February is Meditation Month! The Tricycle team members have challenged ourselves—and our readers—to meditate every day and blog about our experiences. We needed a little help, so we called in bestselling author and meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg to lead our meditation-themed retreat this month and speak to us on how to incorporate meditation practice into the workplace. We’re also featuring three meditation e-books: Tricycle Teachings: Meditation, Tricycle Teachings: Meditation, Vol. 2, and Tricycle Teachings: Commit to Sit. Last but certainly not least, back by popular demand is Brad Warner, known this month as our Meditation Doctor, here to answer any questions we have about our personal practice.
This is the third time that I’ve participated in Tricycle’s 28-day meditation challenge, but it’s the first time that I’ve sat with death and loss weighing heavily on my mind. Last week my childhood dog and first pet, Franklin (pictured here at right looking particularly regal), underwent surgery to remove what we learned post-op was a cancerous tumor. Being a dog, he’s not overtly concerned with the diagnosis, but the rest of my family, who view Franklin and his doggy brother, Forrester, as beloved children, are torn up by the news.
I’ve heard a lot of cute stories about “dharma dogs”: animals who meditate when their owners meditate, or prowl around the halls of Buddhist temples in Asia listening to dharma talks. Franklin is decidedly not a dharma dog. (Though he’d probably be happy to eat some Buddhist scripture if I dropped it on the floor.) Have you heard that Tibetan story about the master who purposefully brought along the most annoying person he knew on a long journey so that he could practice patience? That’s Franklin—the annoying guy, I mean. He’s neurotic and territorial, and barks at people without compunction. He steals shoes, pees in the house, and has no problem howling at 4am. All that, and I still love him to pieces. I’ll miss him dearly when he’s gone.
My thoughts while I’ve been sitting this week have mostly revolved around doing: what will I do if Franklin is suffering or in pain? What will I do if my mother asks me whether or not I think we should pursue treatment for him? What will I do if we have to put him down? What will I do if this? What will I do if that?
I started as a hospice volunteer this year, and I found that my visits to my first patient progressed along a similar path: I always needed something to do in order to feel comfortable. Sometimes my patient would share with me that she was lonely or depressed, and I would freeze. “What in the world do I do now?” I didn’t realize that it might have been enough that I was simply there.
When I began practicing, before I had the disheartening realization that what all the Buddhist texts say is true—my mind is definitely out-of-control, insane-in-the-membrane bonkers—and the feeling subsided in favor of incredulity at the repetitive banality of my brain, I often felt greatly liberated from the imperative of “doing” while I sat. I felt that way again today. For 20 minutes, I was with the reality of Franklin’s sickness, feeling sadness, but also freed from “doing’s” obsessive quality. Isn’t this what we practice in the hopes of, that we’ll learn how to be in the hardest and most important of life’s spaces—the liminal ones, like the space between life and death?
Good luck everyone with the remainder of the meditation challenge. If your practice has been impacted by the animals in your life, I would love to hear about it in the comments below.
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