March 22, 2013

How a Canine Teaches Me to Bring My Mind Home. ~ Shanan Harrell

As I examined his problematic behavior, I had a flash of recognition. Something began to feel vaguely familiar.

Flying Dog Ranch is a glorious little oasis snuggled into a picturesque pocket of my rural home of Tehachapi, California. Flying Dog is home to four humans, three dogs, two cats, a rabbit, a school of koi, and a 250-gallon reef tank ecosystem of tropical fishy fantasmagoria.

A tempting hammock hangs between two giant pines in the front yard. A hawk lazily circles overhead. Birds and butterflies flit and soar. I can almost hear Snow White softly singing in the distance as I settle in for a few days of house-sitting and pet-loving. One of my three canine charges is Joey. Joey’s beloved human, my friend Ginger, has warned me about Joey.

“Careful with him. He’s got the wanderlust and if you don’t keep a good eye on him, he’ll be gone. Even if he’s just moving from the house to his ‘compound’, put the leash on him. I’m telling you, he’ll take off when the open road calls.”

I look at Joey. He’s a black and brown short-haired mix looking up at me through deep brown eyes,—the kind of brown where you can’t see any white around them, just giant chocolate pools under fluttering eyelashes. Joey is short and thick. The Old Man of the group, he doesn’t look like he could run ten feet, let alone burn rubber down the open road.

He casually glances up at me between licks to his various body parts. Splayed out on his abundant belly, Joey chews his fingernails with delicious ferocity between bouts of steely-eyed wall staring. I love him instantly.

Joey’s compound is a huge gated area with plenty of trees, a trough of water, a covered shelter, a comfy bed, and favored toys. If Joey isn’t in the family house, he’s in his compound. That’s the way it works.

The other two dogs, mind you, do not have to deal with this leash business. They ramble alongside, happy and mouthy. Joey seems content with the system and I am delighted by their canine camaraderie.

The first morning of my house/pet sit, the dogs wake at 5:30 a.m. (!) I stagger out of bed, open the door and with a whoosh, all three dogs take off outside. In my sleepy fuzz, I do not put the leash on Joey. I watch him as he does his business, smiles at me with those sweet chocolate eyes, and takes off like a shot.

The other two dogs come obediently back into the house, look to me for a cookie, and lay down like the good, balanced beings that they are.

The Old Man has hit the road—born to be wild.

Sure enough, about an hour later, the prodigal returns and I can exhale. I have learned firsthand that the Old Man cannot be trusted. But why? Why would a happy and contented dog habitually run off like that?

Why would he leave his blissful home where all his needs are met and he is deeply loved? Does he think he’ll find something outside his home that will bring a deeper satisfaction? What fuels his relentless roaming?

What a goofy critter he is!

I considered Joey with an open curiosity. As I examined his problematic behavior, I had a flash of recognition. Something began to feel vaguely familiar.

In meditation, I’ve used the instruction “bring the mind home.”

Ah, yes. That sounds so lovely, eh?  Bring the mind home. After all, as we learn firsthand in meditation, the mind loves to wander.

If I don’t keep an eye on it, it can take off without warning. Even when supplied with everything it needs for a good experience, if given the opportunity, it will go AWOL.  Just like… just like… Shanan’s mind-meet-Joey.

You two have so much in common! You share the wanderlust, that’s for sure. You both have a tendency to follow whatever distraction may present itself.

Squirrel? Go! Weird noise? Go! Painful memory from the past? Go! Fear of future? Go! Capacity to choose a skillful, balanced response to outside interference? Um. Not so much. I recognize myself in Joey’s behavior. We both require assistance to keep us from running amok.

Joey depends on a leash to keep his paws from wandering; I depend on the breath to keep my mind from moseying.

Dog as mirror?  Sure, why not. Dog as teacher? You bet your ball launcher.

Occasionally during meditation these days, as I call my mind home from its wanderings, I sense a brown and black stubby flash go zooming by. It’s Joey! He’s on a walkabout! I gesture to him that it’s time for us both to head back.

He smiles a toothy grin and turns the corner for Flying Dog. I follow him part way and then peel off for my address on the meditation cushion.

As we both reestablish our residences, I hear us call out in unison, “Honey, I’m home!



Shanan Harrell is a fusion of Iyengar-based asana instructor blended with a powerful streak of Buddhist warrior and seriously devoted gong player. Shanan has been practicing yoga since 1996 and teaching since 1999. Check out her Tehachapi Yoga Tribe page on Facebook as well as her website. Shanan’s book, Stumbling Towards Enlightenment: a Yoga 101 Collection is a compilation of her thoughtful and entertaining essays.



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Assistant Ed: Josie Huang/Ed: Kate Bartolotta


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