What I Learned from Our Dog

The Sufi tell of the disciple who asked the elder, “Is there anything I can do to make myself enlightened?”

“As little as you can do to make the sun rise in the morning.”

“Then, of what use are the spiritual exercises you prescribe?”

“To make sure you are not asleep when the sun begins to rise.”

-Joan Chittester from New Designs


When the sun begins to rise in Hawaii, the roosters, who unbelievably roam around our suburban neighborhood, begin to crow.  They wake up our dog, while I try to deny their pesky existence and go back to sleep.  Rafa, our dog*, begins to whine.  Rafa is ready to begin the day.  He is more than ready; he is excited!  He wants to go outside for his morning ritual.  He wants to go now!  Does a morning pass when I am not up at the crack of dawn? No!

When we first got Rafa, I was not a morning person.  I was a slow “waker-upper,” dependent upon copious amounts of caffeine.  My husband did the middle of the night shift, taking Rafa to learn to “go potty” outside, rather than in the house.  Then my husband would get back to bed and arise before dawn to go running.  My turn came next, at dawn, to go for a walk with the little dude again.  And he was so happy to see me every morning, his little body rolling over for a belly rub, his tongue licking my fingers and toes, that I ended up smiling and laughing.  No more Grinch for me!  It was playtime!  The little dude was my playful priority.

I have learned at least three more important things from our dog.  Rafa naps at every opportunity, whenever the action in our house slows down.  Although I don’t sleep as much as he does, he has taught me that naps are very important and going to bed early is perfectly acceptable.  It feels much better to be well rested.  I used to rush around on too little sleep. When he is tired and doesn’t feel like walking any further, he sits down.  This is a sign that he wants to be carried.  Do I have enough sense to stop when I am tired?  I hope that I am learning this by listening better to my body.

Rafa knows how to be quiet.  He can bark, but he was trained not to bark as a puppy.  We reinforce that training.  He accompanies my husband to a Buddhist meditation group and sits quietly or falls asleep, while the group meditates and talks.  He knows how to be mellow.  I cherish Rafa for sitting at my feet or rather, on one foot, as I write at my desk.  He is a great companion.  He listens well.  “If you agree, just be silent,” my husband says.  Rafa always agrees with him.  Seriously, I could learn to speak less and listen more.

Rafa is in the present.  He does not worry about what to wear or how much he weighs or what he will be paying for taxes this year.  He is curious about what he sees and smells and feels and eats in the moment.  He is open and friendly and loving and sometimes scared.  He doesn’t like sudden, loud noises or dogs who lunge at him.  I think he experiences more of life in one day than those of us who are preoccupied with many things and are not truly present in our day, even though we have greater mental capabilities.  Being in “the now” is a spiritual practice. Rafa has it down already.

The Realm of God is like a puppy, who came into a couple’s life to teach them the way to eternal life.

*Rafa is named after the incredibly wonderful Spanish tennis player Rafa Nadal.  Check out his Armani advertisements on YouTube, where he is not playing tennis.