Saturday, February 7, 2015

Puppy Mind, or What I Learned from Our New Puppy

My family just got a dog; his name is Beau. As far as we can tell, since we adopted him from a rescue group, he's a Chihuahua Beagle mix. He's three months old and very friendly, but towards the end of the evening my children need a break from him so I take him into the meditation room with me to calm down a bit.

Oh how naive of me.

Since I don't bother to turn the heat on for the mere 30 minutes I plan to spend in the room, first I sit and wrap myself in a blanket. Beau immediately tries to eat the blanket and then I attempt to distract him with a chew toy or bone.

Candles burn on either side of the Buddha statue and I settle into the breath, while Beau explores the room. This proves difficult for me because he isn't completely housebroken, and so I am waiting for him to use the carpet as his personal toilet.

Eventually he whines to get out. On a good day, I calm him enough to have him sit in my lap by petting him and offering him his bone. Sometimes he falls asleep; sometimes he doesn't.

Try meditating with a puppy in your lap. It's not easy because he is so easily distracted. It reminds me of myself when I first began meditating.
Zen teachers call it monkey mind, but I think that puppy mind might be a more apt Western analogy. Our minds leap around like an unleashed puppy, investigating one thought after another, in search of the most satisfying or tantalizing one.
Sometimes the thought brings pleasure, while at other times it inflicts pain. You don't have to spend much time on the meditation mat to learn how much the human mind likes to torture itself with injurious thoughts.
Which leads us to another side of the puppy mind. While puppies' attention span is so short--they're engaged with you one minute and then chasing a squirrel then next--they can be incredibly persistent.

Anyone who has ever raised a puppy can attest to their surprising determination. If you don't want them inside of your laundry room, by God they are going to try every way they can to get in there--no matter how hard you try to distract them.

This is an aspect of the mind that we often overlook--the human capacity to fixate on one thing.

Over and over and over again.
Once we get something in our sight, be it an idea or possession, the human inclination is to seize upon it. Sure, most minds are as fickle as a butterfly, flitting from one thought to another, but they also possess the fierce focus of a cat hunting a mouse.
All of these things have been unfolding in my meditation room, and thus inside my own mind, as I try to meditate with a puppy in my lap. Or off my lap as the case more often is.

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