Phoebe (L) and Gobi (R). Phoebe is my wife’s dog, Gobi is my daughter’s.
In T.I. #171 I talked about the formidable faculties of the cricket frog and what we could learn from him about contemplation and the origins of meditation.
This week’s T.I. emerges from lessons learned from the humble domestic dog. For all the background — and for another excerpt from the forthcoming stalking, tracking, and observation module of my Frontier Rough & Tumble martial arts program. — check out the details below the break.
Canis familiaris: Martial Arts Training Involution #174
- No talking, groaning, grunting or complaining for the duration of the training session.
- Half Pyramid of Clean & Press. Don’t have a barbell? No excuses — get creative. Use two dumbbells. Gradually fill a ruck sack with barbells, chains, or tools from your garage (a bag full of wrenches and hammers weighs a ton!). Start with a naked weight bar and do 10 reps. Take a 1 min. break while you add approx 1/10th of your max safe weight to the bar. Do 10 reps, take a 1 min break, and repeat. When you can’t 10 reps, that’s okay. Just do as many as you can and keep adding weight until you fail. My sets were #20 x 10, #30 x 10, #40 x 10, #50 x 10, #60 x 9, #70 x 8, #80 x 5 #90 x 3, #100 x 2, #110 fail.
- Heavy bag speed drill. Set a round timer for 10 rounds of :30/:30. Get after that bag as fast as you can for :30 and then rest for :30. Count your strikes for the final round and write it down. Come back in a few days and beat your number.
- Dig a hole. Not literally, figuratively. Instead of digging in the yard like your dog, dig into yourself. Sit down in your meditative posture of choice, regulate your breathing, and think back to the last time you were cranky, whiny or selfish. What was the “pinch that made you flinch” so-to-speak? Physical pain? Fear? Worry? Stress? Aren’t you better than that? What could you do to prevent that from happening again?
- Journal. And, as always, record your performance, thoughts and realizations in your training log when you’re done.
Our dog Gizmo, may he rest in peace. One of my wisest spiritual teachers.
The Delightful Demeanor of the Domestic Dog
If your dog is suffering enough to show it, take him straight to the vet. If he’s in so much pain that he snips at you, he’s probably at death’s door. Anyone who has ever had a dog knows this to be true. Gizmo, my little Lhasa Apso, sixteen years old and falling apart at the seams, licked our hands and showed his love for us all the way to the euthanasia room. I wish I could be half as loving, and half as tough, as that little guy was.
Underneath that happy face, lolling tongue and sleek coat lie millions of years of ingrained, evolutionary knowledge. Sick wolves are unfit to be selected as mates. Weak animals get singled out by predators and picked on by any bullies in the pack. Snippy, grumpy dogs get less food from their human partners. If you’re a dog, it has always paid to keep your whining to yourself. It is, in fact, a matter of life and death.
Your dog’s happy demeanor is the result of practical stoicism.
Similar forces had to be working upon humans too. Who knows why happy stoicism didn’t get baked into our DNA too? My theory is that our self-awareness prevented it by allowing us an escape hatch — being two-faced. If I’m right, that means that being a happy and loving stoic is directly linked to integrity.
You see, the stereotype of the stern and frowning stoic is just that. Your dog knows that behavior is not a bilateral spectrum or a zero sum game. Dogs — and people for that matter — don’t have to be either happy-go-lucky or stoic. Possessing self-control doesn’t mean you have to be inscrutable or have the deadpan aspect of a corpse.
Nor does it mean being fake. To be clear, we are not talking about simply gritting our teeth and hiding the pain. That’s grade school stuff compared to what any dog down at the dog-pound can do. We are talking about actually being happy and full of love despite being in pain. And this goes for physical pain as well as spiritual and intellectual pain, like stress, money problems, family strife, work pressures, and so on.
It boils down to being the same person all the time, no matter what comes our way. Isn’t that what integrity is? Being a dutiful person even when it’s inconvenient or dangerous? Being kind and polite even when others aren’t? Staying on course despite the winds of pain, anger, frustration and anguish?
Sometimes reality is literally a pain. Deal with it. Start with daily contemplation and awareness training. Then make a resolution to be like a dog — to be happy and loving even when you’re suffering. Be on the lookout for signs that you might be allowing your pains to change who you are. Make a note in your training journal when you catch yourself being whiny, cranky or selfish. Be introspective enough to untangle your behavior and figure out what’s eating you — just knowing what it is can release its hold on you.
Toughen up buttercup, or your pains will become everybody else’s pains too.
Note: One of Mark Hatmaker’s readiness tests, the all-day tenderfoot drill, helped crystallize the above ideas in my mind. What a great drill — thanks Mark!
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