The simplest definition I can come up with for spiritual practice is something you do mindfully and wholeheartedly on a regular basis, preferably every day, and through this devotion, this repetition and experience, you learn and evolve, and as it is spiritual, you also connect with God (the Universe, your Buddha-Nature, Mystery, the Great Spirit, etc.)–however you might define that for yourself.
My primary practices are:
- Word–reading or listening and writing, especially writing
- Yoga–while this primarily is asana (what people typically think of when you say “yoga”), it can also include yogic breathing, mindful eating, study, and service
- Meditation–this includes working with mantra, chanting, visualization and contemplation, as well as sitting, shamatha style meditation
- Dog–this post will attempt to explain
That last one might seem out of place, more so to someone who has never had a dog, but for me, it is every bit as essential and spiritual as the other three.
Practicing word gives me a voice, allows me to express and communicate and understand my experience.
Yoga connects me to my body, helps me align my mind with it in the present moment, to embody the manifestation of what I learn.
Meditation is similar, but is more focused on training my mind, enabling me to connect with reality, to finally arrive at the place I was already, to realize that where I was trying so hard to get is here. Meditation connects me with my basic goodness, an innate wisdom and compassion that are always available.
Dog is all about training my heart. It is about the devotion it takes to build a relationship, friendship and trust, to bond with a being that does not speak, doesn’t think like we do, and yet most certainly feels, experiences suffering and joy, just like we do. It’s about being entrusted with another life, to tend and care for as long as it exists, as best as you possibly can. It’s about loving with your whole heart even though eventual grief and loss are a guarantee.
My dogs have been some of my greatest teachers.
From Obi, I learned to be less afraid, the importance of friends, resilience and strength, to live and love with my whole heart, to face death and to let go.
From Dexter, so far I’ve learned to relax, that happiness is simple, the importance of play and work (and that maybe they are the same thing), to insist that others respect my boundaries, tenacity and determination, and that healing is possible because the love never ends.
From Sam, I am learning surrender, letting go of control, the importance of staying calm, patience, appreciation for enthusiasm, the healing properties of love, that there will always be another dog, and that in this moment, right now, there is no problem.
And Muffin, the first dog I ever loved, who wasn’t actually “mine,” the canine point of origin for my life-long love of dogs taught me that no matter how far apart you are, and no matter how long you might be separated, and even if you never see each other again, the love remains and you will never forget.