Learning Zen from a Beagle

Humans have to work at equanimity for often there is a well-established mindset that stifles openness. Mindset often closes the door on mindfulness. There is, however, an enviable equanimity—evenness—that we associate with dogs. They can meet a moment with all they have and let it go.

If you can sit quietly after difficult news; if in financial downturns you remain perfectly calm; if you can see your neighbors travel to fantastic places without a twinge of jealousy; if you can happily eat whatever is put on your plate; if you can fall asleep after a day of running around without a drink or a pill; if you can always find contentment just where you are:

you are probably a dog.

Jack Kornfield

 A Lamp in the Darkness: Illuminating the Path Through Difficult Times

My mindset in reading the Kornfield quote was, “Great! A pithy, Zen quote about how to meet difficult moments.” Well, it is and it is not—such is the nature of Zen. Mostly, however, I thought of a dog named Gumby.

First Days 0708A beagle mix–maybe dachshund, maybe rat terrier, maybe neither–Gumby was mostly black and tan with a bit of white on her chest. Long-legged yet petite.

I was thinking of the evening when diabetes claimed her sight. We were on our walk with Gumby determining our route, as always.

In an instant, her long legs searched wildly for the sidewalk that seemed to have disappeared. Yet, she did not stop but kept going until she found her stride again.

That evening and every walk thereafter, she decided our route by beagling– scent memory.  She walked me miles—some days as many as five—I followed, trusting her to take us where we needed to go.

Blind but completely present, Gumby walked me into the world so I could see it as it is. It was not the world I wanted but it was the world we were in. We walked, every day and every night for two-and-a-half years.

We even appeared on the evening news as concerned residents regarding a dangerous cross walk. Gumby’s blindness went unremarked. Few ever noticed she was mostly blind, unless they looked directly into her clouded eyes. And even then, who could be sure?  Gumby remembered 011812

But if any light ever entered her eyes it was in listening to Puccini’s La Boheme. Whether it was a “Live at the Met” radio performance on a Saturday afternoon or from a CD, we sat through all four acts together every time.

She came to me as an older dog with few teeth—hence the name, Gumby–I never knew the origin of her love for classical music or opera.  It ceased to matter how she had once lived before her life with me.

She taught me to meet the moment with whatever I happen to have wherever I might happen to be. She took me many miles through many difficult moments. Years later, I am changed and unchanged.

I still sit through all four acts of La Boheme, completely present in its story, as if for the first time. It was my favorite opera before I knew Gumby but now each performance is a new experience. Was it her favorite opera? That has ceased to matter as well. It was the only opera in which we sat together in meditative stillness.

Mindset comes from experience, our memory of a time past. But sometimes, with enough time and space, we can reflect on difficult moments, returning to the unchanged as the changed being we are.

I took her beagling. She taught me Zen.


19 thoughts on “Learning Zen from a Beagle

  1. “if you can always find contentment just where you are:
    you are probably a dog.”

    I love this quote! My own long-time canine companion is now nearing the close of her days on this earth–mostly blind, mostly deaf, always limping, occasionally seizuring.–but possessing a zen-like contentment about existence. I often wonder if I will ever attain that sort of be-her-now attitude. our animal guides can teach us a lot.


    1. I continue to aspire in terms of being here now but learning it from a dog–two actually, just different techniques ;)–helped me keep perspective regarding the events in my own life then and now. All I have to do is consider Gumby, and my drama diminishes. Cooper, much more flamboyant in his health issues but just as present, showed me that I might as well just be. Oh, and I agree about the quote. I loved it the minute I read it! Thanks, Ann.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love the intrepid pic this paints of her. Unable to see but boldly trotting ahead. What a great pal she must have been for you. I love dogs dearly but they break my heart when they go . . .


  3. Why is it that what we strive to do with all our intelligence and cleverness, comes so easily to a dog? Perhaps intelligence and cleverness is overrated. How nice to see photos of Gumby, I only knew you during the Cooper James era. Another fine dog.


    1. I am right there with you, Adrian! Gumby and Cooper were as different as night and day yet both completely present. I continue to aspire…. Thanks, Adrian!


  4. Beautiful post, Karen. I love the name Gumby and I really enjoyed learning about your journey together. Animals are so very special, and as you know, Autumn has taught me lessons about living in the moment. Our precious fur kids only know one direction-forward. This made my morning. Thank you.


    1. Thanks, Stephanie. She was named by the veterinarian who performed the dental work. Gumby had been abandoned at the veterinary clinic by her owner. She came in as Prissy and left as Gumby. The name really didn’t suit her but like most Zen masters, she took charge in a quiet way so I don’t remember actually calling her name that often. She seemed to know when to appear. As you say, she knew only one direction. Take care, my friend.


  5. My daily meditation begins each morning with a “cookie party” with our dog Hope. Sometimes she sits beside me the whole time. Calm and alert, looking out over the back yard. At those times, I occasionally have the feeling that I am observing the world thru both her eyes and my own simultaneously, as if my real “mind” was somehow behind us both , peering out thru pinholes that are our eyes, and our brains. It is amazing how humans and dogs share a deep, unexplainable bond.


    1. What you describe, Craig, is what I am trying to capture in a short story about Gumby. Your thoughtful description reminds me of our “listening” to La Boheme. We were not separate. I really appreciate your description. Thank you, Craig.


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