Sunday, November 27, 2011

running on planet zephyr

Last month, we adopted a puppy through Labs 4 Rescue. These folks take the adoption process very seriously, and before adoption is final, prospective dog families must pass the “home visit” interview. Labs, we are reminded, are energetic dogs. According to some sources, Labs, more than any other breed, often end up in shelters, because unsuspecting new owners, choosing Labs based on their reputation as a family-friendly and highly trainable breed, are unprepared for the overabundance of energy and exercise requirements. The interviewer who visited our home was thrilled to hear that we had already owned a Lab, and were therefore hip to the fact that a quiet quarter mile walk does little to appease a 6-month-old pup. Having lost my favorite running partner, Sasha, last June, I was looking for a new companion on the trails, so a Lab suited my purpose.

But instead of schooling me in breathless tempo runs, Zephyr has reminded me of the spiritual and psychological benefits of slowing down. On our first couple of trail runs, when he stopped to sniff yet another deer pellet or taste his thirty-eighth pinecone, I became frustrated. I looked at my watch, wondered how I would make up for the lost time. And then, last week, running in torrential rain, water on the trail up to my ankles, Zephyr stopped to examine a Great Blue Heron perched on a rock in the water. I had been running alongside the trail for at least a mile, but my mind was on the coffee waiting to be brewed, on the kids waiting to be fed, on the dishes waiting to be washed. When Zephyr stopped (and I nearly tripped over him), I stopped too, and it wasn’t the Heron that held my attention (I’d seen him there before), but the sound of the brook. It wasn’t murmuring, as it usually was; it was bellowing like a mountain river. Our tranquil little stream had become, overnight, honest-to-goodness white water. I marveled at the momentary wildness of our usually tame local forest.

Today, during Sunday services at the Unitarian Society,one of our congregation read a passage from Thich Nhat Hanh, one I had read before, about mindful dish washing. If, when we wash dishes, we are only thinking about the cup of tea that awaits us afterward, then we aren’t really washing dishes. If, however, we wash dishes to wash dishes, then we are paying attention. If we can’t pay attention to the dishes in that moment, then it’s likely we won’t be able to truly enjoy the cup of tea that follows, because as we sip before the fire, we will be elsewhere—in our offices, in our checkbooks, in our sorrows. But if we wash the dishes purposefully, mindfully, then we will be present in the moments that follow as well.

When I returned from my run, I brought the wild water with me in my hair, in my sneakers, and on my dog. And then I stripped off my wet clothing, changed, and entered the next moment. In the kitchen that had been clamoring for my attention an hour earlier, the coffee had already been brewed, the kids had fed themselves, and Bryan was putting the dishes in the rack. Zephyr, having shaken off the rain, was chewing on a piece of bark in front of the fire, thinking only as far ahead as the next bite.