Pretty much every morning I walk to my son’s house to take my granddog, Penny, for a walk. She is my teacher and partner in walking meditation. Penny is a 7 year old Pit Bull Terrier or, for people who find the idea of a Pit Bull scary, a Staffordshire Bull Terrier which sounds a little less threatening. Her breed’s temperament, which is a great description of Penny, is: Stubborn, Friendly, Affectionate, Intelligent, Loyal, Obedient, Strong Willed, Clownish, Gentle, Courageous.
Penny is also part of my daily fitness program, we walk a 3-mile loop, pretty much regardless whether it is warm, cold, sunny, light rain or snowing. She is definitely a family dog, and although she enjoys my company, I am not one of her “people”. This is expressed clearly on our 1 ½ mile walk out as she is frequently looking back to my children’s house, walking slowly and reluctantly. She would much prefer staying snuggled on the comforter on my grandson’s bed. I remind her that we both need the exercise as we are not getting any younger. At 7 she is middle-aged and I won’t mention my years other than to say I have at least 20 years on her.
Her pace helps to slow me down as well as I coax her along encouragingly. Although we have done this walk too many times to count, what I have noticed is that each time is fresh and new to her. She uses all her senses, especially smell, to note any sensory input whether old/familiar (to my habitual view) or new. It seems everything is interesting and her curiosity is infectious as I interrupt my mind’s habitual wandering in reverie or from my ‘to do list’ and begin to also notice what is catching her attention.
When I move away from labeling the things we are passing with ‘concepts’ like tree, bird, sun…I also begin to notice the detail like how the sun is breaking into rays coming through the leaves of the Tulip tree which are beginning to turn yellow in the early Fall and how the mist is rising over the water and the lovely trill of the Red-winged blackbird’s song in the Sumac bushes near us.
Of course, in no time at all I am lost again, on auto pilot, when suddenly I am pulled up short as Penny stops in her tracks to explore some compelling smell. It’s like a bell ringing in the meditation hall and I am jolted back into the present moment just in time to miss tripping over her…realizing I have been someplace else in my mind. Once again I start noticing detail in the surrounding trees and woods along the canal towpath as we walk. Suddenly, both Penny & I are surprised by the movement of a Buck with a 6 pointed rack of antlers running across the dry canal bed & now standing motionless, majestic in the brush beneath the trees, safely out of reach.
Penny doesn’t miss much. If I’m alert and curious I see all kinds of wildlife, like the small red fox that crossed the towpath 50 yards in front of us this morning, her bushy white-tipped tail sticking out parallel to the ground as she scurried across the canal to take shelter in the trees.
By the end of our walk, I begin to feel embedded in this scene not just passing through as an observer, feeling a kinship, care & appreciation for these fellow beings. I feel so blessed to have Penny as my mentor and teacher.