now I could look at him. “Good boy,” I said, stroking his head and fondling his soft ears. I uncrossed my legs and stretched. My left foot had fallen asleep and was tingling. It felt like my mind had only been still for a few seconds of those 15 minutes, cling-y thoughts stubbornly hanging from it like moss from a tree. But meditation is a learned skill and I knew that I had only just begun the process. Taking the time to sit still and gaze inward no longer held any fear for me. The change I had been afraid of and tried to prevent had come into my life anyway. And I had survived.
I stood up slowly, and Hank rose with me, wagging his tail. I thumped his sides with my hands in affection, grateful for his solid warmth. But I might shut the door next time.