Saturday, April 14, 2012

Those of you who know me on Facebook knew of Zhen's (that's him in the photo) recent "walkabout". His experience differed dramatically from my and Ella's walkabout - Zehn's being unintended and not at all pleasant. But the two walkabouts shared at least one thing - the opportunity to learn.

Ella learned and grew during our journey because she's a dog, and dogs don't get lost in their own heads wondering whether they remembered to lock the house before they left...they pay attention to what's in front of their eyes (and nose, and paws) and they register and respond to real-time data, cause and effect, etc.

Nice system. Humans take note.

I learned because I deliberately took myself away from familiar settings and patterns in an effort to force myself to do what dogs do as a matter of see, feel, hear, observe the wilderness into which I took myself, and to be present with what was happening in my head in response to events in real time.

Zehn had to learn by necessity and in a big hurry. His life literally depended upon it. He'd taken off in a panic from his new owners' friends' house, in a town he didn't know (having been raised as a country bumpkin), and proceeded to get himself thoroughly lost. Even a small town harbors multitudes of dangers for a dog on the loose, and a panicked dog who has no savvy about cars is particularly vulnerable. Zhen had only recently left my place to live with his new people, he didn't know the owners of the home where they'd been visiting, didn't know where his new owners had gone, didn't understand they were coming right back...he just wanted to be reunited with them. When he bolted through an open door his original intention was quickly subsumed by the immediacy of the situation, as he found himself beset by terror. Well-meaning friends and neighbors joined in hot pursuit, which only served to drive him further afield, and cemented his conviction that his best option was to put as much distance as possible between himself and this strange and frightening place.

We're all lost, at times and places, all the more so when fear gains the upper hand. Sometimes, like Zehn, we've dashed without thought headlong into or away from something. Sometimes we've just put one foot in front of the other and kept our head in the clouds, or a fog, or focused on the ground...anything but attentive to our needs, our goals, our surroundings, our fellow travelers. When we're lost we may crave help, yet react to offers of help as if those outstretched hands might slap or bruise us, as Zehn seemed to think when so many in the community tried to assist in bringing him home.

But Zehn didn't stay lost. In spite of spending anxious hours slogging through swamps and combing neighborhoods and alleyways and woodlands, several sleepless nights, repeated calls to police and shelters, it wasn't human efforts that brought Zehn home. It was his realization of his own capabilities. He was hungry and forlorn, he probably felt abandoned and unloved, but he never lost his desire to be reunited with the people he loved. His fear was finally conquered by his love, commitment, and devotion. Maybe he made a decision to do things differently, since running and hiding hadn't gotten him where he wanted to be. Or if dogs don't "decide" in the way we humans do, at least he chose to stop running and hiding. And when he stopped, his mind quieted. In that quietude he found alternatives. In spite of his fear, he discovered that he had the ability to take himself back...his legs were strong, his nose was keen, his mind sharp. He had only to calm himself, follow love, and take himself home.

It's a little ironic that I named this dog Zhen. I thought he'd spend his life with me and calling his name would remind me of how I should live my life. Each moment, each breath, should be a quieting of the mind and a return to love. Zhen lives with other friends now, but Zen is still the process by which I can find my own way. Being lost can occur in a moment of inattention, and being found can take as long as a lifetime or as little as the epiphany of realizing we're already where we need to be, if only we wake up.