[mk_blockquote style=”quote-style” font_family=”none” text_size=”18″ align=”left”]What does tamed mean?” [asked the little prince … and the fox replied] “It means to form bonds. If you tame me, we’ll need each other. You become forever responsible for what you have tamed.” – Antoine De Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince[/mk_blockquote]
We used to joke that our dog, Pax, was ironically named. Outside, he was far from the peaceful creature that his name implied he’d be. Instead, he was a crazed beast, racing pell-mell up and down our rather heavily trafficked road at speeds that would have made me proud if I weren’t so terrified he was going to get hit by a car. For months we lived in constant fear of an unlatched gate or a door left ajar. “Stolen” freedom was like a drug for him and his run-abouts were getting progressively longer in both duration and distance.
There was absolutely no way to catch him. He was way too fast for that. Plus, whenever he saw me he would turn and run in exactly the opposite other direction. Where I’d always been his favorite person in the whole world, when he was on a run-about I was a big, flashing neon sign that screamed “PARTY’S OVER.”
We began to face the reality that Pax might need more freedom to run than our suburban location allowed. But the notion of finding him a new home was excruciating to even ponder. So we searched far and wide for another solution that would allow Pax and our family to safely (and peacefully) coexist. The day after a particularly harrowing run-about, I got a return call from a trainer. He told us that many hunters used something called an E-Collar to communicate with their field dogs and suggested we try that. Desperate, we plunked down the money. The collar was in our hands in 24 hours (thanks, Amazon Prime!) and we met with the trainer the next day.
Training Pax on the collar nearly broke my heart. Each time it would vibrate at his neck, his head and tail dropped. For weeks he refused to leave my side. All the joy he found in the open field where we were working seemed to disappear. I felt like I was “breaking” him the way cowboys break wild stallions. And I hated it. I didn’t want to change Pax. I just wanted to change his behavior.
But one day he took a few tentative steps away from my side. Each time he looked back I lavished on the praise. His head lifted, his ears perked and he wagged his tail. Best yet, he moved a little further from me. Within two weeks, he was running joyfully again! He flushed birds, he leapt over holes, he dashed in circles as fast as he could. And, miraculously, when I said, “Pax! Let’s go!” he turned on a dime a flashed to my side.
Thankfully, I hadn’t broken him at all. I had simply tamed him.
Pax on a wild run-about reminds me of my mind when I’m meditating. There are days when dragging my attention back to my breath (again and again and again) feels about as appealing as glimpsing me must have felt to my dog. “Party’s over.”
Then I had an epiphany. I realized that the point of meditating wasn’t staying focused or silent for a set amount of time, but was instead the repeated choice to draw my attention away from the wilderness of my chattering mind and toward the quiet stillness at my core. Originally, I think I was approaching meditation as a way to “break” my mind. It was a tremendous, happy relief to realize that, instead of exorcising or rejecting my mind (which, to be honest, I actually really like), I was simply trying to tame it.
To borrow from De Saint-Exupery’s explanation of taming, by meditating I am forming a bond with my mind. And in doing so, my mind is as responsible for me as I am for it. Sometimes, I choose to allow my mind its greatest joy – to be allowed to run wild. I set it free to create, to think, to wonder, to rejoice. But, as I do so, we are still connected. When I say, “Let’s go!” (by returning my awareness to my breath whether I’m running around my life or sitting quietly in meditation), my mind’s job is to return to stillness as quickly and cleanly as Pax returning to my side in the woods.
My relationship with my profoundly active intellect is much healthier because of this work. I’m able to recognize when my thoughts are running crazily away from me. I notice more quickly when I’m allowing worry to wreck an otherwise lovely moment. I’m able to stay more present to what I’m doing and what I’m experiencing. In short, because I’ve begun to tame my mind, I’m missing out on less in life and enjoying a whole lot more.
Similarly, taming Pax changed our relationship in a beautiful way. Now when Pax is running (and he is so glorious to watch when he is), not only does he remember that I am there, but he seeks to share his experience with me. He makes a point to circle back to me over and over again when we’re walking in the woods. Each time he does, he makes eye contact and gives me a huge doggy smile that says, “Isn’t this the best?!?! I love that we do this together.” And I feel exactly the same way.