Creative Nonfiction by Andrew Taylor-Troutman

“The Dog, the Deer, and Satellite-Dish Ears: Practicing Mindfulness”
             By Andrew Taylor-Troutman

The number one rule in dog training is consistency. I was totally committed to keeping my puppy off the furniture for all of three days. After she and I return from our morning walk, I’ll sit down to meditate and this dog cozy-ups to me on the couch. Her sigh starts as a rumble in her belly that roller-coasters through her and flies from her mouth with a whoosh. Moments later, she is already dozing. This is her superpower.

“Every one of us already has the seed of mindfulness,” proclaimed Thich Nhat Hanh, “The practice is to cultivate it.” I’ve tried such cultivation at various times of the day, but maybe the number one rule in meditation is consistency. Most often, I’ve tried early mornings when my wife and kids were still asleep. I used to sit down on the hard kitchen floor as the percolator made coffee. My mind would wander to emails I needed to return or the dire decline of pollinator populations. But a sudden pop from the percolator would snap me back to the present. Once again, I’d focus on my own breathing.

But the percolator is not the only device that draws my attention. The iPhone is a mind-sucking force. I find myself scrolling climate change news, NBA basketball highlights, and several Twitter accounts devoted solely to Dad Jokes. What is the deer’s least favorite sandwich bread? Sour-doe.

I’ve tried walking meditation, but I don’t suggest practicing with a puppy on a leash. She zips and zags, strains and pulls. To be fair, as long as there are no joggers, bikers, rabbits, squirrels, or anything else that breathes and moves in her line of sight, the dog is perfectly Zen—Thich Nhat Pup.

On a recent walk, my mind muddled through a conversation that hadn’t gone as I’d hoped. This is the type of thinking that I know leads to nowhere, yet I can’t seem to get away from (like the Dad Jokes on Twitter). Suddenly, the canine wiggler on the other end of the leash froze. Her attention shot forth like an arrow. And I saw the deer. A silhouette in the moonlight. Head up, ears erect.

This morning, I mimicked my dog’s deep breaths from the bliss of the couch we now share. I called to mind that deer in the moonlight. Still as a statue. Those satellite-dish ears. Alert to danger, for sure. (No need to romanticize it.) Yet, totally in the moment. Maybe there are no rules to meditation. Maybe it’s is not a superpower. There is only one’s attention to the practice.

- Andrew Taylor-Troutman is the author of five previous books, including Gently Between the Words: Essays and Poems. He is a frequent contributor to Porch Magazine, Clerestory, the Presbyterian Outlook and the blog “Go Ask Dad” at Taylor-Troutman is pastor and head of staff at Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church in Chapel Hill, North Carolina where he lives with his wife, also an ordained minister, their three young children, and dog named Ramona. “A Blooming Tree” was previously published as part of an essay for The Presbyterian Outlook.

Copyright©2022 by Andrew Taylor-Troutman. All Rights Reserved.