When I used to travel a lot as a magazine writer, I tried to work fast so that I could explore more of the countries I visited. I gravitated toward holy sites. Temples, churches, ashrams, ancient ruins, active charnel grounds. I wasn’t a believer, so I wasn’t even sure what “holy” meant. But those sites, with their dim light, pungent incense, burning candles gave me a holy feeling, as if I was connected to something greater than myself. And then, several years ago, while on walkabout in Israel and Palestine, aka The Holy Land, I learned something important. The holy feelings that I’d been seeking weren’t coming from the places I visited. They were within. And these feelings? Well, they were the tip of the iceberg.
I still love to travel. I’m excited to be going back to India this fall. But these days, my vessel of discovery is yoga. I practice because I want to wake up. Way more than a physical activity, yoga shows us life as it really is—the good, the bad, the ugly. It pulls me out of the Trance, an autopilot state-of-mind in which we lose ourselves, chase things that make us feel hungrier, and believe that we are our To Do Lists or our Boss’s Bottom Line. We believe that we are human doings.
Yoga snaps me out of that trance, and it doesn’t require me to believe in anything. Only that I breathe and pay attention–and see the love and connection that already exists. Even my dog Blue is part of my yoga journey. He is all about the love. In fact, sometimes I think that Blue is the manifestation of awakened love. I don’t know much about his life before I adopted him, but I know his journey hasn’t been easy. The many scars on his body tell me this. His missing and broken teeth, probably the result of years on a chain, say this. The shotgun pellets embedded in his left flank say this. And yet he is not imprisoned by his past. His kind eyes and gentle demeanor say this. The way he walks up to strangers and leans firmly into their legs say this. Many strangers love this about him; others, not so much. He is a pit bull, after all.
My guru, Blue, is constantly teaching. Last night, my great canine yogi taught a brilliant lesson. It came during a chaotic moment as we waited for a traffic light to change so we could cross a busy street. I’d spent most of the walk ruminating about business relationship that hadn’t been going my way. I was frustrated, bordering on angry, and I was having a difficult time releasing the issue. The conflict had hooked me into thinking about it during the entire three-mile walk on a balmy, beautiful eve.
As I pondered the issue for the 1000thtime in a half hour, I noticed that traffic had backed up all around us. Horns honked. Drivers rolled down windows and shouted. I glanced around and found the jam’s source. In the heart of the intersection, an elderly woman, drunk and extremely agitated, stood, one fist raised defiantly to the sky, the other hand flipping the bird to all who could see. Her defiant stance said it all: I’m not moving. All you rich punks are going to wait until I say you can go.
I wanted to get away from this conflict. And so Blue and I dashed across the street. We were halfway when I heard the woman shout something that I couldn’t comprehend. I stopped walking and looked up, bracing for her grumpy scowl. She spoke again, and I heard her this time: “Can I pet your dog?”
Blue heard her the first time. His tail was already wagging. The woman weaved drunkenly toward us. Blue wagged harder. When she reached us, she leaned over to pet him. At first, he recoiled. This is what his traumatized body does at first whenever somebody pets him. But after a few seconds, he relaxed into the petting. I watched as the woman got down on one knee and wrapped both arms around his furry, fifty-pound body. She pressed her body into Blue. Blue pressed his body back into her. Both human and dog were smiling.
With cars still honking and drivers still shouting, Blue and this stranger hugged for about 30 seconds. And then, when both had had enough, the woman stood up and offered Blue a final pat on the head. She looked at me: “That’s a special dog there,” she said.
And then she walked on, her hands no longer clenched into fists, her entire body language different from what it had been a minute before. As traffic began to flow again, I realized that Blue had woken the woman out of her angry trance- brought her back to center. The scene had had the same effect on me.
We can always choose kindness and love. Always.
A former senior editor and contributing writer at Outside magazine, Brad Wetzler is an author, journalist, travel writer, and book writing coach. His book, Real Mosquitoes Don’t Eat Meat, was published by W.W. Norton. His nonfiction writing has appeared in The New York Times Magazine and Book Review, GQ, Wired, Men’s Journal, National Geographic, George, Travel + Leisure, Thrive Global, and Outside. He coaches up-and-coming authors to write and successfully publish their books. For your free 30-minute phone consult, email Brad at firstname.lastname@example.org