There was an old man sitting on a park bench. A songbird landed in a nearby tree and began to sing. The old man listened joyfully. A short time passed and the old man noticed a hawk circling high in the sky. He thought to himself, “Oh, no. What if that hawk spots that little songbird.” As the hawk soared closer and closer, the old man got more and more nervous. He hung on to each moment in hopes that the hawk would fly off in a different direction. The little bird continued to sing. Soon, the hawk was very near and the old man could no longer sit and wait. He yelled at the little bird, “Fly away little bird.” The little bird was startled and flew straight towards the hawk. The hawk grabbed the bird and flew to a nearby tree and had his afternoon snack.
This little parable is a reminder of what we often do when we confront a serious illness with our pet. We care for our pet so much that we often make decisions that actually harm the pet. I am reminded of a story of an old dog with bone cancer. Her vet had told her that she must have her dog’s leg amputated and begin chemotherapy at once. It was the only chance that she might extend the dog’s life. She agreed to the surgery and the old dog died on the surgery table.
I am not trying to make a point of what might be right or what might be wrong in making a decision. I am trying to make a point as to why we feel we need to make a decision. If the little old man had not intervened, the little bird would likely have sensed the hawk, stopped singing and never been noticed by the hawk. Or, the hawk would have seen the bird anyway and had his afternoon meal anyway. Then, why do we feel like we need to intervene? It is because we feel responsible.
What does it mean when we feel responsible? Being responsible is an act of self consciousness. “I feel like I must do something for this to occur or not to occur.” Self consciousness is the result of a belief that there is an I (or me) and there is a you (something else). Self conscious= conscious of me. It is the nature of us human beings. Self consciousness was created by the ego-mind and we became dependent on it for our answers. It was the old man’s ego-mind that told him to shout out at the little bird. And, it was the ego-mind that later told him, “Maybe you shouldn’t have done that.”
I remember a lady who brought in her sick cat. Her cat had been diagnosed with a terminal disease and she came to me out of desperation to save her cat. I treated the cat and it recovered. The lady was happy and excited. Two years later, she returned with the same cat. This time it was diagnosed with another terminal illness. I treated it and the cat ended up dying from the disease. “I don’t understand. You were able to save her last time but this time you didn’t. Were you not trying? Did you make a mistake?”she asked emotionally. Nothing that I was going to say or do was going to be a great comfort. She was far too involved with the ego-mind trying to solve an unsolvable problem.
What are we to do? If I choose this, this might happen, but if I don’t choose this, something else might happen. When you read the last sentence, could you sense the fear that is associated with this attitude? It is the fear of us not being responsible enough that makes us suffer. It is in the strength of the fearful emotion that gives us the sense of self. As long as there is a me that feels responsible for solving the problem, then I will maintain my sense of being a me.
So, the ego-mind keeps creating problems in our mind that we feel responsible for so that we can continue to feel a sense of self. Notice that I said problems in our mind? All problems are a state of mind because all events are neutral. They only become a problem when our ego-mind tells us that it is. Then, out of a sense of reasonability, we scramble to solve the problem, use tremendous amounts of energy while resisting the experience and create great emotional suffering. All the while, our pet sits there and wags its tail.
Our pets have not been blessed with a sense of self awareness. Their blessing is in allowing the present moment to manifest without resistance. Only in resisting can there be suffering and resistance can only occur when we have self awareness and an ego-mind telling us that this should not be happening. Pain rises in the moment with the dog with bone cancer. The dog experiences the pain and naturally allows it to happen. Instinct tells the dog to rest and sleep. The next moment may or may not manifest pain. The dog deals with each moment, fresh and authentic; fully participating.
What are we to do? How can we avoid all this suffering? You can’t. This is why the Buddha said that all of human life is suffering. Notice he didn’t say the same thing for our pets. As long as we have a sense of self, we have a false sense of separation and as long as we have the false sense of separation and an ego-mind that conjures up stories about me and that, we will suffer. We can, however, begin to be aware of what is going on in our minds. We can notice that we have the choice to engage with our thoughts or to just watch them as the silent witness. In time, the wise ones say that the ego may become so quiet that it sits in the corner in silence. That would be a blessing. Others say that the ego-mind gets louder and louder and we become more and more frustrated with trying to solve the unsolvable problem, that it implodes on itself and we experience nirvana. This wrestling of the ego-mind, the unanswerable problem and the ego dissolution is the basis of Zen Buddhism.
The best advice I have to offer is to accept and allow. The first chapter of the great book, The Road Less Traveled, tells us that if we accept the fact that life is difficult, it won’t be as difficult when bad things happen. This doesn’t seem reasonable to the ego-mind, but it is the ego-mind that makes life difficult.
Recent research suggest that because our pets allow pain without resisting it, it actually lessens the pain. This is not a figment of their imagination, but a physiological event. Maybe, in the allowing, we find peace and guidance. I remember reading something, somewhere about the lilies of the field and that they do not toil. Maybe we should be like the lilies or like our pets.