spirit flows thru -- Alison Rittger's spiritual reflections on finding the holy in the daily
PictureFoxie gives his July talk some thought

It’s only March but my mind is already on my appearance as a guest lecturer at the San Luis Obispo UU in July. What to talk about doesn’t worry me. Because I have no divinity school degree, no one will expect this dog to do Bible quotes. My one and only says that in her experience, humanists and atheists don’t much like them. As for Christians, I have heard they will forgive me if I don’t go there.  How humanists and atheists would react if I did repeat a parable, I am less certain.

I don’t know if it is good or bad, but no ministerial training means no need to inspire a parishioner to become a better person. Also no uplifting the downtrodden either. Not studied in politics except for the cursing I hear from those around me, I won’t know enough to kick up political dust devils. By July, I don’t plan to have studied up on Unitarians or Universalists, so no tracing historic roots.

No matter what I finally choose to say, my one and only says my picture will serve as a backdrop for the talk. The man in the back of the church will project my image on the blank wall behind the chancel, and everyone will see me large. Before July we will decide between one profound shot and a series of pictures reflecting myriad aspects of my personality – asleep in several poses or confronting life from one or two standing positions. All in all, I am confident that for the 17 to 20 minutes I am allotted, what I have learned as a dog will be more than informative enough. If I falter or fall short, I can always turn to the pictures projected behind me and detail what was going through my mind at the moment my one and only took a particular picture.

I expect congregants in attendance that July day will not be put off by how my metaphoric choices stick close to the ground, paralleling my basic grass-roots experiences. I trust I won’t be less interesting for being nose to the ground. For example, dead worms and bird droppings are elixir for this dog. Who knew that?

Hurting someone’s feelings is one concern if I choose to go after cats the way I actually would if one crossed my path. Detailing that obvious aggression would not be an example of kind speech, and some in the congregation might take offense. Gossiping, or pointing paws at other animals will be a definite no-no.

Fortunately, my real expertise lies in the field of loving. No one familiar with domesticated canines would dare argue that a cared-for dog isn’t loyal and endlessly nonjudgmental. Given a good upbringing or, as in my case, a timely intervention, a dog is anyone’s best friend. And we can be trained in obedience. Well some dogs can. I will not dwell on the disappointment and shame my one and only suffered when we were ordered to leave the small- dog obedience training in San Francisco because I lunged at a child’s pant leg as he raced past me in the crowded room of small dogs off-leash and their families. But that is the past.

All in all, I look forward to my time on the chancel at the local UU because I think people will like looking at life through dog eyes. But if any minds change before July and I am disinvited or decide this speaking engagement isn’t for me, I can bow-wow out and allow my one and only to speak for me. 

PictureFoxiebeau naps before noon
Tomorrow is Valentines Day. Knowing I am loved unconditionally and loving my one and only in return, I am an expert on the subject of love. Here then, based on my experiences both giving and receiving, is a short list of three Sublime Love States. If you and your one and only already practice what I’m about to preach, you are expert love-givers and should serve as examples for your friends or anyone else who meets you.
The first of the Sublime Love States is the ability to forgive. I put forgive in first position because of the numerous mistakes I have made and the equally numerous times each mistake was mopped up without a shriek or slap from my one and only. Once I ran toward the new picket fence that surrounds the front yard. I had a cat in sight. My one and only had to smash through tall, wet grass to catch me. Because it was night and we were about to go to bed, she wore a robe and slippers. While my one and only is in the habit of placing me in the grass at night for dog purposes, she rarely has to chase me. That time with the cat, I know, was not to her liking. She scooped me up around my wet belly, my muddy paws streaking her robe. No yelling ensued, just a wipe down with a towel kept next to the front door for wet dog purposes.
The second Sublime Love States involves flexibility. To be flexible is to pause the meditation timer no matter how much or how little time has passed. I admit to interrupting many of my one and only’s meditation sessions to be fed or get seconds or even leap at the refrigerator for string cheese. She always gets up. She never yells. Actually, she laughs, knowing that when she glances at me eyeing her from a crouch position with my tail wagging hard, she will not be able to say “no” or “not now.” I imagine she is saying to herself, “Five minutes is fine.” Once when she was at the computer, deep in thoughtful composition, I barked loudly and fiercely at some goings on next door. Our neighbor was wheeling his trash barrels to the street, which seemed exciting at the time. My one and only interrupted her typing to calm me down and apologize to our neighbor.
I have adopted my third Sublime Love State from my one and only’s Buddhist practice. It is called equanimity, which means mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation and appears in many numbered lists used by Shakyamuni Buddha, also known as Gautama Buddha, to teach because in those days no one wrote. Numbered lists helped everyone remember, even after penmanship came into play. I like equanimity as part of love because I can’t imagine my one and only always being happy and in the mood to pay attention to me or take me for a walk or chase after me when I bark loudly at stray sounds. She must owe her never-ending affection and attention to something other than happiness. I know that she is often sad and suffers from loneliness despite the love I bring to our lives. So I think she relies on equanimity to balance the negatives of her life in Los Osos with the positives. We might take a walk while she is crying or if she is coughing with long-lasting bronchitis. For these reasons, I like equanimity for my list.
Three Sublime Love States make a short list but are a start and might be useful as you think about how you and your one and only manage to love.

PictureHappy New Year from my one and only and me.
Since last I posted at the end of October, I’ve continued to review mistakes I recall my one and only making so as to figure out which ones could be termed fundamental, the one mistake that she thinks might be in the way of happiness. After all, I have an assistance dog medallion from Animal Care. In my capacity as such, I want to assist her in finding peace of mind. Here is what I have seen so far. One morning in the Ralph’s parking lot, I saw her exit the car on the driver’s side, go around the car to the passenger side and open the rear door of the car on that side to grab a paper bag. But the bag was on the driver’s side of the back seat, so she had to lean far in to pick it up. That was a mistake, but was it fundamental?
You might be confused. What happened to the orange Scion IQ we drove? When did it get back doors? I don’t remember if I told you that my one and only traded in the little car for a bright blue Honda Fit.  We live in Los Osos, and she goes to the UU church in San Luis Obispo and sometimes to theater and concerts there. From here to in and around SLO is about 20 miles. Suppose she has more than one friend over 50 years old who wants a ride to church or lunch or elsewhere.  Few people the same age as my one and only can fold up to occupy the back seat of an IQ. Once in San Francisco she did drive three Zen people to Tiburon. They did fold up and fit happily, but for nonfolders, the Fit is infinitely better.  My one and only wants to do her share in case she makes lots and lots of friends who want to go places with her. Ergo a roomier car. Clearly, this purchase was not a mistake, fundamental or otherwise, especially as it was motivated by generosity.
Since my last communication via Weebly, a horrid mistake became fact, and my one and only, almost all her friends and I dread the ceremony on January 20 that makes the mistake president of this country.  Of course we must rally our energy and vow to stand up and with people who most truly fear the mess of this man and his cohorts. My one and only vows to be open to the ugliness that is our national reality by listening to others without making them enemies. We believe everyone suffers. Pain could be a starting place. I hope I am not mistaken.
Meanwhile, my one and only goes about her business, which includes meditating. At such times I stretch out next to her for as long as seems reasonable to a dog with needs. Then I insinuate myself into her mudra and she has to pause the timer and pay attention. With great goodwill, she attends to me and then sits down again.
As my one and only’s only housemate, I overhear her on the phone going into detail about what is causing her pain. This year it has not just been the election that hurt her to her core. But I see healing in the near future, for I get the feeling she is beginning to acknowledge that the world, which looks one way from where she sits, may not look the same to someone else sitting somewhere else. Does that make sense?  It seems fundamental to me that people don’t see the same things, the same way. Especially when they are looking out different windows from different houses. If this insight brings my one and only peace of mind, may it be so.  
And finally, in the year that begins tonight, may my one and only and all beings know that they are radiant beings, through whom life is living itself. Happy New Year!!! And may you love a dog or cat or bird or iguana or pig, or chicken or cow……

PictureRead it and don't weep, Foxie says.
 My one and only kept asking me the same question one morning. “What is the fundamental mistake that is the root of my suffering?” Though it could have been, her question was not directed at the results of having followed a recipe for tofu scramble she found on the web site, The Buddhist Chef. We agreed the scramble appeared wetter than expected and would require a great deal of pouring liquid into the sink before it could be eaten.  Later that morning as we stretched out on the couch, she with an ice pack strapped onto her lower back, and I a comfortable lump on her midsection and chest, she repeated the question about a fundamental mistake and suffering.
She had been reading “Lion’s Roar” and the words of French Buddhist monk, Matthieu Ricard, made her wonder where she had gone wrong. It was his observation that genuine happiness is possible only after we figure out the fundamental mistake that is the root of our suffering. My one and only seemed to take his words as a challenge to explore her own relationship to happiness. Which these days has not been tip top. She assures me I am not at the heart of her unhappiness.
Although dogness limits my perspective, I have not seen any fundamental mistakes my one and only is making. At least none that should interfere with happiness. Quite the opposite. Her love for me continues as strong as when she first saw me at Animal Control in San Francisco four years ago. She will get up at 3 or any am and take me outside when needed. She slips a jacket over her nightie without complaining, steps into shoes at the front door kept there just in case. She will brush me if I leap around and want attention for something other than food. We even have three different brushes with stiff, stiffer and soft bristles. She walks me on the El Moro trail in either direction and sometimes we go up hills for a long distance or around several blocks. This we do at least four times a day. A real treat is the tour we make of the Ralph’s parking lot where I can go into brush and leaves or back up to a tree if need be. She pays attention to me whenever I want it; doesn’t yell or swear if an accident happens on one of her many rugs. I can’t imagine what else is troubling her, what other part of her life can be more important than the life we share, but for my part, I have no complaints about my one and only and can see no mistakes, fundamental or otherwise.
If I could be of any help to her other than just being this spectacular reddish brown creature and loving her, I would urge her to take to heart the words printed in blue on the dish towel that sometimes hangs near the sink in our kitchen: “Be the person your dog thinks you are!” I would want her to know that she is the person I think she is, and can't that be enough?  

PictureThe Fox ponders a hole in the yard.
When I saw the hole in the front yard, I rejoiced! We’ve struck oil! We can go to Ireland. There, I can write my blog in a pub like a pub where James Joyce wrote. Yes, I said, yes, yes, yes!

But no, the hole is the unearthed septic tank waiting to be pumped. Chris, who hooked us up to the sewer in stage three of the Los Osos sewer hook-up project told my one and only that Al, with the red pumping truck, is busy right now, but eventually he will pump us, and then Chris will return and fill the tank with dirt. He said he studied making gardens at Cal Poly and will gladly make us one, but not now; we will have to wait for him to hook up many sewers. Chris, his little yellow back hoe, and Mike.

Meanwhile, my one and only is practicing patience and gratitude. Out the front window are dirt and weeds we needn’t pull, so my one and only is happy in the backyard as often as possible. And though she loves what it looks like, she is not going to be as impulsive about beautifying the front yard as she was about having a beautiful backyard. She has vowed to wait for Chris to finish his sewer hook ups and promised him our garden. Maybe by January, the front yard can become a combination of drought resistant plants, stones, and wood – a front yard where I can romp about. Maybe a fence as well.

Despite our patience, while riding through town my one and only spied a sign “Succulents for Sale. She picked five big sticklers to be planted when the time comes. We were right to select drought resistant plants, because water usage is a big issue in this community. A week or so ago, my one and only was wondering if our water bill wasn’t high. Turns out she was on to something. The water lady called to say that one person should be using four units only. (Dogs don’t get any units.) She and I were up to 12 units on the last billing. Is she filling my water bowl too often? Or was it planting the garden and adding more water-drizzle hoses throughout that new garden?

My one and only says rural living is more complicated than being in a studio on the 14th floor of the Grand in Oakland. Of course, I am glad to be closer to the actual ground. Here I have weedy vacant lots to traipse through and the run of the El Moro trail, just one house away. Before daylight, I ride from Starbucks to the estuary and walk the boardwalk and the grounds of the Baywood Inn. My life has improved because the dog doctor sold us a pill good for three months of no fleas or ticks, making it is painless for me to romp in the brush. And by December, when the pill doesn’t work any more, fleas will be cold and leave dogs alone. And then it will be January, time for the new garden and another pill.

Fox Does Gratitude


PictureThe Fox needed a sign like the one on the walking path near our house. If fleas could read.
Because I have much to be grateful for, I am making a gratitude practice. I will start with fleas. The vet found five on me yesterday at the Los Osos Pet Hospital, which is just up the hill behind the Shell station on Los Osos Valley Road. (LOVR). This is a good thing because my one and only was in denial no matter how much scratching she saw me doing. Because no fleas nibbled on her, she assumed they did not nibble on me. Don’t ask.

I scratched myself raw in several places as night and day I pursued the creatures that had hopped out of high grasses we pushed through on our daily walks. My one and only lost so much sleep getting up in the night to brush me, hoping to stop the annoying sounds of me chewing on me. Finally, out of her desperation and self-interest, (two more causes for gratitude,) she made our appointment at the Pet Hospital.

Speaking of gratitude, my one and only was equally grateful to learn that the cause of our anguish was as simple as fleas. The doctor gave me a shot to treat the discomfort I had inflicted on myself and on my one and only through the sleep deprived nights of our last several months. And I got to eat a yummy nugget that will keep off fleas, ticks and parasites for three months. The vet said fleas are thick in Los Osos and that many dogs relocated from urban areas, like I am, suffer terribly. I don’t remember fleas on the 14th floor of the Grand in Oakland.

When we got home, my one and only took apart my crate and washed the cushions and blankets inside. The vet said fleas lay eggs in crates. When he asked my one and only when she had washed out the crate or its interior padding, she could not remember a recent time. I am grateful for her fast action once she got the message. She never meant to harm me by being inattentive. I am grateful that all the discomfort she has caused me was from ignorance and not ill will.

​In the face of all the neglect of which I have been a victim, I am grateful for my forgiving nature because it is not in my best interest to hold a grudge against my one and only. She loves me even though she doesn’t know as much as she should to be a skillful doggie guardian. I am grateful, too, that she is willing to change her ways. I anticipate a flea-less future. Huzzah! 

More Fox News


PictureFoxie blends with the garden
I last reported being picked up from Happy Tails where I vacationed while my one and only saw plays in Ashland. That was June. I recounted our visit to Creston, up the windy roads to see the rescue dogs living their last days happily and sometimes finding homes, which I should have said in my last report to you, but didn’t. Since then, we have had a garden planted in our back yard. So many tiny plants we hope will thrive, covered in reddish-brown bark chips.

One day soon after the garden was completed, I discovered a way through the fence, so I slipped out of the yard and ran into the street where I met a big dog and a woman with a baby carriage. My one and only saw me scampering in the street and called. I hustled home. Living rural like we do gives me chances I didn’t have in San Francisco or Oakland where traffic and other scary possibilities kept me on a tight leash.

Speaking of scary, whenever an orange man with yellow hair appears on TV, my one and only makes horrible sounds and rushes to change the channel. We have been watching more of Property Brothers and Chopped Jr. than usual. Then we saw the Olympics. Hopefully, the orange man will not be around much longer. I do not like our energy when we see his face or hear his voice.

Another thing I don't like is that on Thursday nights just before six, my one and only hustles me into her car and drives across the street where she parks the car with me in the front seat. An hour later, she returns and we go back across the street into our driveway.  I used to love Thursday night because of meditation. I could see as soon as she placed the blue garden chair in the living room and rearranged the other chairs that people were coming over. That was a cue for me to drag my toys into the center of the room, ready to chew on them as soon as the three chimes sounded. When everyone was still, I might try to get into someone’s lap or jump on my one and only as she sat with her downward glance. I wonder if I had squeakers in my toys when we meditated in San Francisco or Oakland? With meditation in Los Osos, I know all the squeakers have been removed. As for being present, I don’t remember it as a problem. Maybe my being in the room is annoying because rural dwellers have more allergies due to how the wind blows. And they may think I contribute to their difficulties. Claiming dog dander, one lady said she couldn’t sit in our living room, even with the door open.

There were a few days, just after five in the morning, when we drove directly from Starbucks to the part of Los Osos called “Cuesta by the Sea.” There we sat in the semidarkness of the house of my one and only’s early rising son. He likes to go fishing before the sun is up. We waited on the couch for my one and only’s granddaughter to get out of bed. That house is not my favorite place to visit because I am not allowed on the couch. My one and only calls her eight-year-old granddaughter, “Officer Emily” because she issues orders and enforces the “no dogs on the couch” rule. Once, my one and only was ordered to heat water and put a bit of it in a bowl so ice cubes could slightly melt – for the purpose of morning hydration. I was impressed by how patiently my one and only went back and forth to the kitchen, heating water and pulling ice cubes from the fridge. Of course, she requested that Officer Emily say “please,” which she did.

My one and only says that living near her family allows her to practice patience. She is still practicing because a sliding door being installed in the place of a window hasn't been completed. The yard is still full of debris from the unfinished work. Someone was supposed to come and finish and someone else was supposed to clean up before the weekend. Because those someones are friends of the family, my one and only is practicing and practicing. 


PictureFoxiebeau home from Happy Tails
I know you are eager to catch up on my comings and goings. While my one and only was in Ashland at the Shakespeare Festival, I was at Happy Tails kennel in San Luis Obispo becoming a dog with friends. I didn’t fight or bite. I singled out a small furry white lovely. I spent happy days cavorting with her and similar small canines, cementing my reputation as a Happy Dog.

My one and only was delighted to learn from the kennel staff, whom she called numerous times from Ashland, that I was a “Happy Dog” and doing very well. She had imagined me snarling and attacking and being kept inside, all alone. She knew I could get along with Cooper in San Francisco, but she often saw me lunging at other dogs as we walked the trails that pass close to our house in Baywood Park.

Delighted that I am this happy animal rather than a fierce predator, my one and only wants to reward me with a dog of my own. She thinks I would appreciate a sidekick. With this in mind, our first “let’s look” excursion was a trip to Creston, which is north of our house and inland. You have to drive up winding roads that sometimes don’t have a line down the middle. We went to visit animals at Meade Canine Rescue. There we scoped out little dogs for one who could come and live with us.

My one and only had made a friend who lived on the property in a house with 10 little dogs and a couple of larger ones. Maureen made much of how well behaved I was while the resident dogs “checked my license plate.” Though they liked barking at me, I took a ho-hum attitude and marked the yard. We did not find a take-home animal there. Six little ones we might have liked Maureen had already adopted. Then we climbed to the upper house where 40 more dogs lived with the lady whose name is on the rescue because it’s her acreage. Dogs alive at Meade would otherwise be euthanized if left at shelters. Most are unadoptable. Some are blind and others are too senior to change their ways.

We can’t bring home a little dog who doesn’t enjoy children and almost all the Chihuahuas are yappers and that won’t do either. One cute dog always slept in its owner’s bed and never got out of the habit. That wouldn’t work for us because sharing the bed with my one and only is a “me only” option. Driving back down the hills from Creston, I believe my one and only may have been having second thoughts about bringing another animal into our lives. Although we have not really begun to explore our options, I think she should give it some time. If I have to associate with other dogs, I wouldn’t mind going back to Happy Tails where I feel encouraged to be my best self.

It is obvious to everyone who knows me that I am growing up and outgrowing my bad habits. On Father’s Day, for example, my one and only was happy to take me to her son’s house for a barbeque. I did not run from the yard through the open gate into the street. I didn’t bark or lunge at Shiloh, the big dog that lives there. I didn’t nip at any children, not even the smallest ones who crawled past me. I didn’t beg for food, even with the smell of meat coming from the grill. I ate from no plates children left lying around.

At our house, I notice that sometimes I am encouraged to go outside without a leash. I can get into the car as soon as the orange door swings open. More and more, my one and only urges me to be independent. I will be a good role model if and when I do get a pet. And it is a big “when” and a bigger “IF”.

PictureZenkei Blanche Hartman (Google image)
I did not go to to pay my respects when I learned that Zenkei Blanche Hartman, Senior Dharma Teacher at the San Francisco Zen Center, passed on May 13. But I did send my condolence to Rev. Keiryu Liên Shutt, who received dharma transmission from Blanche and who was my teacher at that time. Responding to my email, Liên included this thought: “May I be able to transmit her loving kindness in any small measure.” The “I” in the email was Liên but could just as easily have referred to me. 

Blanche was one of the first women to lead a Zen training temple outside of Asia and was revered and loved for her kindness, wisdom and service. She was the chief sewing instructor for the formal robes to be worn by those becoming priests and lay leaders, an important part of Zen practice. She instructed me when I was Liên’s student and tried to assist Liên in sewing consistent and even seams on her robes prior to receiving dharma transmission from Blanche. In this official ceremony wherein one becomes a priest, Liên would follow in Blanche’s lineage from Shunryu Suzuki, and I would assist with ritual tasks.

It is partly because Blanche has died and a lot because of Liên’s deep loss and her expressed wish to transmit loving kindness that I cry while meditating. And I also know some shed tears are tears of regret for my short and imperfect career as a Zen student in San Francisco. It’s silly to blame Liên for my failure to do better in the Zen tradition, but I do think she imagined me, her first student, farther along, more highly developed given my age and less reactive than I actually was. I can’t explain not following her instructions, so that unlike Lien’s other students I would not qualify to sew my rakasu, the traditional Japanese garment worn around the neck by those who have completed the precepts class to become lay ordained.

Blanche would not be instructing me while other students, who followed directions and didn’t miss classes or fail to do the homework and successfully completed the precept class, would get those instructions on piecing together strips of cloth into a brick-like patterned bib in preparation for their jukai or ordination ceremony. I’d like to think if I were again to choose a Zen path I would not argue with my teacher, but graciously take instruction. It is true that in the years since Liên and I agreed that I should not be her student, I have become more curious about and less resistant to other people’s points of view. Perhaps accepting people and things as they are will continue to be a lesson and gradually the judgmental self will settle down, and I will be less defended and more willing to have an “Oh?” attitude rather than try to foment an opinion and defend it.

 In a 2001 Dharma talk reprinted this month in the Buddhist magazine “Lion’s Roar,” Blanche  said that when we see that life is impermanent, we may wonder, “Well, if my life is a gift, how shall I use it, how shall I give it back, how shall I express my appreciation for it, or completely live this life which is wonderful and evanescent?” I hear Liên’s words as a skillful answer to Blanche’s question. “… transmit her loving kindness in any small measure.”

As I See It


PictureFoxiebeaux sitting in the morning sun
Although I try to keep a close watch on my one and only, there’s a lot I don’t see and some of what I do doesn’t make sense. Of course, being this small limits my perspective. And it's true that what I see depends on if I am on ground level or being carried chest high, which would be about five feet off the ground. My one and only claims to have been three inches taller a few years ago, but she says she is shrinking. 

One thing I don’t understand is why my one and only would choose to name the animals in her life and omit the names of people in the short autobiography she wrote to be distributed on New Member Sunday when the minister introduced new members of the UU Fellowship in SLO. This seemed very strange to me. If she wants people to know about her life, she has a funny way of saying so. Why call attention to Otto and Leeloo, two previous pitbulls who belonged to her son but spent time with her And this was years ago? I think more people would be interested in knowing her if she at least summarized her years in therapy with a round number rather than refering to two pitbulls.

And she did go on about me, concluding that new member autobiography with this paragraph: “Two highlight of my recent life have been Foxiebeau, the rescue Chihuahua terrier mix who is an assistance dog and can go everywhere I go, and practicing Buddhism, although presently I am exploring nonduality as part of my meditation practice. I keep in touch with friends and acquaintances in the Bay Area with visits and through my blog, spiritflowsthru.com, which is currently being guest-written by my dog.”

Notice how I got the full formal spelling of my name (sans le chien) whereas she didn’t name her sons, nor grandson and granddaughter. Nor her sister and brother for that matter. And she has a niece. Not only did she leave out the names of four beloved sitters in sangha, she skipped over the many SF UUs she misses. Of course, to go on about the kindnesses that were part of being a UU in SF, especially her part in Small Group Ministry and her years reflecting from the lectern as a Worship Associate would have taken up a lot of space and been a long look back. Maybe she was thinking that detailing the past isn't much use, seeing as it is behind. And that is just the recent past. In farther back pasts were all the beaches she called home while living in Southern California, her 11-year marriage followed by 66 years of mixing and mingling without a lasting match. Just to say. I also have to point out that mentioning our blog at the very end of her autobiography smacks of product placement. Did she really want everyone reading that new member autobiography to proceed directly to spiritflowsthru.com? What's that about?