When claiming an upstairs bedroom for my personal “cave” I envisioned a place reserved exclusively for spiritual practice. No using the writing table to pay bills. No sitting in the comfortable rocker to read about current events. The room at the end of the upstairs hall would be far removed from casual visitors, especially those with merely a voyeuristic curiosity or any who may judge my hunger for sacred silence to be a bit eccentric if not peculiar.
Much has softened over the past few years. My initial intention to religiously leave my shoes at the door has given way to practicality. Though I remain grateful for its isolation from the flow of everyday-life, it is no longer off-limit to house guests or friends. Surely the greatest evolution has been the welcome of Jeb the Dog within the cloistered walls.
With a beginner’s naïveté and hyper spirituality I had envisioned training Jeb never to cross the threshold. Along with street shoes, “secular” reading and mundane social correspondence, he would remain on the other side of the threshold. Jeb already enjoyed full reign over the rest of our house. He didn’t need to trot uninvited into my inner sanctum.
Training Jeb never to cross the threshold now serves as a perfect metaphor for how I erect and defend boundaries within my spiritual life. He’s helped me recognize how disposed I am to define who or what is or is not “holy.” In fact, I would say Jeb the Dog has become my primary spiritual mentor, not just on our daily walks along the creek but also within the intimate sanctuary which my cave has become.
Long ago, Jeb made clear the wisdom that great apostle Peter had to learn (Act: 10). Who am I to judge anything God has created either ritually clean of unclean? All has been created by God, manifests God’s goodness and offers praise by virtue of fully being what it or whom it was created to be.
We guess Jeb is about seven. When he came to us in 2011 he was said to be “about 2” according to the Human Society. Still, he follows us around like a puppy-dog. Wherever we are he wants to be. Now when he follows me upstairs for my 20 minute meditation — trust me, best intentions always surpass my actual practice — Jeb trots right along and takes his preferred place aside the prayer rug. Lesson #1: Would that I were as eager to place myself in God’s presence as Jeb is so easily disposed to be in mine.
Unlike me, Jeb neither fidgets nor fixates on the clock. He simply takes his position and is content to rest in the present moment. At times I wonder whether he was Eckhart Tolle’s ghostwriter for The Power of Now. A Zen master would be pleased to cite his audible exhalation as the proper method of “breathing” in prayer. Lesson #2: Would that I were as docile before God and attentive to sacred silence as is Jeb.
Outside meditation time Jeb is the master of getting his needs met. He possesses an uncanny ability to turn a pat atop his head into a full blown tummy-scratch. Clearly he knows what he wants but is never demanding or insistent. Rather, he is transparently honest and always available to whatever might come his way. Lesson #3: Would that I were as grateful for everything that comes my way and receive everything — absolutely everything — as gift!
Many more lessons have come via Jeb’s mentoring. These examples seem sufficient to clarify something Jeb did today. He trotted upstairs to the cave this morning having discerned I wasn’t delivering laundry or merely cleaning house. Taking his position aside the prayer rug, he exhaled deeply as is his wont and there quietly remained for the duration.
Here’s what made me smile in awe and amazement — upon my tapping the prayer bell which marks the end of each prayer session, Jeb promptly got up from his position and trotted back downstairs. His knowing attentiveness to the moment and our common ritual brought a chuckle that came from way down deep.
Perhaps that is the greatest lesson of all… Whatever our spiritual practice, ultimately it is to be judged by whether it brings forth a deep and abiding gladness.
As WC Fields wisely concluded, “If dogs don’t go to heaven, I want to go where they go.”