I find when I really turn to the Dharma is when the road gets a little bumpy and the stream turns into a somewhat belligerent torrent. Is that wrong? I don't know. I think it's just how it is. It's kind of like a good friend. You might not talk to them for a while and then something happens: your dog dies, your kids are giving you grief. You call up that old friend to have a little chat. And you always gain some wisdom or solace. The Dharma is like that for me; a solid, old friend, wise and supportive. Sometimes I lean on it a little harder than others, sometimes it carries me.
So here's the small bit of life where the Dharma has been so helpful for me lately, where it has helped me negotiate the little torrent that flows behind the fences in my neighbourhood. You've heard me talk about the "barking dog" next door, maybe once too often. But it's a good place for me to practice. And I bet you have a barking dog somewhere in your life: your boss, your sister-in-law??
Since December I have been listening to the intermittent barking and wondering what to do. I know the pitfalls of irritating young people who live in rental units next door to you. Sometimes your well intentioned words can backfire in your cute little face. Lots of people out there are not working within the framework of the Dharma. So I've spent a lot of time considering my options. To speak or not to speak? Could I make it worse? Should I approach it as an issue of quieting my own inner barking dog or deal with the physical issues of the real life loud mutt. Maybe if I could somehow not care I would be released from a whole slew of little things that can seem bothersome? Maybe if I could see it as their suffering and lack of awareness and have compassion for the human condition it would be the most helpful thing. I have been able to do that with the neighbour on the other side who sometimes fills all the parking spots in front of the houses as some sort of angry statement. It used to annoy me, now I just see it as her suffering when she gets up to that and know that it doesn't matter.
Sometimes you need to give things time to get clear. The leaves and silt swirling around in the little creek need some time to settle down so you can see to the bottom. The other day I looked into my Dharma creek and there was the answer lying in the bottom. Nathan at Dangerous Harvest had talked about dealing with a noise issue in his living space. The barking escalated next door. Due to the fine weather both dog and I were spending more time outside alone. And then a conversation with another neighbour who has two large dogs made it really clear. Someone had called "Animal Control" on her. She said she wished the neighbour would have spoken to her and they could have worked things out. She said she had heard that the kids next to me were pretty noisy. So I put all the grist in the mill and came out with a little cake. It seemed clear to me that I needed to talk to my over-the-fence neighbours. I know not to speak in anger. That much I have learned.
And so yesterday I caught the young woman as she hurried into her basement suite. At first she was defensive but as we chatted about what made the dog bark she warmed a bit. I told her about the neighbour whose neighbours had called "Animal Control" and how she wished they'd spoken to her instead. I think the light went on for her then. In the end she thanked me for talking to her. She didn't look overly happy and I wasn't necessarily convinced she would take huge amounts of action about the barking. But I feel better for dealing with the situation, instead of letting the little current of my displeasure swirl under the surface. We can move from here as the situation evolves. This to me is Dharma in action. I felt freed and satisfied with my choice and each time I navigate a difficult stream with the oar of the Dharma, it becomes clearer to me how to do this. I gain much needed skill that will be helpful in more difficult times. I don't create new karma for myself and others by doing something unskillful, like speaking angrily or calling Animal Control or chewing on the noise bone. I learn how to do the uncomfortable thing which can be applied in so many places in this life.
So that's the Dharma story for today kids. It has dogs and streams, a problem to be solved, a point of tension and a resolution. What more could you ask for in your Dharma tales? Go ahead tell me. I can take it. And I promise not to chuck a bucket of water from the Dharma brook at you.