My Dog is a Buddhist: He Taught Me the Middle Way

“Peace requires us to surrender our illusions of control”
~ Jack Kornfield

Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.

When I worry about the fate of the human race (and who doesn’t?), I remind myself of the lessons I have learned from my dog Kokomo. In Kokomo’s world, extremes of any kind are not relevant. He prefers the Middle Way. This philosophy has served both of us very well, especially me, since I have a tendency to ride the roller coaster of life from the heights of joy to the depths of despair. Through Kokomo’s teachings, I have learned to be more moderate in the demands I make upon myself, and others.

We humans have made a mess of things in so many ways, but we have also made incredible contributions too. There is art and architecture, literature and religion. We are exploring the galaxy and beyond. We have cured polio and created marvelous life-saving medicines for many other maladies. I just installed solar panels on my roof and ride an e-bike to cut back on my carbon footprint.

I could regale you with all that is wrong in the world, but you already know that stuff, and probably worry about it too. Looking at what’s wrong is not the solution anyway. I also think it is not terribly helpful to only look at what’s right in the world, like some Pollyanna. Solutions require looking at the bad and the good. My personal motto is “Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.” I think Kokomo would agree.

Kokomo’s Middle Way of Peace.

My motto may seem incongruous for the Buddhist philosophy of the “Middle Way,” but let me show you the “Middle Way,” through the eyes of my Golden Retriever (English Cream) Kokomo.

Lesson 1 – Be authentic.

My first lesson came when I adopted Kokomo, when he was six years old. He had just left the puppy mill, where he had one job . . . stud. Yes, he is a very good-looking dog. Everyone tells me so. People also give me credit for his sweet temperament and cooperative nature, but I always explain that this is just how he is. At age six when adopted, I can hardly be responsible for his personality. He was a stud on the farm because he has all of these desirable qualities inside and out. I like to think that coming to live with me may enhance these qualities, but then I am probably being egocentric. Rather Kokomo is the one who helped me find a way to calm my nervous energy by accepting who I am. Not everyone can be beautiful and smart like Kokomo, but we all have our gifts – and purpose.

Lesson 2 – Choose your friends wisely.

Being true to yourself is all well and good, but we also need to be surrounded by folks we get along well with, who are respectful, and love us beyond measure. There are very few people that Kokomo takes to right away. I think this is wise, don’t you? Why trust people just because they offer you a treat or a scratch behind your ears? I have learned to choose my friends wisely so that I don’t get drained by people who are just out of synch with themselves.

As for his favorite peeps, his pace quickens when he sees other dogs on our daily walks. But not just any dogs. He really can’t stand little dogs, especially those who have high pitched yips – and their Moms have them dressed in colorful baby clothes (so undignified). He pulls me in the other direction if he senses one of those encounters. On the other hand, he much prefers dogs of his size and temperament – unless they are aggressive or mean. When dogs bound up to him, eager to play, he stands very still – until both dogs have passed the sniff test. If they pass he happily races around us humans with his new “forever best friend.”

Lesson 3 – Don’t give bullies the time of day.

Kokomo has been attacked a couple of times on our walks. It really shocked me because each time he was just trotting along, sniffing his way along the path, stopping to examine a pine cone or bury his nose in a pile of leaves. Out of nowhere he was charged by a dog who attacked with such fierceness that most dog owners would expect a “dog fight.” Not Kokomo though. He falls to the ground with the first head butt, and lays there motionless. I have learned to step in, scream at the other dog (and sometimes the owner) and often I have to kick the offending dog — who then scuttles away.

The first time Kokomo was attacked, I was worried he had been injured and that he would be shaken emotionally. Nope. Once I kicked the offending dog, Kokomo got up off the ground and stood by unfazed – out of reach of the nasty dog – waiting for us to continue our walk.

Does he know that bullies want a fight, and that if you don’t fight back they cave? Or perhaps he figures I am his protector so he can relax and not worry? Or does he just accept that if you are a “stud” you might bring out the envy in other dogs – like it’s the price he pays to be the beautiful dog he is?

This is a darned good lesson for me. If I am going to be true to myself, take on my responsibilities, and live out my mission — I need to be brave enough to face the bullies but not fight back. Never give a bully the time of day, not one little bit of satisfaction for their attacks.

Lesson 4 – Don’t rush into anything.

If Kokomo determines that things just don’t feel right, or sound right, or look right, or smell right, I can’t get him to budge. He plants his little paws so firmly that I would have to pick up his full 62 pounds and carry him. What’s the fun in that, for either of us? I have learned to let him have his way when he feels this strongly about something. Who am I to contradict how he feels?

This is one of those complex lessons isn’t it? This lesson requires being respectful of the other person even when you can’t understand what’s going on with them. They have their reasons and that’s good enough. As for me, I have my reasons too and don’t need to explain them to anyone. I could be wrong, but if I don’t get the go ahead from my own inner knowing — I have learned to take my time.

Lesson 5 – Be charming and persistent.

My grandfather used to say “You get a lot more with honey, than you will with vinegar.” Watch this 30 second video of Kokomo and tell me if he doesn’t exude this principle. He is exceedingly charming, and just as exceedingly persistent toward accomplishing his goal of getting me to go for a walk.

But there’s more than just being charming or persistent here. Kokomo and I are a team. We belong to each other. We trust each other. We share the walk. He delights me with his cheerful doggy antics as we walk the neighborhood, or the beach. He accepts the limitations that I impose such as when he reaches the end of his 24-foot retractable leash. He stops and waits for me to signal that he can go on again. He waits patiently when I stop to talk to humans along the way. At the end of a long day, when my work is done, and dinner is cleared from the table – and we have had our evening stroll, Kokomo contentedly snuggles me while I read or watch TV. Charming.

Give up the illusion of control.

There are many more lessons I have learned from Kokomo over the last two years he has shared my life with me, but underlying all of them is to fully recognize that the only way to a peaceful life is give up the illusion of control. If you want to have abundant love and peace you don’t need that illusion anyway. All you need is to be:

  • Authentically you,
  • Surrounded by trusted friends,
  • Quietly ignoring bullies,
  • Respectful of your inner knowing, and others,’
  • Charmingly persistent toward your goals.

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