I live in an old house in an old neighbourhood. There are are lots of things I love about living here: the way each house is different, the eclectic mix of young and old folks, the way I can get just about anything I need by walking somewhere: beauty, strength and calm from the ocean, green quiet from the park, bread, coffee or stamps from the shopping street. The one thing I don't love is the single pane (maybe more aptly spelled pain?) windows that make motorcycles seem like they are coming through my living room and make the smell of steaks on the barbecue next door seem like they're coming out of my vegetarian kitchen.
Last week a new tenant moved into the basement suite next door. Pretty quickly her large dog emerged and spent a lot of time barking in the back yard. Now here are the challenges of urban living mixed with the call of Zen practice. In the last 11 years of living next to a rental house I have seen a lot of tenants come and go and I have learned that it is always good to make friends with the neighbours. I know this from the point of view of enlightened self interest and also more so lately as my practice deepens, from the wider view of compassion and kindness. So as the barking next door continues at various times of day and night I watch myself. I listen to the stories I tell myself, how this sound is annoying and maybe it will go on like this everyday and it will be worse in the summer when I want to spend time outside and how it disturbs my equanimity and blah, blah, blah. I hear the subtle aggression of I want it my way (quiet) and I want it now! And I contemplate my possible actions. I could lean over the fence one day and introduce myself and ask about the dog. And then as I think of options (my Zen teacher always says "we have more choices than we think") I hear the words in my head "you could make friends with the dog" which strikes me as a weird idea because I am not a dog person. Then it becomes "make friends with your inner barking dog" I chuckle to myself and think, yes that really is the problem..... my inner barking dog...that aggression of mind that wants it my way, that doesn't like this or that, who wants things solved here and now with a particular outcome that it thinks appropriate. That is the barking dog that really unsettles my equanimity if I listen to it for any length of time. It snarls and whines and refuses to be quiet, wanting a bone or a drink or a walk, attention, always something, something out there...
Now that is not to say that Zen is about being a doormat and never saying anything to anyone. But it is definitely about looking at our motivation, our intention at a deeper level. If the barking next door were to continue in unreasonable ways it might be appropriate to speak with my new neighbour. But where does this conversation come from, does it come from my inner barking dog or does it come from a place of compassion, a place that hopes to find a solution that works for us all. This is the sanity that Zen brings me, how do I think about what is going on and assess my options. ... With care and choice.
After watching the young woman in the yard with the dog over the last few days I can see her frustration and unhappiness. I often find that if I look closely at people who are doing something I find annoying I can sense their suffering on some level and that helps to soften my reaction. So for now all the dogs are quiet, mine, the neigbour's. And I have learned something important from the boisterous brown dog in the backyard next door!
The collage piece at the top of the page is done on mat board with painted, cut & torn script papers. It is from a series of work done several years ago called "Life On the Line". It is my plan to sell some prints and cards based on this series in 2009.