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.
Jack Kornfield, author of “A Lamp in the Darkness: Illuminating the Path Through Difficult Times.”
My mindset in reading this 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.
A 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. She’d come to me as an older dog with few teeth—hence the name, Gumby.
I remember the evening when diabetes finally claimed her sight. We were on our walk, 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 during every walk thereafter, she decided our route by Beagling– scent memory. She walked me for 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 is. It was not the world either of us wanted, but it was the world we were in. We walked, every day and every night for two-and-a-half years.
We even appeared on the evening news, a reporter interviewing me as a concerned resident about a dangerous crosswalk. Gumby’s blindness went unremarked. In fact, few people ever even noticed she was mostly blind, unless they looked directly into her clouded eyes. And even then, who could be sure what Gumby saw?
If any light ever entered her eyes it was when she listened with me to Puccini’s La Boheme. Whether it was a “Live at the Met” radio performance on a Saturday afternoon or played from a CD, we sat through all four acts together every time. 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.
Gumby 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 Boheme, completely 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. Did she love it as much as I do? That has ceased to matter as well. It was the only opera in which we sat together in 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.