What my dog taught me about Zen

“My dog doesn’t worry about the meaning of life.” So begins Charlotte Joko Beck’s classic book Everyday Zen.

This simple statement began my fascination with Zen. I had already had direct experience of what Joko was talking about. For roughly 10 years I walked, day and night, with our dog, Bo. During that  period I had suffered a series of setbacks, both professionally and medically. Yet, everyday – twice a day – I saw how excited Bo became by what I considered the simplest things in life. A walk around the block. A chance to smell things. Meeting another person. And eating — eating was something akin to a religious experience.

I took Bo around that same block a thousand times and more but he was never bored by the experience. I realized how he wasn’t disappointed because he didn’t get to go on fabulous vacations, the way everyone else in our little New England town seemed to. But I was.

I got bored by doing the same walk every day but he never seemed worried by sameness or rote experience.

Bo just seemed to love simply being alive. What more did I, his owner, his friend, need? In the dimmest of times I kept going back to him, to his sense of wonder and excitement, his acceptance of life, just the way it was, and I was humbled and inspired by the experience.

Bo knew things about friendship that I needed to learn. He was always excited to see me, no matter what foul mood I was in. He always loved to feel my hand on face or head. He seemed to sense when I was down and he sat next to me on the floor until I gave in and ran my hand through his fur.

He was happy with simple things and made a life out of what looked on the surface like routine. On the other hand he didn’t have to worry about things like jobs, a mortgage, car payments, college tuition ….. so maybe those things aren’t as important as we think.

Like most dog owners I imparted part of my own identity to him, without realizing it. And when he died that part of me that had been ceded to him died too. It was hard to take.

On the surface Bo was only a common, ordinary mongrel. But, more importantly, he was also a teacher.