Paying Attention: Animal Friends As Guides To The Depths


    Georgia O’Keefe said, "No one really sees a flower, not really…," and I have to agree. If I am missing the flowers, how many millions of other things, small, medium and large am I missing? And if we do not see the flowers, or really see them, why is this? I think it comes from a need to finish, to hurry on to the next thing, to get to "what’s important." How much time would it take to really see a flower? How much time would I be willing to give to a flower and what, in turn, would it give back to me? I do not know. I have not fully tried. Yet.

    I have asked this question and tried to find an answer for myself on daily walks down a familiar stretch of country road, accompanied by Bixby and Bonny Doon. Bixby is a Bernese Mountain Dog, and Bonny Doon is a Himalyan Manx. But more than this, they are my friends and guides! They know how to see flowers – and see them with more than their eyes. Bixby will daily make a detour to visit the last of the remaining maple flowers. Not only does he see them, he buries his nose in them, and then walks through their prickly stems, gathering their leaves in his fur. He loves maple flowers. He also prefers a particular patch of long bladed green grass, which grows by a certain bend in the road. He ignores the other green grass, but this patch is his – to sniff, to pee on and to gather a mouthful in passing.

    Bonny Doon sees things I miss, too. Today she was showing off. As Bixby has recently been schooled in the fine art of restraint and no longer chases cats, she will occasionally pull a relatively low risk but impressive stunt. She will hang behind us on our walk, then tear full speed past us, careening nearly under Bixby’s nose, heading up a steep hillside where he cannot follow. We were both amazed at her speed and agility when she sped past us this morning. Bixby stood stunned as she whizzed by, with perfect cat grace and poise. I found myself wondering how she’d gotten to her perch above us on the hillside so quickly, so I backtracked to investigate. Sure enough, she’d followed an almost invisible game trail, bounded right up its well-beaten path. How was it that in my two or three hundred trips down that stretch of road, I’d never noticed the game trail, but Bonny Doon could spot it and take advantage of it at full cat warp speed? Clearly, something was operational in her particular radar system that is missing in mine.

    Then there was the morning where I found myself jerking at Bixby’s lead with a firm "Let’s go," while he’d buried his head down yet another hole. Maybe his resistance piqued my interest. Anyway, I decided to investigate. Next to his hole of choice were five perfect king snake skins. He was scouting out the youngsters, of course. I picked up a skin, so fragile, with its markings of an oriental simplicity and beauty. Thank you, Bixby. Thank you for noticing, for paying attention.

    So now, on my walks, I am taking Bixby and Bonny as my Zen masters. They are teaching me the art of paying attention. Now, on occasion, the two of them must stop and wait for me, rather than the reverse. I have flowers to smell, the bark of an oak to examine, a fall leaf to caress. We share a walking meditation and a deep appreciation of the miracle of the present moment.

    And when I lose that connection to the ever-present miracle, because I’ve buried myself in the home office too long, forgetting to come up for air, there is ever the gentle nudge of a wet nose on my leg, and a clear calling from beyond the ordinary world: "Get your nose off that computer screen. It’s time for a walk." Bixby is right. It’s time for a walk. Thank goodness for the furred companions who remember that is best for me, even when I’ve forgotten!

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    Tricia Webster is a speaker, workshop leader, coach and writer. She has 20 years of experience providing leadership and team training to national and international corporations and non-profit organizations. Trained as a Social Artistry Leadership Trainer with the International Institute of Social Artistry, she combines her business knowledge with her passion for empowering individuals and organizations to make a difference in both local and global forums. She draws content for her work from the realm of myth and story, the arts, science and philosophy, to create dynamic and compelling learning environments that provoke sustainable change. Contact her at (541) 899-9049, e-mail [email protected] or visit Copyright © 2006 Tricia Webster. All rights reserved


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