Lessons From My Dogs
Letting go may be the most freeing step we can take in obtaining lives of peace and fulfillment. While seemingly passive, it is a choice of powerful action; we let go and let life begin. I recently had to let go of someone I loved very much. Saying goodbye is never easy, but can be necessary as we change and evolve on individual life journeys. Since it’s not always our choice, often we feel we can only react. Yet the choice in how we react is ours alone and I’ve found acceptance the best response. Also difficult is letting go of old hurts and grievances yet equally if not more necessary as stored grievances harm the body and darken our energy; letting them go dissipates negative energy and frees up energy to be used for creative purposes.
Feeling deep sorrow and despair I turned to my teachers, my companions, my dogs. I was out walking on an overcast day. Above a quilted gray sky held moisture; under foot damp leaves that would one day become earth. All around us stretched welcoming dark, bare branches yet to be clothed by spring—the trees’ naked beauty not only visible but allowed my eyes to behold contours of winter mountains.
When Chance and Sasha ran into a thicket, I let go of the reins of control, reaching to unclip their leashes. Flash, already loose, reluctantly followed them into the briars. Letting them off leash not only frees them but me. I will still sometimes worry, but the more I learn to trust, the more I find that calm enters my being and the more free I become.
While it may seem hard, letting go is actually one of the easiest attitudes to adopt. Perhaps by now we’ve heard that what we resist persists and what we try to control, force or dominate ends up destroying us. When we decide to let go and accept life including all that is happening to us, our lives become easier and everything falls luminously in place. There is the expression, “Let go and let God.” We can substitute any word for God: ‘nature’, ‘the universe’, ‘all that is.’ I like “let go and let life,” and I try to learn from and live by this. If we look at nature we see that nature doesn’t strive to control, it just is. The trees don’t fight the fall; they accept, shedding leaves and knowing spring will come and with it new growth. Animals and nature, free from ego, do this naturally all of the time. Is it any wonder they are our greatest teachers?
Letting go can also mean letting go of possessions or old beliefs that no longer serve us. Look to the animals in your life. How many possessions do they carry with them, yet how happy, free and unencumbered they trot about. Letting go can mean forgiving; letting go of harsh words said to us and hurt feelings, letting wounds close and choosing peace; letting go of the need to be right and choosing happiness instead.
The Buddhists use the analogy of water falling from the feathers of a duck, or wind at one’s back. Again, animals and nature. We can become transparent, letting discordant words or thoughts go through us without the need to defend. Complaining or defending comes from ego, not spirit. In letting those statements made by others about us that we perceive to be false go through us, without the need to react, we slowly lose the ego. Just let them go.
I observe this daily with my dogs. If Flash who weighs only ten pounds snaps at Sasha because she sits on him, two minutes later he is back playing with her and Chance, having let go of the whole thing.
Letting go can paradoxically offer us the security or peace we sought in illusory control. With letting go comes acceptance. And with acceptance, peace. In that moment—the literal moment of letting go of the leashes, as well as the greater, metaphysical moment of bidding someone I loved goodbye—I felt one with everything around me. There was stillness and reverence; there was an understanding that was bigger than I was, and all at once I wasn’t alone or so lonely anymore.
Forgiving and forgetting—which animals seem to do instinctively, getting on with the present moment with ease and equilibrium, and with none of the heavy resentments of humans—is necessary if we want a purer connection with nature, the universe, love, all that is. For the past is just that, past. Animals seem to know this intuitively, focusing on the moment they’re in and, in most cases, cherishing it, not telling it it’s unworthy by living in the mind or living in yesterday’s regrets and tomorrow's worries.
When I let go of trying to control a situation—whether it’s making the dogs go where I want and allow them their own route or letting someone I love find what he or she needs for self fulfillment—I find a peace befalls me. It’s not unlike the feeling when your mind stops even for a moment; when you let go of regretting the past or fretting about the future and merely let the moment sink in.
When this happens, there is something—a feeling perhaps for which I’ve yet to find a word—a feeling embodying peace, yet beyond. It’s relaxed, filled with well-being and incredible, though subtle, joy.
So I practice letting old thoughts drop away; I let the past depart in peace and the days come and go as they will. And on our daily walks, I let go of trying to control what Chance and Sasha do, and Flash…well, he’s still king of the world.
Kay Pfaltz is author of LAUREN’S STORY: AN AMERICAN DOG IN PARIS. www.kaypfaltz.com.