I have a little dog. He’s a barrel-chested, bow-legged little white weirdo with an Orc-like underbite and a wonderful, friendly demeanor. He’s a rescue; he was found on the streets of the San Gabriel Valley wandering alone, and I adopted him from the good and kind people at Good Dog-Dog Talk. I named him Oliver Reed because he sort of looks like the Werewolf of London, and also because he drinks a lot and gets into these unstoppable humping fits.
Oliver is a good guy, and he’s my best friend. He’s the sweetest dog you could hope to meet; I stopped taking him to the dog park because rather than run with the other pups he would cuddle up with the other owners to get and give love. I was taking him there for exercise, not to two-time me! Oliver just wants to get pet and to cuddle up with you. He loves everybody.
But there are some things he just hates. He flips out over certain things – he flips out over bigger dogs, for instance. He loses his mind when motorcycles ride by. And this morning he went fucking berserk on his morning walk when the big street sweeping Zamboni came down my block. He was barking and jumping in the air, almost flipping over as he hit the tension point on the leash. Here’s this little dog (he’s 16 pounds but should be like 12. I know, I’m a bad dad) trying to KILL this one ton metal monstrosity going down the street.
I have to tell you – I understood where he was coming from. And it was really instructive to watch him and see all the ways I’ve been barking at big noisy machines over the course of my life.
The first thing I realized is that he wasn’t mad. I mean, he was mad, but that wasn’t the real emotion at play. Madness was a function of his fear, and the fear was probably caused by how uncomfortable the sound of the sweeper – its engine and its big rotating brush – made him feel. He felt threatened by it, and so he reacted in a way he had learned on the streets, which was to try and scare it off by barking and lunging at it.
But the next thing I realized is that a big part of Oliver Reed’s problem is that he didn’t understand what was going on. He was laboring under a serious delusion; he didn’t understand that the sweeper didn’t care about him at all, and that he didn’t play into the sweeper’s existence or mission. On top of that, it wasn’t clear to him that the sweeper was temporary – it was passing by, and it was going to pass by with or without his input.
How often have I done the same things? How often have I looked at a person/situation/scenario and centered myself in it when it had nothing to do with me? How often have I become angry because of a perceived slight or a gesture I took as threatening (not physically, but socially or sexually) when the person didn’t even remotely consider me? We live in a world of constant delusion, and we do not see reality as it is, and so we become frightened and that fear can turn into anger.
And how often have I been unwilling to have the patience to let a thing play out? How often has my anxiety told me that the situation I am in right now is the situation I will be in forever and ever? How often has this led to me taking bad, destructive action when I could have just waited for the street sweeper to drive on?
You’ve heard the saying “This too shall pass,” but I think the street sweeper really proves the better version of that saying: “This too is passing.” Everything that bothers you is in the process of moving on, even if it’s happening at variable speeds.
Oliver Reed is a misshapen little dude, and he has a thick neck that sometimes seizes up in painful ways. When he jumps and barks and flails around on his leash, he’s in danger of seizing up his neck. He also has bad knees, and when he’s leaping he’s in danger of hurting his knees further. He doesn’t know this, and he doesn’t take this into consideration when he freaks out at the street sweeper. He doesn’t understand how his reactions can hurt him.
And that’s something else I identify with in a big way, although less and less these days. In Buddhism we believe that being born a human is a truly auspicious thing because it means we get to understand the Dharma – the teachings of the Buddha which basically explain how to stop suffering so much. And when I look at Oliver Reed I see that in action; this little dog will never be able to understand that the street sweeper means him no harm, no matter how irritating the noise it makes is, and he will never realize that when he rages against it he’s actually in danger of hurting himself.
But I have been blessed to be able to understand that. What a privilege we all have, to be able to see the world with slightly more clarity than other animals. We don’t have to be at the mercy of our fears and our immediate reactions. That isn’t to say we won’t be – knowing is half the battle, but there’s still a whole other half to the battle – but we are so ahead of the game and have so many more opportunities to respond wisely.
I know I’ll keep barking and lunging at the big noise machines that enter my life, although hopefully less often and with less force. And maybe I can catch myself in the process earlier. As I work on that I’ll also take good care of my little buddy, being there for him when there’s something he doesn’t understand that frightens him. I won’t tell him he’s wrong or bad, I’ll just let him know I’m there for him.