While I meditate, Abby snores. She pants. She also chases her tail, sighs, and burps. Even as she dozes, she remains alert; when she hears a noise, like a plane droning over our apartment building or a neighbor’s window closing, she lifts her head and listens for a few moments. Then she licks her lips and places her head back on her paws, collar tags clinking.

I recently adopted Abby from a rescue, and because she rests near my meditation seat, her sounds have become a part of my practice. At first, I interrupted my practice and reacted to her with a kind of maternal instinct. When she made small cries, I opened my eyes and gazed at her with a loving and reassuring look. You’re safe now, I’d tell her. When she burped, I chuckled and debated giving her those post-breakfast treats. When she seemed lost in a dream—with her small, throaty barks and twitching legs—I found myself wondering how far she had drifted. Is she running through a field? Sniffing her way through an ancient forest? I let my imagination carry me into her dream and away from my breath.

A few days after she settled in, I quickly realized that I was spending most of my meditation practice attuned to her rather than to myself. I listened to her roll around on the carpet, slurp her water, lick her paws. I also found myself having to shift back to my own breathing and thought patterns much more than usual. It had become much more difficult to navigate the ever-foggy areas of listening, noticing, and responding mainly because something in my environment was new.

Years ago I heard a spiritual teacher discuss our cultural fascination with novelty. “Many times,” she said, “people greet me and say, ‘Hey! What’s new?’” She then paused to reflect. “I’ve come to wonder why people don’t ask me, ‘Hey! What’s steady and unchanging?’ Isn’t that just as important?” Her question stayed with me. Abby is a new being in my life, and the delights that come with offering her care, affection, and support are rewarding and fulfilling. They also create peaks of excitement and laughter, and steep valleys of hesitation and fear. These cycles are exhausting, and at times I often catch myself craving something regular, something steadfast and consistent. I then remember my seat and the practice I’ve come to rely on as something accessible, especially when whatever around me is in flux.

While this transition has been joyful in many ways, it hasn’t been easy. I could use more sleep. I worry about her. I want the best for her and hope I can provide that. But I also love her very much, in an immediate and protective kind of way. This love has helped me realize that my capacity to notice Abby’s nuanced existence only affirms my availability to observe my own habits and my own thoughts, fears, and concerns. Perhaps after some time, and with much more practice, I can transcend this neutral observation and just as consistently hold myself with the same kind of attention, tenderness, and awe as I offer to Abby.

[This story was first published in 2016]

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