This day marks five months since the passing of my German Shepherd, Montana, who died peacefully at the age of 12. The connection that she and I had was beyond profound, and I although I miss her beyond my impoverished ability to articulate, I am as equally grateful that her spirit chose to spend time with me on this Earth. As I reflect on her life, I am reminded to keep alive and share a few of the many great lessons she taught me:
1. Beliefs are often delusions: For most of her life, I operated under the great misunderstanding that I was her “owner,” and that she was my responsibility. That’s an understanding based on the illusion of hierarchy, since I believed myself to be the intelligent human who generated all the parameters for almost every aspect of her life. In truth, she was as much a caretaker of me as I was of her. She had responsibilities that were equally as important as mine. For example, she took it upon herself to be always on duty. She had to know exactly where I was at all times, and she always positioned herself in a room so that she could see and keep track of everyone in it. Toward the end of her life, I am certain that she stuck around in a great deal of pain long enough for her to know that I could begin to let her go. She took care of me until the expenditure of her last breath. She understood the equality of our relationship, even if I did not. Montana has taught me not to grasp too firmly onto the illusion of beliefs, particularly when they are buttressed by an erroneous sense of superiority; another day will prove their impermanence. Be possessed of a “pliable mind-heart.”
2. There is only now: Montana was a Zen Master, who did not require daily meditation or the monastic life to be an expert at the art of Being in the Now. If she was Chasing Squirrels, she was Chasing Squirrels. If she was Chomping a Bone, she was Chomping Bone. If she was Sniffing a Fire-Hydrant, she was Sniffing a Fire-Hydrant. She was not thinking about anything else; she was absolutely present for every moment of her life. But, when we were on hikes or walks through the park- I was too often thinking about something else, and I was not present to enjoy her company. I’d give an awful lot to have just one of those moments back.
3. Keep it Simple: Happiness is to be found in simplicity and gratitude. When we complicate our lives too much, we have too many inputs to experience any one of them deeply. Montana’s day-to-day life was pretty simple. She did not care what kind of car she traveled in; she did not care how big or exclusive her house was; she didn’t care if she had steak and lobster or chicken livers for dinner. She did care that I was healthy and happy. She got very concerned and worried when I was not. (That was one of the very few reasons in her world that justified being worried.) She cared that she had enough reasonably nutritious food to eat. She cared that she got regular exercise and fresh air. And, she cared that she had lots of time to play with other dogs and kids. She found happiness in all the right places. Examine what makes you really happy. Cultivate it. Get rid of unnecessary inputs.
4. It’s ok to be Angry, but it’s not ok to live in Anger: When she was angry with me (for example, when I had left her alone at home for too long because I had “More Important Things To Do”), she let me know it! As soon as I walked in the door, it was on!! She would moan and complain and tell me just what kind of an @#$% I’d been. Sometimes the “Great Bitterness” venting session would last ten to fifteen minutes. Then it was over. And, it was really over. Those sessions were never more severe regardless of how many times in the past I had neglected her because I had “More Important Things to Do” than fulfill my obligations to her. Her dissatisfaction did not escalate regardless of how many times I had disappointed her. She spent her fury and then let it go. Then, it was time to be happy again. Moments of emotional distress should be short-lived. They should not be lived-in.
5. All forms have Emptiness: All forms of life are empty of independent existence. We depend upon each other, and we are not separate from each other. It is when we invest our belief in the delusion that we are that most suffering arises from greed, fear and hatred. Montana knew no strangers. She didn’t care if you were a Republican or a Democrat if you came to our home. She didn’t care if you called yourself a Christian or a Muslim or a Buddhist or an Atheist. She didn’t care if you were Black or Latino or Asian or Caucasian or a Turtle or a Bird or a Chipmunk or a Child or a Mongoose or the Winter Snow. She was equally curious to get to know you, and she held good-will toward all beings equally. She did not suffer from chronic mistrust or hatred. When she experienced fear, it was temporary. She did not live in it. Cultivate good-will towards all beings. Know no strangers. We can learn from all beings. All beings may be our teachers if we take the trouble to get to know them.
Thank you, Montana.