What Would Scooby Do?
Some of you know firsthand, and others understand from a distance, the importance of animals in our human lives. Whether you ride horseback, breed cows, chuck the ball for your panting pal or just listen to the birds outside your window every morning, animals are a big part of our lives on this planet. They are imperative to lowering our stress levels; although at times they might send them skyward, more often than not they provide relief from everyday anxiety.
Many Montana yogis knew my dog Rocco. Most knew him by his nickname, “Scooby Doo.” In addition to being with one another nearly every moment of every day, he sat in on countless yoga classes I taught. Lazily he slept through grueling, 90-minute classes of handstands and backbends, unaware of the white-knuckle effort just beyond his eyelids. Those who left with a bit of dog fur on their yoga clothes just smiled, as if taking a piece of his good nature with them. He was the mascot of yoga. He was the consummate yogi.
Living beside him almost every moment of every day of his short life I learned more than I can ever describe in words. It’s as if he knew the secrets of yoga. When he was happy, he expressed it, and never cared about what happened between us even moments before (like satya). When we had to move the herd of cows on our ranch over 8 miles in one afternoon (like asana does), he was happy to be there with a wag in his tail and a steady stride (santosha). Any animal or child could approach him without ever meeting aggression (ahimsa). And when the job was done, he let it all go and fell into his bed, fast asleep within moments (nirvana). These are things I am still refining. Sometimes I forget that how he behaved naturally is who I am at my core, that these are the ways I am meant to function all the time. Rocco helped me remember. When I recall our first meeting, I remember doubting that I would take a puppy home, but he lifted his limp-eared head, stared at me from across the yard and ran toward my car, leaving his brother and sister behind. That was the moment that Rocco chose me.
Rocco has changed my life, as animals tend to do. He lifted my mood, kept me company, lowered my stress and taught me things that only in his voice I could hear. If only our greatest teachers could be by our sides forever, in the flesh, healthy and happy. One year ago, Rocco was diagnosed with an extremely rare nerve cancer typically found in the limbs of horses. In this case, it found a home in his jaw. Try as I did to control the situation, any treatment we chose would have been detrimental to his quality of life. I was left to admit defeat — his condition was untreatable. It seems that Rocco had his greatest lesson to teach, and the hardest one I could ever endure. In yogic philosophy, his last lesson was santosha (contentment) — in his ability to let go and enjoy the present despite his illness. To practice santosha is to practice stability and accept the flow of life. Rocco had absolutely no idea that he was sick. Everyday he trotted about his home of many acres chasing cows and swimming in the creeks. He lived his life completely in the present moment, and he faced it blissfully. To better manage the emotional impact of his sickness, I did as Rocco did, assuming a canine attitude that kept me in the present moment instead of always squinting toward the future. I strived to practice santosha and become in tune with right now, in order to ensure a more balanced future.
Rocco ceased to be my living teacher last October. His body resides high on a hillside among the trees of our ranch. His spirit, his energy, lives within me still. As for today, Rocco and I keep climbing hills, stumbling on rocks, counting stars, taking in the light of the setting sun and wagging our tails in thanks to the universe for this amazing life and it’s curious gifts.