This afternoon I was eating a piece of cake from a take-out container when Gryphon, my dog, who loves chocolate, ventured a lick at some frosting on the lid. I said his name in a scolding way and, without thinking, lifted the magazine I was holding in my hand in a gesture of playful admonishment, as if I were going to bop him on the muzzle (something I would never do, even in a playful way). This is a 70-pound dog who wrestles on the floor with Adonis, but something in my gesture and-- yes--the energy of my intent caused him to cower as if he'd been struck. His posture was as automatic as my raised hand had been.
I felt awful. The thought came to me immediately, "he HAS been hit." In his life before us, I mean. Lugh, whom we raised from puppyhood, wouldn't have even understood the gesture. But Gryphon knew it. I apologized to him and promised I would never hurt him. I hope he understood me.
Lugh was the most joyful being I've ever known. People responded to him because he embodied pure joy. Gryphon is sometimes happy, I think, and often content, but I don't know that I've ever seen him express joy. Surely he had a difficult early life where he was at best neglected. He is an anxious dog.
I want to give him a good life and to help him, as best I can, to suffer less from anxiety. But I also have to accept him for who he is. I practice seeing his divine nature, his Buddha nature, if you will, and I also practice seeing him clearly for who he is as an animal.
I practice acceptance of my dog. He is who he is. I don't need him to be joyful. Or, if I do, that's my need, twisted and unfairly projected onto him.
Similarly, I practice acceptance of my son: easy in some ways, since infants are such shining beings, but difficult, too, for example when he's crying and I can't find a way to comfort him, or he's waking every two hours in the night to nurse for 45 minutes. But he doesn't need to be other than who he is, either in his divine nature or his baby nature (or his individual nature).
But the hardest practice, I find, is to feel acceptance for myself. To believe, truly, that there is nothing about me that needs to change. To accept who I am, right now, in this moment. To approach myself with gentleness instead of force. That is my challenge, and it's a worthy one, I believe, because my child will learn how to treat himself by watching how I treat myself.