Today’s Reflection is about the last seven years of my life, and a precious four-legged companion walking beside me.
Tobi and I went on a long hike yesterday, venturing deep into the woods. While it was a familiar route for us, in its first part, I decided to go further than we have ever gone before. Partially, I wanted a longer hike. Another reason was that I craved being in the wilderness, in solitude, away from civilization; because the weather (and the schedule) didn’t cooperate for a longer camping trip, a day-long adventure was second best.
After a couple of hours, we were going through a beautiful forest, being completely on our own. Silence and the sounds of Nature were all I heard. Until we stumbled upon some “company” – in a form of a black bear, less than 10 meters off the trail. As Tobi usually runs ahead, he saw the bear first, and froze. They kept staring at each other as I came closer. At the same time I called Tobi back, he started barking at the bear. Luckily, the bear just took off, moving semi-casually into the woods, while I was holding Tobi and watching the bear continue on his way.
“Listening to find the dance that is possible within a relationship is not simply a matter of hope or desire. It is a journey of a lifetime.” – Suzanne Clothier
He is funny, this Tobi of mine. There will be moments when he will be scared of a beam of light in the sky, or night city lights coming through the window. Yet, he will bark at a bear, or attack two pairs of yellow eyes, standing quite tall above the ground, when I shone my flashlight into the darkness of the forest (deer and not a cougar). This process of knowing him, during these past seven years, has been a fascinating journey of discovery. About him, and also about myself.
Suzanne Clothier, in her masterpiece of a book, “Bones would rain from the sky,” was right when she said that “to travel in a company of animals is to walk with angels, guides, guardians, jesters, shadows, and mirrors.” Without judgment or agendas, with endless patience and an amazing capacity for forgiveness (which is clearly needed when living with me), Tobi is the ideal guide I obviously needed to walk with me along the path of this phase of my life. While we might not always get what we want, we always get exactly what we need. Tobi is that for me, and has been for the past seven years. His birthday was on Friday, September 10, and so this Reflection is for you. Both my own thoughts, and some of what resonates with me from Suzanne’s book.
“What is possible between a human and an animal is possible only within a relationship.” – Suzanne Clothier
I am lucky that Tobi is so easily forgiving. He never lies; I just don’t always listen, because I think I know better what he needs or wants. Learning to accept it has been a hard lesson, yet one that inevitably builds trust for both of us. And my listening skills. At the beginning of our time together, I wanted recipes. How and when to feed him. How to train. How to play with. Everything. It took me a while (because I am, apparently, not the fastest learner) to realize that with Tobi – as everywhere else in life really – there are no recipes and shortcuts to any place worth going. It is a learning process, day by day, moment by moment, of being present, trusting, listening, and accepting the fact that I can learn more, and from, my fluffy companion. “What can I learn from you?” is a profound lesson, and when we can ask it in the presence of “another” being, human or not, awareness shifts and new worlds open up. Such question reminds us that we are all students of life, and teachers come in many different forms, shapes, and sizes.
Why is understanding another so difficult at times? Often? Always? I think I am beginning to realize that the real, true listening really does not come from the head. It starts there, perhaps, with the intention of the act. Yet, it very quickly shifts into the realm of the heart, and perhaps the soul as well, the realm where “know” shifts into “knowing” as a journey that does not assume anything about the present moment other than what is in front of me and what is being conveyed. Such attention and listening, as an active and engaged process, is also something I have failed many times. Luckily for me, Tobi is very patient. “As forgiving as a dog” is a new phrase that I just stumbled upon in this book, which I somehow have not seen till this moment – even though I have read the book many times before. Another lesson I hope I will be able to learn. Some day.
“A life lived in relationship with an animal has the power to make us both fully human and more fully humane. And this spills over, as a fullness of soul inevitably does, to other relationships, weaving its magic across our entire lives.” – Suzanne Clothier
I hope so, Tobi. I really do.