“It is not uncommon for people to spend their whole life waiting to start living.” ~Eckhart Tolle
It was on the anniversary of Scottish poet Robert Burns' birthday, or “Burns Night” as it is affectionately known as in Scotland, that my sister rescued a terrified stray dog who came to be named BraveHeart (or Brava for short).
We thought the name was apt as Braveheart is also a film starring Mel Gibson as William Wallace, who was a famous warrior during the Wars of Scottish Independence.
Brava is a big, long-legged black dog, with the limbs of a greyhound and a head reminiscent of a Pyreneean hunting dog crossed with a Labrador, but despite any theoretical physical shortcomings he is a handsome dog with a big mushy heart.
He is also a strong dog, and as his muscle builds up each day, we witness him getting stronger. Just as Michelangelo carved the angel out of the marble, so Brava is transforming into my sister's guardian angel.
As the days progress, Brava is becoming much less fearful. He now likes to come out on long walks and enjoys exploring most new places.
He still likes to retreat to his own chosen sanctuary under a horse truck; and is still scared of most men but it is still early days. However, every day there is progress, and little by little, Brava is becoming who he needs to be, the dog he was destined to become.
During this short healing period Brava will figure out who he is, why he is, where he is, and what he is. We humans spend a lifetime trying to figure this out, but Brava does not have that luxury, he just is whatever he is in any given moment.
Of course we all know dogs live in the now; or at least that’s what we keep on being told.
It’s become a buzz word for the hectic disinformation era in which we now live. We all strive for this simple peace in our own lives—a life without stress or worry. When it comes down to it, let’s face it: We all want to be Zen dogs. But how do we best achieve this enlightened state?
Do we have to live in some kind of Eckhart Tolleian meditative nirvana? Do we need to experience the world as a blissful Never Never Land, eventually arriving at some heady point where we have forgiven ourselves and all those who have hurt us?
Do we need to have simultaneously connected with nature, our inner selves, and our outer selves, listened more, talked less, practiced compassion in every conceivable form, and sent out oodles of love to the universe at every available opportunity?
Wow! If so, that’s one hell of a task list to be getting on with, and quite frankly none of it seems quite so simple to achieve. And wasn't that the point after all?
I think dogs teach us to live in the now on a much more fundamental and rudimentary level.
Because they do not live as long as most humans, and certainly not long enough; we only have a relatively short time with them, i.e. the now!
One day we are sharing our lives with a bouncing adorable puppy, and before we know it our dogs are older wiser sages, albeit a lot slower on their walks and often suffering various ailments that come from a life well lived.
It is a sad but inevitable circle of life which none of us like to dwell upon. That is why gratitude for all we already have is so important.
Brava is a good a mentor as any Zen dog. Some things are still frightening for him, and some things are now the norm, but he is not thinking about “why” this has happened to him; he does not think in this way.
And I think this is a fundamental difference between dogs and humans: Like humans, animals experience fear, but the difference is that we continue to re-run it in our heads like an old film long after the “danger” has passed instead of detaching ourselves from it.
We feed our fears by routinely reliving the real or perceived wrongs done to us. Instead of moving on, we place blame and use our past experiences as a hook to hang our future transgressions on.
“So and so did this, hence why I am the way I am today.” “I can't possibly be all who I can be because of x y and z.” So on and on the endless mind chatter continues, polarizing us so we are fixed in unmovable positions.
We can all be prisoners of our own fears. No one else is holding the key to our cell. We are or own jailers. We either have too much or too little; it’s all too soon or all too late. It’s always someone else's fault.
Ironically, we like to think that we are quite skilled at recognizing fear and “weakness” in others, but rarely do we recognize it in ourselves.
And the less we recognize and acknowledge our open “fear wounds,” the more others, including ourselves, feed off of them.
We tell ourselves limiting stories about ourselves (“I can't do this, I can't do that”) and thus build our own prison walls. We attract others who live in fear and are willing to support our self-made stories about who we are and what we cannot achieve.
Brava is scared now, but this will not always be the case, this is just a moment in time. His heart is brave and true. It does not serve him to limit himself in any way. His objective is to survive and his savior is love.
He will break down his prison walls. He will conquer his fears. The question now has to be: will we?
Will we unchain ourselves from our self-made limitations, live our lives on purpose, follow our passions, and disregard what others say or think? (In reality, no one is really that bothered anyway. You got it, other people's opinions are a self-made limitation too.)
Or will we remain the frightened stray dog under a horse truck; reliving a thousand possible deaths, none of which really happened?
As Malcolm Wallace says to his son in the film “Your heart is free. Have the courage to follow it.”
Photo by o. denise