spirit flows thru -- Alison Rittger's spiritual reflections on finding the holy in the daily
PictureDog with toy on rug / Alison R.
I’m experiencing some unexpected fallout from the first class of the SPCA course on Small Dog Basics.  Dog, what dog? Foxibeau was my friend, a perfect companion, thoughtful, intuitive, attuned to me, a super listener. Sure, he had some unpleasant habits when we strolled the streets, but I overlooked them and never kissed him on the mouth. When he raised his voice at other animals or lunged at strangers, I attributed his behavior to fear or protective instincts.

The gist of the first SPCA class session, a session we two-leggeds attended by ourselves, was that dogs are animals. We were told that our beloved creatures don’t think as we do and don’t know English, or any language for that matter. In fact, their behaviors are entirely about pleasure in whatever shape that might be. Treats, toys, food, walks – these are the kinds of outcomes dogs expect. They will learn words if the consequences result in obtaining any of the above coveted.

Some two-leggeds in the class seemed to know this already. Probably because their newest creature isn’t their first, and they have experience or have taken this course before. I take the class wide-eyed with nothing much to go on, not ever having actually chosen or bonded with a canine companion of my own choosing.

When my sons were young, they would introduce various rescued creatures into the household, and I would not have a voice in whether or not the animal became a family member. Once, when we already hosted Onyx, a dog so big he could sit on the couch from a standing position, Annie came to stay. Shortly, she birthed seven puppies that ate their way through cardboard and cushions. Eventually, friends of my sons gave them fine homes.

On another occasion, a son brought home a pitbull named Susie Creamcheese. That dog roamed the backyard for some period of time. If this all sounds vague, it is. I must have been a pushover mom not to have been consulted about our animal borders. Later, Otto and Leeloo, my oldest son’s pitbulls were dear to me, however, they did live downstairs when I lived upstairs.

But Foxibeau! I chose him! Saw him in a cage at Animal Control, liked the looks of him and picked him out as the one! Doubtlessly, I have imputed to him kindness, sincerity, and other positive human characteristics. I have appreciated his noncritical gaze, his accepting silences, and his willingness to wait in a comfy crate when I have to leave the house – something I do less often than I once did. I have passed on social events to cuddle with Foxie of an evening and watch multiple seasons of “Inspector Foyle” on my iPad.

Signing up for the SPCA class means I acknowledge my new best friend is actually an animal for which I am now responsible. Once he is socialized, others will like him as much as I do. And what a bonus it will be if this training socializes me so well that other two-leggeds like me as much as Foxie already seems to.

PictureFoxibeau le chien asks to go out.
All my activities seem to branch out from Foxibeau. From the soft little red brown creature I venture out, ever mindful of closing the door and leaving behind a crated pliant fellow eager for my return. During my away time, thoughts stray back to him. How long will I be gone? How long have I been gone? Have I been gone too long?

And I credit Foxibeau for recalculating my time commitments. For one thing, I won’t be an usher at the opera this upcoming season. With a dog, an hour and a half before the performance and possibly a three-hour, or four or five-hour opera just doesn’t work. Probably Foxi could manage, but I don’t feel wholehearted anymore about paying the cost of a ticket with my time. I don’t want to be away from this dog that long. Of course, my decision not to re-up as an usher was reinforced every time a lobby assignment was the “non” job of standing at a door through which patrons were not permitted to enter or exit. This assignment triggered some unpleasant reactions: doubt about my worth and dread that I was being punished for an unknown infraction. Came the thought: Only the lowliest would be assigned a lonely job ushering no one at an unused door. Doesn’t feel worth doing when a cuddly creature appreciates me no matter what. No dog-related chore feels too low, and unworthiness never arises.

And it is because of Foxibeau that I haven’t been and won’t be hopping BART at night to zip over to Oakland to the East Bay Meditation Center to meditate or take a class, much as I appreciate that diverse sangha. When I attended regularly, pre-dog, I left the house early, conscientious about allowing for delays under the Bay. The return trip usually began with a wait after 9pm at the 19th Street Station. Back in the city, I would fast-pace it to the bus stop, hoping to hop the 5 Fulton. But I might face a 22-to-48-minute wait. Because I calculate those minutes as Munits, there was never any real certainty about the wait time. So I would invariably make the five-block walk home. Now the whole endeavor feels too labor intensive. I reason that with the dog next to me on the couch I can listen to dharma podcasts from the East Coast, Redwood City, San Francisco Zen Center, all over the world actually. And I have lots of books for study, and at least eight chairs in which to sit and meditate. All I miss are other people and yet with a dog, loneliness doesn’t happen.

Another sacrifice has been all-day classes and meditations. Twice I have asked fellows in my building to add my dog to their dog and care for them both from sun up to sun down on a Saturday. If I want to continue that convenience, I will need to negotiate with them so it is worth their time. Fortunately, Foxibeau has not bitten Cooper, their dog, and he seems to like Cooper’s men as well.

In the pre-dog past I would join friends for lunch following an early movie, but not now. I liked the Ferry Building after a film at the Embarcadero, but not now.  Now I take activity breaks for Foxibeau.

Clearly, dog companionship has caused me to rethink what I want to do, for how long and where. So far all the trade-offs have been worth making; there have been no real sacrifices.

Yet, my entire social life can’t come to a standstill. After all, there’s the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and although dogs can stay many places in Ashland, I won’t be traveling with my dog. To prepare for his time away from me, he will meet with a dog trainer. Foxibeau, loveable as he is, behaves like an animal. He’s aggressive with other dogs, particularly large ones; he barks at people he can’t see but hears passing by; he has even lunged and nipped at a couple of people who scared him.

Clearly, Foxibeau factors into all my decisions, and I am not complaining. He helps me choose. Because there is so much to do and so many possible choices, I like having this small friendly red-brown reference point from which to consider.        

PictureLogo / AlBakker
“Pain is unavoidable, but suffering is optional.” When the weight-loss leader spoke those words during the meetings I attended to lose 30-plus pounds, I didn’t know how profound were her words. That was more than 10 years ago, long before I meditated or heard the dharma. She explained that from a Buddhist perspective, restricting food intake, cutting out night time binge eating or doing three days of exercise could be painful, but complaining and deluding ourselves into thinking pounds would melt away if we just sat in a chair at meetings would cause us to suffer. In other words, we had some control over suffering.

Buddhists consider suffering a fact of life. Indeed, it is the Buddha’s First Noble Truth. According to Buddhist Studies for Secondary Students:  “There are four unavoidable physical sufferings; birth, old age, sickness and death. There are also three forms of mental suffering; separation from the people we love; contact with people we dislike and frustration of desires. Happiness is real and comes in many ways, but happiness does not last forever and does not stop suffering. Buddhists believe that the way to end suffering is to first accept the fact that suffering is actually a fact of life.”

 That word “suffering” doesn’t quite explain this concept central to the dharma and to meditation practice. I have read that the Pali word Dukkha usually translated as suffering can also be thought of in terms of something being “intolerable,” “unsustainable,” “difficult to endure,” and can also be “imperfect,” “unsatisfying,” or “incapable of providing perfect happiness.” When my Soto Zen teacher speaks about the First Noble Truth, she uses the term “dis-ease” to describe this human condition called suffering. Any of these words would describe quite a few aspects of my daily life.

Even seemingly insignificant moments show me how quickly I cause myself to suffer. A recent though temporary onslaught of disappointment, impatience, annoyance, futility, anger and mild self-loathing got triggered by my thwarted attempt to sign into my Starbuck’s account so as to register for 20 bonus stars by mid-February. Without my Starbuck’s password at the ready, I chose my Facebook sign-in option. The password to that account was also not in the forefront of my thoughts, ergo I could not sign up for all those bonus stars. As those feelings short-circuited my ability to be mindful of or kind to any other person, additional suffering ensued.

Suddenly from my throat issued a caterwauling of “me-ows.” Why is this happening to me. Ow! I’m frustrated, suffused with anger. Shortly after dealing with frustration and disappointment, I began to blame those corporate somebodies who sent emails addressed specifically to me. Clearly, form letters don’t care that I start each day buying a double-short soy latte and have for years, and that I buy Abe his oatmeal – I would want this predictability and generosity to count for something. Just this past week, before 6 a.m., I made an emergency run to a nearby Starbucks because my Starbuck’s location was out of oatmeal, caramel, skinny vanilla syrup, and compost bags. So why do I not have uncomplicated access to my account based on good karma?

 My prefrontal cortex gets it that Starbuck emails are unrelated to my comings and goings in one neighborhood in one city in its vast and impersonal universe, although the emails are addressed to “Alison.” To be of no consequence in the on-line world, no matter how personal sounding the emails, shouldn’t matter. And in any brain function save the reptilian brain, suffering wouldn’t happen. But that familiar childhood need to matter stored in the old brain still triggers me.

Rather than react to an impersonal, all-too-human glitch, I might have paused to remember the words of my weight loss leader: “Pain is unavoidable, but suffering is optional.” I could have taken three deep breaths, let go of thoughts and grasping. I could have looked at the branches of winter trees and sidestepped suffering altogether. However, in the larger picture, compassion allows me to feel gratitude to the Starbuck muckymucks for reminding me that insidious old patterns of wanting to be special needn't be a source of suffering. 

And My Name is...


PictureSewing a rakusu
In my meditation practice, I am surprised to find myself preparing to participate in the ceremony of Jukai, receiving the Precepts. The ceremony is part of  the training lay people who are serious students undergo to show that they understand what it means to live by precepts, which are not commandments, but filters Buddhists use to evaluate and shape how they will live on the Bodhisattva path.

A part of the ceremony will be getting a special name from my teacher. I have already begun to imagine what she might choose to call me. It could be a beautiful name like “well grounded cloud dweller” which does sound paradoxical and probably won’t be the name sewn into the underside of my rakusu, the blue bib-like covering I will begin to craft myself as I prepare to take the precepts. It’s possible, considering my homemaking skills that sewing my rakusu, even with help of sewing teachers may take years. My friend Kate who is a fine seamstress can only help me with five percent of the sewing. Without a doubt, the better stitches will be Kate’s. But I digress.

I have read that the name I will be given can be either a label that influences how others see me, or a kind of goal or motivation. Back in 2005 while I was doing Pathways, a program in Dallas, Texas, I was given the name “Porcupine” and had to earn back my own name. More recently I temporarily acquired a name the evening my teacher Lien, fellow student Sam, and I went to Japantown to pick up items Sam and I would need for one-day sittings and longer extended stays, should we agree to undertake them.

 After I had parked my small car, a man driving a Toyota stationwagon pulled up beside me as I momentarily paused outside my car. He asked me if I would mind moving forward or backward to accommodate his large car. I swear I didn’t say aloud, “Yes, I do mind,” but that became my name for the next several minutes as I reseated myself and backed up the car. “You have a lovely voice,” the inconveniencing man commented once the mission was accomplished. His compliment clearly meant he heard, “Of course, I don’t mind. We are all one just in separate cars and mine is small while yours is big.”

Yet Sam, the other student, is certain he heard me say, “Yes, I do mind.” Bundled into the back seat, he could have been mistaken. Nevertheless the name I had for the evening was “Yes-I-do Mind” which I chose to understand as “Yes- I-will Mind,” a name indicating my willingness to be inconvenienced and to accommodate all beings, cheerfully and not.

I have never really appreciated having names pinned on me and I didn’t that evening. Even a positive appellation like “writer” hasn’t made me glow. Yet as my practice passes from what Sam calls “Zen light” to what I feel is  “Full On” Soto Zen, I will accept any name my teacher pins on me and know that she has my growth and understanding of the dharma at heart. I will remind her as we get closer to the ceremony of Jukai that the name “Reluctant Dragon” is already taken.

PictureDanny and Foxibeau / Alison R.
 On the day after Christmas, on any day, feeling part of an “us” is a gift to me. Such a gift awaits me each morning at Starbucks when I sit at the table with the same three people and feel connected and part of an unusual “us.”  As loudspeaker music reggaes or carols through the room, I experience well-being. My stress gets managed, and my negative emotions disappear. For the time I am there, I successfully cope with life as did ancestors throughout the ages, although they did it without double short soy lattes. A gift, indeed.

What is it about the three of them and me that works so well? Perhaps it is just the passing of time and the regularity of our early morning encounters that accounts for the trust we have in each other’s good will. Our generosity to each other is more than my buying Abe his oatmeal or sausage and cheese sandwich.

And at least a year before I thought to say, “I’m equanimous,” I accepted the hassle that often accompanies being with the elderly and hard of hearing. Although I am the second oldest, I am not hearing impaired. Two of the men are and they don’t wear hearing aids, so many misinterpretations at our table try to pass for information. Sometimes, I take it upon myself to re-speak the words that didn’t make it safely from the speaker’s mouth to the hearer’s ear. My role can be peacemaker.

Believe me, these friends of mine are not old darlings going gently into that good night. Danny is quick tempered, volatile and certain. Once, he insisted despite all arguments to the contrary that when the clock changes, it springs back and falls forward. Clearly, tolerance has to be part of our generosity and mutual respect. While Danny’s moods are unpredictable, Doug’s responses are predictable. To Danny’s volatility he usually asks the question: “Did you take your medication today?”

Abe is the oldest. He walks with a cane because of diabetes. He can’t use sugar, and doesn’t drink coffee. He is well known in the Western Addition/Fillmore community for his strong convictions about Obama, the military, drug use, mistreatment of the poor, and with whom he will and won’t communicate. For a long time, I was one of those people to whom Abe would not speak. That changed, but we never allude to those earlier, unkinder times. Now we are tight. Some mornings, it is just Abe and Alison at a table. If I am not there, I hear he has asked about me, and I am always told whether or not he has been in.

Perhaps my part in our foursome is to be a willing ear, as Danny talks prodigiously about his life from childhood through yesterday. For Doug, I can give advice, explain form letters when asked, and interpret newspaper headlines that seem problematic on first reading. For Abe, I am a source of updates on motion pictures I have seen, the buyer of breakfast and a reliable presence, expressing concern for his physical wellbeing and interested in his daily plans.

Clearly we four have become attuned to each other, and we give each other a daily dose of feeling recognized, seen and understood. On Christmas, the day after – on any day, that is one big life-enhancing gift. 

Big Ideas


PictureBig Idea #3 / Alison R.
Lot’s of email reaches me wherin the senders hope to make a better person of me. And I appreciate their interest. They urge me to enroll in a course, purchase an audiobook, phone in to a national conference to be broadcast in two weeks or buy transcripts of their thoughts either in pamphlet form or to be delivered PDF to my inbox.

I appreciate their input, particularly for the accompanying compilations of Big Ideas. These ideas come in easy-to-read lists and generally provoke one of two responses in me. They either pump me up as I realize how many of the 10 items listed I have already mastered, such as “cultivating a relationship with nature,” or “celebrating time with a loved one.” Since adding Foxibeau to the household, this second item is really easy and the multiple walks around the neighborhood at all hours have increased the likelihood of the former. Every tree has become a thing of beauty, each weed clump, piles of sere brown leaves heaped against chain link fences – all beautiful.

On the other hand, such a list of Big Ideas can add to my intimations of inadequacy. Taking pride in mastering two out of ten leaves me open to a letdown. What about the other eight?  I have clearly failed to immerse myself in contentment and undoubtedly forgotten to do something fun each day. I am hesitant to catagorize cataract surgery and dental implant post-op visits as “fun.”

Luckily, I can use Top 10 Big Ideas as a model for my own doings of the past week or so. Mine as follows:

1 Foxibeau becomes a service dog and can go to the movies with me thus leading me to choose shorter movies for the two of us. Big Idea: Two attention spans are better than one.

2 Foxibeau factors into my decision not to usher at four Nutcrackers this December because of the hour and a half pre-performance time required. This, of course, means no ushering during the opera season itself. Life-altering! Big Idea: Time increases in value.

3 I buy Billy Collin’s recently published poetry book, Aimless Love, and try out his voice which influences me to write a poem of aimless love to my therapist, but I don’t give it to her. Big Idea: Creativity without approval provides pleasure.

4 I recognize how furniture placement can increase comfort. I used to empower high school journalism students with instructions to move furniture when interviewing administrators. I am seeing the wisdom of attending to my own felt sense of empowerment and comfort. In the poem to my therapist, I put a blue chair into its own stanza. This was a chair I carried out of an adjoining room to facilitate my sense of presence during my session. The couch already in the room was just too slouchy and low. Big Idea: Make it happen rather than wait for someone to read your mind.

5 Connection to another is the best feeling in the world. I feel safe, loved and loving. Big Idea: Connecting with another is basic. Babies have to do it or else…. And it is never too late to have the experience.

6 Gratitude is good. And generosity is its outgrowth. Big Idea: Think of what peripheral people have added to your life and plan to gift them for the holidays. For me, these are mostly men I have met at Starbuck’s on Fillmore and O’Farrell. Some live in hotels, others are homeless. We have become companions. A Starbuck’s gift card is a no-brainer.

7 Stop now so the blog that follows can finish the list. Big Idea: Starting can be the hardest part.  

'Slip Sliding Away'


Picturedeadlines / energeticspell
“Slip sliding away, slip sliding away. You know the nearer your destination, the more you slip sliding away…” Thank you, Simon and Garfunkel. Your lyrics describe my trajectory when deadlines feel optional. A week has slip slided away, a week without posting, without mining my patterns for share-worthy nuggets of experience. I moved through moments that would take effort to sift for meaning, every event seeming either too personal or too insignificant. When I eased up on meeting my self-imposed deadline, no one forced the issue.

Actually, I have loved and appreciated deadlines, loved them for forcing me to work toward a moment beyond which lay the unthinkable – a missed deadline, failure. I loved the lie of external deadlines. The anxiety of needing to produce, the desperate, driven hours finally and inevitably relieved by the deadline’s being met. Yet without deadlines, procrastination becomes moot; nothing drives, nothing pressures.

My past working life was replete with met deadlines. Week after week for 13 years, The Narbonne High School newspaper staff and I sailed into Thursday deadlines for Friday distribution. Years went by that way. If and when a student staffer felt overwhelmed by a looming deadline, I could offer a tissue for the tears and point to the deadline. Enough said.

When that number of deadlines didn’t do it for me, I added the yearbook and its deadline requirements held over our heads by yearbook companies with whom the school contracted. If that wasn’t enough, both the newspaper staff and the yearbook staff and I with our chaperones headed off to national competitions in other cities where one-hour deadlines for writers and artists meant success or failure to win the trophy. More than rounding everyone up to perform at their utmost, I was responsible for 30 to 45 high school students boarding a plane on time. This on top of the regular hour after hour that students entered the classroom and exited at the ringing of a bell so that another group could take their place. The exigencies of the school semester further compelled the rhythm of my accomplishments.

I came away from that long time experience with gratitude toward deadlines. It took a while before I saw how habitual they had become, how much I relied on being driven from the outside to accomplish what I had the talent and desire to do – at that time to coach aspiring writers and to produce and produce. And now?

It is peaceful but not habitual to meet no deadlines, to require nothing of myself but to be. And to walk Foxibeau several times a day. So this past week I didn’t force the issue. When nothing is required, there is no unmet deadline.

Indeed, had Kate not paid “Go Daddy” for another two years of owning my name and I repaid her, I would possibly have “slip, slided away.” I construed that check to be deadline of sorts, an unspoken imperative to use the space I own for another two years.

On Sunday after a week not deadline-driven, I have decided to live meaningfully in the space that is mine with or without the aid of a deadline. It may not be as simple as paying “Go Daddy” for two additional years of owning www.spiritflowsthru, but it is me recognizing it is time to explore life apart from its old patterns. It is time to become the creative energy of my own life. I don’t see it clearly yet, but I know it will not be characterized by meeting deadlines through the habitual pattern of tension and dread despite its being so familiar. I think it will take courage to live in this in-between time of letting go and trusting what will come. May it be so. 

PictureAlison acts on her intention / Kate K.
Kate took my picture as we were leaving Lowes. She suggested we go to Lowes mostly because I said I wanted to take better care of my patio and plants. Hose? Got it. Multi-spray nozzle? Yep. Potting soil? Got that too. And the sun was shining, a good omen. Now for some tender loving gardening.

After staying at Susan’s garden sanctuary on Mercer Island, I came back to the noise and drifting dirt of construction sites guilty about neglecting plants that have somehow survived despite me. And it was hard not to contrast Susan’s intentionality with my lackadaisical attitude toward the greenery in my care.

When I consulted Kate, on whose small patio grow marigolds and herbs, she encouraged me to tend my plants right away and perhaps add a few colorful favorites. This advice, my memory of Susan making the her garden rounds each day plus the recent impetus from goal setting set me to rescue a drooping fuchsia, which for some reason had a cactus for a pot mate, to water a gasping tree with more than tears of regret for its neglect. How hard would it be to weed, to swirl the dirt and debris on the concrete toward the drain; or to add Salvia and Kangaroo Paws to the empty containers scattered by a wall?

But this willingness to take responsibility was the result of more than meditating in Susan’s garden and skipping through Lowes with Kate. I intend the garden to be more than a temporary fix-it project. Repotting, feeding, and weeding will be me aligning my actions with my stated values – the interconnected web of all beings, for one. I will take specific small steps to put things right. And my neighbors might not need to avert their eyes from my droopy greenery and muddy concrete.

I see tending the garden as doing what is needed rather than bypassing personal effort to get results that require nothing but watching others work and paying them for their efforts. To do the work myself could be called a step into growth (or undergrowth). If I sweet-talked my grandson into doing the work or appealed to kind neighbors, I would be stepping back into the safety of doing what I have done in the past – taking the easier way.

But paying attention to the patio is one way to become aware of what it means to step forward into growth instead of resting in the safety of habitual behavior, that easier way. For example, it would be no effort to wait for rain to puddle the dirt and debris whereas I feel sore and tired when I sweep and hose down the patio myself .

I admit to having generally preferred the easier way and easily justified my habitual behaviors. But something is changing. Even if the change is being aware that my past choices have been habitual. I know that I have other options than to fall back into the safe and familiar patterns of the past. I want to become conscious of how my future will be shaped by moment-to-moment decisions.

And I admit my small efforts aren’t the same as working in a community garden or raising food on my land as many city dwellers do. Yet I do feel joy in the small responsibility I have accepted for the privilege of a patio of plants that catches the morning sun in the Civic Center.

Do Not Detach


PictureRing Cycle Tickets / Alison R.
Tickets to The Ring Cycle sent by the Seattle Opera arrived in a contiguous strip. Apt to be literal, I read the words “Do Not Detach” printed on each ticket to indicate that I should keep the four brightly illustrated tickets attached to each other as they had arrived. So I showed up the first night of the Ring Cycle at McCaw Hall with my ticket strip intact. At the information desk I inquired as to the reasoning behind asking patrons not to detach their tickets. The informative fellow indicated that some patrons will want to frame their connected tickets as art; however, “Do Not Detach” actually refers to the bar code at the bottom of each ticket and not to the four tickets themselves.

I delighted in my misunderstanding. Such foolish consistency must be the hobgoblin of a literal mind. Happily, Amos, the usher at door T on the fifth floor chuckled when I displayed my ticket strip and heard my tale of “Do Not Detach.”

As instructions for increasing satisfaction in my life, “Do Not Detach” seemed applicable. Certainly my weeklong stay in Seattle at Susan’s Sanctuary on Mercer Island attested to the wisdom of not detaching so easily. As I renewed our lapsed friendship, I grew aware of how often in my life I have let go of happy friendships. Susan and I were dorm mates at Occidental College in our freshman year. We both wore green beanies and memorized Yo Triumphe! Not long after we pledged different local sororities, we went our separate ways. And yet, these many years later, Susan and I reconnected in Berkeley when she read in the “Occidental” Class of 1960 that I was avidly Unitarian Universalist in San Francisco. So was she at East Shore Unitarian Church in Bellevue, Washington. In Berkeley one week, studying to be an interfaith minister, Susan contacted me and we spent meaningful time together. At our next visit in Berkeley she invited me to stay at her home when I was north for the Ring Cycle. I was grateful for her offer.

While at her home Susan and I connected with three other college acquaintances as if Seigfried’s horn had resounded to call together friends from the class of 1960. Yo Triumphe!!

I admire my girlfriend Corky who recently went to Carmel Valley with a friend she has had for 60 years. She and this friend often travel together. Corky has also stayed connected to former girlfriends whom I like very much as well as to high school and college friends. Her life has been enriched by her association with many women, some who have been in her life a very long time.

I have not tended to remain connected with people from my past the way Corky has. I know any comparison between us is not skillful. Buddhist wisdom would have me seeing no one as superior, no one as inferior and no one as equal. In other words, Do Not Compare. And yet I am willing to explore how to integrate her art of reaching out with my own more isolationist impulses.

Having recently enjoyed this renewed connection with Susan, I can’t help but call to mind the other really important friends I cherished all the years I lived in Southern California and how easy it was to move away and detach from those connections.

Fresh from my second recent Ring Cycle and having signed up once again to usher at the San Francisco Opera, I am grateful to my Southern California friend Margie. She insisted I should go to at least one opera before my avowed aversion to the art form hardened. It was as her guest in Los Angeles on September 20, 1996 at a performance of “Norma” by Vincenzo Bellini that I knew I loved opera. Over the years, she and I have not kept in contact although she frequently emails poems she really likes and I can find my name on a long email list among the many people to whom she has remained connected. Maybe it’s time to reach out to her again.

I see that it has been my way to lose touch with people who have mattered in my life, although I feel pretty sure that when we do meet again, our friendships will flow. Of course I could send an email or call them, couldn’t I? I do want them to know they are in my heart. Like Seigfried, I need to get on the horn.  

Farewell to Chloe


PictureChloe when I meditate/Alison R.
By Thursday, one of Rashad’s friends will have taken Chloe, my dog for the month of July, to another temporary home. In a somewhat pleading email to Rashad, who is in Europe, I suggested that Chloe could come back after my Ring Cycle week of opera in Seattle. I don’t know if this will happen. Moreover, I don’t know if more time with Chloe will make me ready for my own dog.

The upsides of hosting this little dog have far outweighed the couch cushions with nibbled corners or the chewed up $500 dental implant “flipper”. Possibly my willingness to appear in public with a perceptible gap near a front tooth attests to my improved mental wellbeing. This I will credit to Chloe.

Although the little dog has been with me for just one month, she has been a fine teacher and with a few minor adaptations, her lessons will surely make me more fully human.

Chloe liked to be stroked and scratched. Her body language made it clear what she liked. I appreciated her obvious pleasure as it reminded me that there are good alternatives to verbal communication. I tend to rely a lot on striving to make sense and to find the right words.  

Chloe has taught me other valuable lessons about priorities. Her affection never depended on my grooming or clothing choices. She never looked up with an expression of “not that sweatshirt again.” She did, however, seem to favor a black coat that hung on a doorknob, and she wagged her tail when I put on shoes.

In the time I spent with her, I saw how Chloe was very much in the moment. Meditation has made that one of my goals as well. This did not preclude her being obedient. She never needed much convincing that going where I wanted to go was good for her too. And heeding Chloe’s needs did encourage discipline and consistency in me. Once the dog has gone, I wonder if I will don my coat and walking shoes with alacrity and head out into the neighborhood four or five times a day.

Dogs-at-home friends have said that this past month of unconditional love will surely convince me I need a live-in animal of my own. But there has been a downside to this temporary dog care. I very much wanted to attend an all-day training Oakland, a forerunner to a longer program wherein I would learn to be a Buddhist activist. I missed the program because Chloe couldn’t be left for an entire day nor should she have been crated in the back of a car from 10 until 5. Moreover, every plan anyone made that included me during the month of Chloe had to take into account my time constraints. No all-day film festivals nor whale-watching trips. If I choose to have a dog without access to a yard, I will choose to be measuring out my life in dog duties … to paraphrase Eliot’s “Prufrock” and his coffee spoons.

Downside notwithstanding, the Chloe positives are sure to matter more in favor a future dog. For one thing, dog company has been an uncomplicated pleasure unlike other pleasures that frequently involve two-legged beings. And her forays into the world, no matter how many times we passed the same rubble or she scrambled through the same weed patch, were always lessons in curiosity and trust. By far the best gift from Chloe besides the comfort of her closeness was a sense of what it is to trust. Her physical nearness told me everything I needed to know about how things were between us. And yet, I am undecided. So be it.