It probably borders on blasphemy, but I have recently found myself asking this question often: “What would Brenna do?” Brenna is “my” nearly 2-year old Labrador Retriever, and she is wise beyond measure. She is nearly always happy and energetic and seems to squeeze every drop out of life. She’s loyal, accepting, forgiving and unconditionally loving. I realize I speak and write about her a lot, and I imagine it’s because basically she shows up in life exactly how I would ideally choose to. So, I consciously work to emulate her. It might help to have most of my brain removed so it matches the size of hers, but I figure I can do it even with my huge cerebral cortex. I generally prefer being a human being anyway, if only because I get to eat stuff besides dry, disgusting kibble.
I observe her and, besides making her nervous, I notice some major differences between us in how we respond to life. For one thing, she never seems to confuse what she has with who she is. I do it all the time. I often get so attached to what I have (or don’t have) that I make it part of my very identity. I’m talking about my experiences, my relationships, my job, my bank account, my body, my thoughts, my feelings, my story…all these are things I have but they are not who I am. The simple fact that I refer to them as, “My…” seems to underline this confusion. When I get them confused, when I identify (which literally means, “To regard as the same”) my very being with these things, when I become emotionally invested in them, I give them power over me. As they go, I go, as if we were chained together. Brenna seems to be free of chains.
She has obvious preferences, but doesn’t get attached to things. Sometimes she’ll carry a stick for 4 miles and it only takes one firm, “Leave it!” from me and she drops it. It might require 1 additional command for her to give it up completely, but I’m consistently amazed. If it was me, I would say, “Are you serious, I just carried this damned thing for 2 hours. I’ve swallowed a half a pound of bark and you want me to leave it?” Brenna simply makes a different choice that is still aligned with who she is, what’s important to her, her core values. She’ll pick up another stick or a ball, or she’ll just enjoy running around and sniffing all the smells of nature, which to her are obviously plentiful and pleasant.
Her preferences don’t become attachments whereas mine often are indistinguishable. The problem for me is that I get so stuck on the form I lose myself. I lose my intention to experience love and joy, which are undoubtedly what I really wanted to begin with. So sometimes now when I realize I’m attached to something that I can’t or don’t have, I ask myself what I really want and often I realize I CAN have that. For instance, with my recent hip injury, I worried that I might not be able to hike again this summer or perhaps any summer. I realized how attached to hiking I am. So I asked myself what hiking allowed me to experience. The answers included peace, beauty, solitude, connection with nature, a sense of awe and wonder and oneness, and exercise. It became clear to me that if, God forbid, I really couldn’t hike anymore, I could take up swimming and every now and then someone could wheel me out into the woods! Hiking is not who I am. I can always make a different choice that feeds who I am and unfolds my deepest desires.
It works so well for Brenna that my new mantra is, “Leave it!” Whenever I become aware that I’m attached to something I have or don’t have, that I have my teeth sunk into something in the realm of form, I give myself that firm command. It reminds me to break the imaginary chain I have created between it and me. It allows me to remember who I am and what is most important to me. I may have to give myself a few hundred additional commands before I let go completely but hey, I do have this huge cerebral cortex.
I don’t compare myself to Brenna, I just emulate her. I ask myself what she would do in any particular situation, and the answer always feels right, loving and free.
And if that’s all I remember, that’s more than enough for now.