“Go on, Aussie, you can go in.”

It’s almost 8 in the morning, dog feeding time. I opened my bedroom door a short while earlier, after meditation, and Henry has already rushed in to say good morning, jumping right on the bed for some quick petting (no, he doesn’t wait for an invite), then off again to retrieve a toy and bring it to me to throw.

A few minutes later, Aussie, who sleeps downstairs, comes up. She enters, approaches for a greeting and some strokes and scratches, then we all go to the hallway and the stairs to go down for breakfast. But Aussie takes a few steps towards Lori’s room and stands at the threshold. Henry hurries inside, and from there barks a warning. She’s not sure she can go in.

“Come in, Aussie,” Lori calls out from her chair inside her room. “Ignore the punk!”

With a little more prodding, Aussie goes in. She approaches Lori, who immediately greets her a good morning, strokes her, smoothens out her black fur, while Aussie’s tail waves fast from side to side. “She’s doing her helicopter thing,” is how Lori puts it.

Then we all go downstairs for breakfast.

I love to see Aussie showing people affection. You hear their reactions: “Aussie, you’re such a special girl. You’re so gentle. You’re so pretty.” She, of course, speaks back volumes but not in words.

Not everyone knows how to stroke a dog. I think Lori and I are pretty good at it. I let my mind go blank and instead, let my hands feel—not just the soft fur, but also the beating heart underneath. My hands register her calmness and quiet, the sensitivity she shows with her ears, the tips of which tremble, the tiny tuft of white hairs beneath her mouth shivering slightly. It’s her only visible testament to age.

People think it’s the dog that wants stroking, but Aussie and other dogs know better.  Me, too. This is about connection, and it goes both ways. They are getting hands-on petting, but the people get hands-on heart-opening. You communicate with a dog on their level—not with discussions or intellectual arguments, not with opinions, not with AI—but with touch. And if you’re lucky, you might also get a certain visceral sense: Yes, this is it. This is important. This is the baseline for my life. Love.

I think that’s why millions of people have dogs, for that offer of companionship and connection that perhaps they don’t get from other human beings.

In his remarks on the digital world and how we humans function (or should), the philosopher Charles Eisenstein wrote: “A pillar of scientific metaphysical ideology is that everything is measurable. From within the digital matrix, it seems that everything is. When I feel a breeze on my face and soil beneath my feet, when I watch a hummingbird hover and dart in the hydrangeas, when I wriggle in the ocean water or gasp in pain of a bee’s sting, I know otherwise. The way to keep the digital world sane is to draw from outside of it.”

Green River Zen Center is beginning its summer retreat this evening. The dogs won’t have much of me till next week, and I won‘t have much of them. Instead, there will be talks and face-to-face, the sangha has arranged things well.

Most important, what there will be is sitting. I am not a great maven on samadhi, my mind has always been so busy that it’s been a challenge, even after all these years, to settle into a nondual state. But I can say this: When I sit, I start breathing deeply, focusing on inhale and exhale. But soon, I feel my belly deflating. There is still the inhale and exhale, but the exhalation seems to get deeper and deeper with each breath, the belly on its own flattening more and more, till at some point there is nowhere further to go. Inhale and exhale go out the window; the awareness that is usually in the background is now at the foreground. Nothing moves, even as I continue breathing.

Different things will naturally arise over days of doing this. But when the awareness remains front, center, and all around, all there is, is attention. Single-focused, relaxed attention, which just may be the deepest act of compassion one can give.

Often my eyes tear up.

The blog will be on retreat till next week

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