Travel Memories: Meditation Practice, Magic and Guardian Dogs in India

Shonte

I did a tarot reading for myself several weeks back and the message came very strongly that dogs are serving as my guides in this leg of my evolution. Now, you probably know that I have been a cat person for the last decade. I love cats. But in Bali, the presence of dogs in the street really caught my attention and awakened me to lots of issues I have about trusting Source and trusting other humans and trusting myself. So anyway, I was reading my cards and a dog guide came into my consciousness and said it is time to dig into your animal nature in India. Fine.

So I’m at his ashram and there are FOUR BIG DOGS living here: Shanta, Pushti, Karum and Mongalum. Karum and Mongalum are dudes. Karum is grumpy and matted and he has some kind of skin problem. I have been brushing him regularly and he has gotten so cute and friendly! His skin is improving and his eye infection even seems to be clearing up. Mongalum is about 150 pounds of brown sweetness, but he STINKS to high heaven. Because he is so stinky, folks are reluctant to pet him, but I have bathed him a few times and I brush him daily and as a result, his coat looks lovely and he’s getting more cuddles. When he sees me now, he lumbers over and shoves his head right between my legs and walks through me like a bulldozer. It’s funny as hell.

Anyway, the thing that’s interesting is that I bonded so nicely with the two girl dogs, Pushti and Shanta (whom I call Shonté because how can I resist saying, “Sashay, Shonté” and doing a runway walk like a drag queen???) Pushti is a white labrador– a sweet, rolly-polly thing that looks at me with soulful eyes. All the dogs and even the puppies pile on top of her and she just rolls on her back with a big smile. She is happy to be the non-alpha dog. When I first arrived here, Pushti began following me around the ashram and became my sidekick VERY quickly.

Shonté soon joined Pushti as my loyal companion the very next day when, in a fit of goofiness, I began running up and down the ashram like a bat out of hell. Shanté and Pushti began following me, howling and hooting. We created quite a raucous ruckus and since then, the girls sleep outside my door and accompany me on my rounds within the ashram walls.

Shonté is the alpha dog. Period. All the other dogs follow her lead, whether it be chasing monkeys, chasing birds or chasing me. It’s an interesting journey to observe dogs in packs and on their own. They are fucking awesome, first of all. Second of all, they are fucking awesome.

Before I came here, Shonté gave birth to a litter of puppies and Pushti followed a week later. All of Shonté’s puppies thrived. But Pushti’s litter all passed because she couldn’t quite figure out how to feed and protect them. I think that it just wasn’t meant to be because Shonté, being the alpha dog, confiscated one of Pushti’s pups and began suckling it with her own. At one point, she went back to rescue more pups, but Pushti laid on top of them to keep Shonté away and the two pups suffocated. The thing is, the one pup that was saved by Shonté was doing just fine, but one of the young men working around the ashram thought he would give it a little extra care but accidentally gave it curdled cow’s milk which it couldn’t properly digest, so it, too perished. And of course, the young man was devastated by his mistake.

All of Shonté’s pups were given to families back in July, but one family ended up having to bring two back to the ashram. So shortly after I arrived in August, the place became alive with four month old puppy energy! They got into the plants and tugged at Shonté’s teats and they toppled the lumbering Pushti every chance they got. Although not very good at mothering, Pushti proved an excellent auntie. They nibbled her ears and nuzzled her belly. And Shonté, being a very excellent mother kept them safe and out of the way of all us humans. It was fun to watch all of them interact. The grumpy Karum sired these pups, but wanted nothing to do with them! Another family came recently and took the pups, which broke my heart, but gosh. Who needs SIX DOGS???

Pushti and Shonté greet me in the morning with warmth and affection and as I said, they follow me around the ashram. Their affection toward me is very touching, but I know there is a deeper meaning to it. When I think about Pushti’s pups, I think about my own failures and how I have let so many treasures slip through my hands. I have careless fingers and let valuable treasures such as friendships, experiences and mateiral resources slip through them unwittingly.

With Pushti, I have great compassion because I think she was serving something greater than herself. Forgive me if I sound too corny, but I cannot help but wonder what the physical condition was of those pups. Was there something in them that was not physically right and so her instinct shifted from preservation to termination? Or was she just not given the maternal instinct? She is a sweet and friendly beast that happily comes when you call– even if it is up four flights of stairs. She was at my side when I went into the Ganga for the first time and is sitting outside my door right now. I feel supported by this happy beast.

Shonté, on the other hand, acts like a guardian to me. She watches my every move and sticks by my side. The only exception is when her true master returns from the outside. She leaves me to greet him but then she very quickly returns to me. What I learn from this beautiful lady is Strength and Instinct. Her spirit teaches me the power of the Feminine Principle. Instinct is strong and will never steer me wrong. I can nurture that wild side of myself. That side can be the decision maker. It is the foundation of the Root Chakra and I can tune into that aspect of myself whenever I desire. I can open up to my raw nature and let it influence me. It is what Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes writes about in Women Who Run with the Wolves. Opening up to the raw feminine.

I was watching Shonté while we were out at the Ganga. She had swam across the river to an island. One of the other girls followed her panicking that she might get lost. But Shonté is a child of this river and knew her way home. I called across the river and she came charging back. Afterward, we sat along the bank and I watched her. She sat looking at the horizon in perfect stillness, in perfect calmness. She was in full meditation, connected to everything. There was no opinion, no wondering, no thinking. No mala! She was being at peace in the moment. I realized that this was the ultimate lesson of the dog guides. How to be present. Sit quietly and let the Universe bring to you your next move. Sit. Silence the mind. Trust is not an appropriate word in this case because the dog wasn’t trusting. She was simply being. Humans trust, animals be. Hahahaha!

Since I have been here now for a month, people have begun to notice how Shonté sticks by me. The other day, she went out to the river with one of the other ashram dwellers and when she came in the gate, she saw me at the top of the hill and came charging up, yipping and smiling. Oh! It is so nice to see a dog running up a hill because she adores you!!!!! Ears slicked back, tongue flying out of her mouth, she pummeled me with wet kisses and… TICKS. What the fuck?? Giant ticks clung to my sweet girl and so now I have made it my mission to protect all the dogs from the parasites. Geez. This is why I stopped being a dog person– I couldn’t stand their outdoor nature. My house cats where totally manageable and never got fleas or ticks. Dogs in the city get fleas. Dogs in the country get ticks. Ugly, revolting parasites that are in the same family as spiders and scorpions. They start off small but grow to the size of vitamins and they cling by their ugly jaws to the dogs like leeches. We pulled 8 of the big ones off Shonté! And you have to use an army boot to kill them because they’re tough as nails. Jesus, help me. I am having a panic attack just thinking about them.

This is another lesson that I am learning from Shonté. While this girl has ticks on her, she never behaves miserably. She barely scratches, she barely even twitches from them. They do not slow her down. Look at her lying comfortably there. She doesn’t mind one bit. Now, of course, I know that ticks can transmit disease, and I take their eradication as my duty. But what I am learning is that even though I am the eradicator, I need not express the revulsion that arises. I mean, in all honesty, the revulsion is useless! Ticks are Gaia’s creatures like I am Gaia’s creature and as is Shonté. Ticks gotta eat just like I gotta eat. Ticks deserve to eat just as I do. They serve a purpose and I am discovering mine. My point here is that if Shonté can live in peace, why can’t I? Because it’s my belief system holding me hostage! I believe ticks are gross, so my body has a physical reaction to my beliefs. My skin crawls and I get all itchy and short of breath just from thinking about them. Again, I’m not saying that I want to live with ticks, but I am saying that I want to be at peace with ticks. Can I be at peace with something that I am going to eradicate? Fuck yeah. With practice.

And that is the ultimate lesson of India for me– Practice. Practice meditation, practice breathing, practice asanas, practice mindfulness. Practice peace. In every moment, ESPECIALLY when pulling giant ticks off the dogs and smashing them in flipflops, practice peace. When eating, practice peace. When sitting and listening to the monsoon, practice peace. When making mala, practice peace. When practicing japa mala, practice peace. When making a decision that might be a bad one, practice peace. When witnessing your own luck, good or bad, practice peace. Yes. One can learn a lot from a dog– how to sit in peace and howl at the moon…

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