On Holiness and Tail Wagging
If you want others to be happy,practice compassion.If you want to be happy,practice compassion.
The two most holy beings in whose presence I’ve been are the Dalai Lama, and my dog CJ. Some people will be offended by that- either because they don’t believe the Dalai Lama is a holy being, or at the very notion I could put a dog in the same category. You know who I bet WOULDN’T be offended by it? His Holiness, the Dalai Lama.
I had the good fortune to hear His Holiness speak on two occasions a few years back. It was when he was in Seattle for the Seeds of Compassion campaign. A friend knew one of the organizers, and so we were able to get tickets to two events- one on the UW campus, and one at the Seahawks’ stadium.
The event on campus was at a much smaller venue- in an auditorium with several hundred people. It was a panel discussion on the scientific basis of compassion. It was moderated by an author who’d written a book on emotional intelligence, and the panel included childhood development experts, neuroscientists- y’know. Wicked smart people. The emphasis was on discussing the quantitative benefits of compassion.
I went with two girlfriends, and we were ridiculously excited. Like, Springsteen concert circa 1984 excited. We took our seats and waited for the panel to enter. Eventually, out came a handful of people, most of whom seemed pretty ordinary. They weren’t, of course, not with all of their advanced degrees, published books etc. – but only one person on the panel was GLOWING. Now, you might think it was because of his fetching orange robes- and they were lovely, indeed. But that wasn’t it. He sort of…shimmered. I know it sounds silly, but all three of us saw it. I’m betting all several hundred of us did.
The discussion was really fascinating- but I couldn’t tell you a single thing that any of the other panelists said. I do remember that when His Holiness started to speak he was talking about animals and compassion. And that in the animal kingdom mothers need to have compassion, because otherwise when their babies cry incessantly and keep them up all night they would simply leave and the babies would die. (Can I get an AMEN, mamas?) So therefore, it was his opinion that compassion was a biological imperative necessary for the survival of the species. Some animals, he noted, had babies that could survive independently right away- like turtles- and so, he said, “Maybe turtles…no compassion!” And then he, and there’s no other word for it, giggled. The Dalai Lama giggles. Doesn’t that just make you feel better about the world, in general?
Here is the thing about holiness, at least in my experience -it looks an awful lot like joy. I think that shimmer was joy. He exudes peace and joy like no other human I have ever encountered- and I felt more peaceful and joyful just being in his presence.
In the middle of the implosion of my marriage, I found myself constantly on the interwebs trolling for puppies. Nothing made sense to me, I’d lost my center of gravity, I hadn’t told any friends or family what was going on- and so, naturally, PUPPIES. My now ex-husband and I had discussed going to the local pet shelter where we’d found our dog to see what we could see. He pulled up a picture of this ancient looking chocolate lab from their website. I looked at him and said, “You know if we go and see her we’re going to adopt her.”
We went to the shelter- I was still holding out hope for a suitable pup. We rounded the corner, and the first kennel we came upon was CJ’s. She came right up to the door and looked into my eyes. I’m pretty sure I said, “Shit.” out loud. She had the sweetest battle scarred face I have ever seen. She’d been at a backyard breeder (think small scale puppy mill) all her life, and had never lived outside of a cage. She was overweight, sway backed, practically toothless and decidedly NOT housetrained. And she was eleven years old. She was wagging her tail so fiercely, that her whole body seemed to vibrate. Maybe even shimmer.
Her whole life had been one of abuse, neglect and violence- and she stood there in the shelter wagging her tail and looking at us so expectantly. What the hell did she have to be so happy about? And why was she looking at me with such absolute love? She had no reason to trust humans at all- but there she was, with her perked up ears and her stretched out belly, swinging in time with her tail. Radiating joy.
I was a goner. The kids were goners. We were ALL goners. We brought her home the next day.
We never did get her housetrained. She would squat right in front of you peeing (or worse) on the carpet and wagging her tail furiously, never breaking eye contact with you. She was entirely delighted with herself. Think Ricky Gervais, but without a mean bone in her body. She would root through the trash and break into the pantry, if the door was left open even a crack…
Sounds awful, right? Here’s what else she did. She would lumber up on the couch and sit, nose to nose with me and gaze at me adoringly. During the worst of the divorce, she slept next to me in the biggest, loneliest king sized bed the world has ever seen- and the days I couldn’t get out of bed, she didn’t either. That last Christmas, when we were separated but trying to give the kids one final family holiday (I don’t advise it) and I was sitting on the floor of my walk in shower, hoping that the sound of the water would keep the kids from hearing me sob, she walked in after me, lay down beside me and stayed with me, getting drenched, until I stopped crying. This, from the dog who hated the rain.
CJ had a thing where she would obsessively lick EVERYTHING. It was a little disconcerting. I read somewhere that it was a sign of anxiety- but even given everything she’d been through, our sweet CJ was the least anxious critter on the planet. She exuded peace. I got it in my head that it was about her puppies. All of the many litters of puppies that had been whisked away from her too soon, so that she never really got to mother them. I went on Amazon and bought a small stuffed chocolate lab. I sprayed it with the calming pheromone spray they recommend for dogs. It helped.
Our CJ was no turtle.
Here is one of the many things I learned, and continue to learn, from our sweet, old girl. When someone is bereft, look them in the eyes. It might be hard to see them in pain, but there is something sacred in bearing witness to their grief. There is grace in sitting still beside them when there is nothing else to be done. In quietly loving them, until they are ready to stand up and move on. Doesn’t that sound an awful lot like compassion? Doesn’t that sound an awful lot like CJ?
I’m not sure if I believe in angels, but if they exist there’s no doubt in my mind CJ was one of them. We were blessed to have her for about two and a half years. For two and a half years she did nothing but love us. Well, love us, and ruin the carpets. I used to say she was a rescue. She wasn’t. She was a rescuer. She saved me. Our Dalai Mama.