As you read this, I'd like you to substitute the words "Kari's brain" wherever you come across anything referring to an action my dog takes on our walks. As we took our not-quite-daily jaunt through yet another new neighborhood this morning, it occurred to me how similar the progression of our walks is to my meditation practice.
The excitement builds from the moment we get in the car to take the girls to school. The leash has been snapped on and CB is allowed to leap in to the car and take his place between the girls - squashed down between the two car seats, tail thumping a steady drumbeat. As I pull the car up to the curb and scrape the front bumper against the concrete the girls both cringe and call out in unison, "Mom, I think you're there!" CB feels the motion of the car stop and immediately leaps up, tongue hanging out one side of his mouth, ready for action.
"Not quite yet, buddy," I remind him as I hold him back so the girls can grab their stuff and hop out to walk to their classrooms.
By the time I return he's perched on the back seat of the van, vigilantly keeping watch for me out the back window. As I start the engine and pull away, scraping the front bumper back across the concrete he lies down with a huge sigh. Dang! More driving before we walk.
When we first get out of the car, the straining on the leash is almost out of control. His 80 pounds of pure muscle provide my biceps with a good workout while I try to restrain him a bit. He sniffs every new bush and critter along the way, tasting beetles that frantically skitter across the sidewalk from him. Horse poop is particularly interesting and depositing a few drops of pee on every fence post and sign post is mandatory. He zig-zags back and forth across the trail in front of me, forcing me to switch the leash from hand to hand fifty times. He pulls forward and I call over and over again, "Slow down, CB". My tone starts out as playful - I know he's just excited, but as the minutes pass by and he still pulls I begin to get frustrated and give a little tug on the leash as I say the words. Occasionally he finds a particularly interesting scent and I have to pull him forward and tell him to "Leave it".
His other odd behavior centers around his desire to find just the right place to poop. He won't go on the sidewalk or the street and he won't deposit it in the grass, either. On top of low bushes or ground covers is his preference, thank you very much. Once he has found the perfect place, we stop for him to do his business. Then, as we walk, I hold the blue 'doggy bag' by my fingertips, scanning the path for a trash can. Five minutes later we complete the same sequence again. I'm struggling with his weight pulling against me, wanting something to distract me through this first part of our walking routine. I flip open my cell phone and scroll down through the list of stored numbers, wondering who I can call that would be free to talk right now. About fifteen minutes in to the walk, we finally settle into a rhythm. Exploring the new scents has lost its attraction and he no longer has anything unsettling in his stomach. The leash has some slack and swings slightly from side to side like a metronome on a piano. I can take long, even strides and his head is held up, looking forward, tongue lolling out the left side of his mouth and he pants in even breaths.
Now I can begin to take in the sounds and smells that surround us. The trees are beginning to turn, reds and oranges just slightly coloring the edges as if they've been tentatively and cautiously dipped in paint. The crabapples are falling from the trees and making a slippery mess on the trail. There are no birds chirping today and all I can hear right now are the clicks of CB's nails on the sidewalk and his panting, panting, panting. My breaths are deeper and my shoulders drop and fall back, widening my chest to the day in front of us. Another fifteen minutes and I will be anxious to get back to the car, wanting to flip my phone open to check the time but somehow finding the resistance within me to avoid it.
I know these walks are good for me and I look forward to them but they are the first thing to suffer at the hands of a busy week. The first part of the walk drives me crazy but I can't seem to find my way to the peaceful, mindful part without traveling through the 'business' part first - the exploration of our surroundings, the clean-up, the peeing on every post.