There are no conversations, only the cadence of our steps on the pavement and gravel. We enjoy the silence as much as each other’s company.
Elki and I walk together almost every day. It has become our routine, our time together, a moment we value and share. We occasionally glance at each other, as if to let each other know how much we enjoy these walks.
Elki came into my life—our family’s life—just over two years ago. I resisted adopting her at first; I was uncertain about inviting someone smarter than me into my life. But I finally relented and I’m happy I did. This three-year-old German Shepard is now an invaluable and vibrant part of my life.
Not only is Elki good company and a great walking companion, she has become one of my teachers.
My reluctance to let someone “smarter” than me into our household proved to be a groundless misgiving.
I learn something every day we’re together and she helps me understand three important principles of life. The first lesson I’m learning is how precious each and every moment is.
In Eckhardt Tolle’s book, The Power of Now, he says that each and every moment is all there is. In each moment, life happens. It is the only meaning of life there is. The past no longer has meaning because it is gone; the future has no meaning because it has not yet arrived. If we allow ourselves to be distracted by regrets of what we did not do in the past, we are missing what is happening now, right in front of us.
If we spend every moment planning what we’ll do next—what we’ll do tomorrow or next week—we let life in “the here and now” pass us by. We miss something of the utmost importance—we miss life altogether.
The entire purpose of meditation, of sitting and focusing on the in and out breath is to discipline our mind to live in the now.
We must be present in every moment we sit and train ourselves to value and appreciate the very life we have that allows us to sit and practice. When we sit and practice, we are living in that moment and that is all there is. If we become good at this, we can transition out of meditation and into getting the most out of every minute, every day. We can focus on each singular act and every motion, as if there is nothing else.
Walking meditation is no different.
Several years ago I spent a “Day of Meditation” in Boulder, Colorado with Thich Nhat Hanh. The entire day consisted of dharma talks, sitting meditations and a walking meditation. Before the walking meditation, participants were instructed to walk in silence and, while being aware of those around us, we were to focus on every step we took without commenting or conversing.
As we walked, we were aware of each foot pressing into the grass, the sound it made and how it felt to lift our feet off the ground and place them one after the other. We listened to the crunch of the grass, the breathing of those walking beside us, the feeling of our own in and out breaths. The singing of the birds, the breeze in the trees, and the distant sound of car tires on the highway vibrated within us. We observed the movement of the clouds in the intense blue sky and noticed the deep red color of the Flatirons—the rock formations west of the city.
Most of all, we were aware of our movement together—those of us walking in meditation—and how nothing else existed or mattered in those few moments together.
When Elki and I walk together…
I am aware of my own breath, of my own steps and her steps, of her ears erect and alert, of her eyes darting here and there. Looking for something that will enhance her experience beyond the joy she gets from just being outdoors.
I, too, experience the joy of being outdoors, of filling my lungs with crisp Colorado morning air, of our movement together, of our steps synchronized as we work our way through the neighborhood and around the open space.
When questions of what happens next enter my head I try to dismiss them as quickly as they come. I make that walk all there is, right then and there.
At other times, when I am more reflective and reminiscent, I begin to understand a little bit more about the principle of “inter-being.”
Just as Elki and I and my family are all connected in both subtle and profound ways, I become aware of my friends and neighbors who live in the houses we pass.
I recall past community volunteer campaigns some of us worked on together. I remember conversations we had when we discovered views we held in common, values we shared, of our children who attended school together, who played on the same soccer teams or raced together on the same track team.
I remember how connected we felt and how our lives intertwined for awhile and how we shared each other’s being. That leads me to remember, in those present moments, other lives that once intertwined with mine—in Thailand and Honduras; in Haiti and the Philippines; in Japan and in Europe—and how I am always and irrevocably connected to them.
I am connected to their being through shared moments and experiences. But how much more meaning and power would those connections have had I been fully present in each and every one of those encounters?
These experiences come alive for me, again, when I walk with Elki. I recognize that we are each connected and we share each other’s being in more fundamental and elemental ways. We are all made of the same “stuff” at subatomic and physical levels.
We all live and have our being on this earth because we all breathe in and out, we all move about in the same manner, we all have dreams and we share similar needs and wants. We all interact with other life-forms—other humans, animals and plants—and as such we all “inter-are”, as Thich Nhat Hanh has said.
We share an inter-being in both macroscopic and microscopic levels of existence. In these ways, we are all alike, we are no different. We are all brothers and sisters. We are all companions, humans and animals. We inhabit the same earth, we breathe the same air, and we share the same space.
This is what I come to know (what I feel at the core of my being) when I walk with Elki. We are irrevocably connected and our lives are intertwined in those precious moments when we are all alive.
And finally, Elki reminds me how the life we live is imbued with impermanence. I know that my times with Elki, the walks we share, will not last.
As Sakyong Mipham wrote in Turning the Mind Into an Ally, “The face of impermanence is constantly showing itself…The movie ends, our relationship’s over, children grow up…impermanence is a river that runs through life, not a rock that stands in the way.”
I have learned this all too well with other companion pets whose lives I’ve shared. I’ve also been reminded of this recently through the loss of family members and friends—some from old age, some through accident and some from hearts that failed. I’ve come to appreciate the reality that with every moment we experience, with every day we live, we are one moment and one day closer to death.
Can we live a life that, although characterized by pain and suffering, still carries for us all the meaning we can possibly ring out of it?
Each of us has the opportunity to make the most out of every walk we take, every insight we gain, each encounter and conversation we have, if only we become aware and appreciate the poignancy and power in such moments.
They are the individual building blocks of our lives. Can we appreciate more fully our relationships with parents and siblings, with spouses or companions, with our children, our friends and our neighbors? These precious moments are valuable because we will never have enough of them.
The impermanence of life will one day catch up with us and we, ourselves, will one day be someone else’s memory.
My dear friend and companion, my Elki, will die some day.
She may develop bad hips and have to be put to sleep. Or she may die of natural causes.
When this happens my heart will break. When that day comes—when the principle of impermanence is driven home once again—I hope and trust that the memory of our time together will remain alive and vibrant. I hope I will still feel connected to her in those moments and the lessons I learned while she was alive will remain fresh and true for me for as long as I live. If this happens, she will have taught me—will have given me a gift—as meaningful as those “dharma walks” we took, as valuable as those precious moments we shared.
For this, I will feel gratitude.
Robert Kent is 64 years young, retired and living in Fairfield, Iowa. An amateur organic gardener and woodworker; 25 year meditator and lifelong walker, Kent has lived and traveled abroad. Married for 27 years with three adult children, his key to mindfulness is relishing every bite of each vegetable he grows.
Editor: ShaMecha Simms
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July’s Full Moon in Capricorn: The Heart wants what it Wants. How to Love a Woman who Scares You. Our Soulmates are Rarely Who We Expect. I Still Think of You. The 4 Stages of a Good Divorce. Men, Let’s Stop Fooling Ourselves: Size Matters. Reading This Takes Guts. To the One Who Tried to Break Me. An Open Letter to the Fixers. How your Stored Memories in the Amygdala can lead to PTSD.