Early this morning of Memorial Day I took my fast walk without Stanley, still sleeping back home. The trees were heavy and wet, flooding me with raindrops, and I could see the start of summer in their darker, droopier color of green. I walked by the horses. They were in their barn after 24 hours of rain, but they saw me through the open doors and came out of their stalls, so I gave them their apples and resumed my fast walk.
On the way back Gala pranced and snorted, and approached the electrified fence. This was a surprise; they know that on my way back I no longer have apples for them and they usually don’t bother. So I came towards the fence too and stretched out my hand to show her there were no apples. But she remained where she was, looking straight at me, so I tried to stroke her, which she usually likes, and she backed off.
I withdrew my arm and she approached the fence again, bent her head forward, I bent mine, and she licked me in the face. It was the first time she’d done that, so I tried to reciprocate the only way I knew how, which was to stroke her again, and again she moved away. Then she came back, pushed her head forward, I bent mine forward and she licked my face, and she kept on licking it over and over as I just stood there, head proferred. Finally she stopped, walked off, and resumed munching grass.
Is connection between species more common than connection between humans? Not only are we humans so much in our heads, the reason we go there is to deny how deeply and dearly we yearn for connection. Is that why so many people love their dogs and cats more than the humans they live with? Something speaks through them to us, and if we could stop being such cowards and finally look into the eyes, then maybe something will speak through us to them.
I think those two somethings are actually the same thing recognizing itself in a second form. It looks from Gala to me and from me to Gala and says: Here I am. But what’s the word for connection when it’s one thing connecting with itself? Maybe God’s words in the Book of Exodus: I am that I am.
Zen practice has taught me a lot about attention. Connection goes beyond that. It’s not putting out your arm to stroke someone else, it’s not about doing for someone. It’s about emptying yourself of your self, and whatever’s still there, which we sometimes call emptiness, can then recognize itself in the other.
I never saw as clearly as I did this morning that animals do that, trees do that, birds and bare branches you brush lightly away as you walk among them do that. It’s an intelligence not in our sense of intelligence, timeless and so close it’s beyond family, beyond belonging, beyond even that deep sense of self you encounter in solitude.
Always active, always recognizing itself in everything. It’s in the forest recognizing itself in the fire that burns the forest. It’s in the hawk recognizing itself in the mouse struggling for life in those terrible talons. It’s in the battered wife recognizing itself in the battering husband. It’s in the boat full of immigrants recognizing itself in the water seeping in, and in the people who wish to reach a safe shore.
This morning it was far less dramatic, in a woman recognizing itself in the horse, and in the horse recognizing itself in the woman.
When I came home I lit incense because it’s Memorial Day, remembering soldiers who died so that we could live. Everything dies so that others could live, but these soldiers did it on purpose, with intention, and that’s hard to imagine. They killed and were killed, and there too something recognized itself.
What would happen if everyone would put away their guns and retract their arms, not try to do or change things, not even stroke anyone? What would happen if they just looked into each other’s eyes as Gala asked me to do this morning, lighting that flame that burns only in the space in between? What would happen if they held it for a moment, two, five? If they finally rested in that recognition?