Please don’t judge me. My dogs might bite.
Today I had an ugly encounter in the street. Nasty. Mean. Real bad.
Then I got to practice my inner yoga.
I was walking outside with Mr. Jones and Jorgie, my two dogs, enjoying my neighborhood (the highlight of NYC to me is the little boho-hipster ‘hood where I live) when a big dog came trotting down the street – off leash – heading straight towards us. I panicked. You see, Mr. Jones and Jorgie might be the most elegant dogs in Williamsburg, but they can be nasty little fighters!
They are “leash reactive” according to the different dog trainers, psychologists, dog walkers and pet-shop owners whom I have consulted. They are basically afraid for some reason when on a leash so they fight like demons to warn other dogs not to come near. You would never guess this when you meet them since they are such cuddly love muffins with all humans.
Cut back to big (huge!) dog running at us in the street. No leash. Owner trailing behind slowly. I kindly warned “hey, please get your dog! My guys will fight.” He ignored me. His dog came a little too close invading my whippets’ space before I could pull my boys around the corner. Mr. Jones and Jorgie went ballistic barking and pulling aggressively on their leashes towards the other dog. The owner finally woke up and took his dog.
“I am so sorry,” I apologized. “Sometimes they fight with other dogs.”
“Are they yours?” he asked.
“Well they are just a reflection of you. Like a painting of you. A mirror image of the person you are,” he said while smirking and skipping away the other direction.
I was stunned silent. Stopped dead in my tracks. Then… tears. Could it be true? Am I a horrible person who has raised aggressive dogs as some sort of reflection of my own evil heart?
And then I took a slow deep breath and returned to reality.
No. Absolutely not! No way. I am like a really nice person who has totally devoted my life to helping people create deeper health and more joy in life. I am pretty sure I am not an angry and violent woman whose barking dogs are mirroring to the world my dark inner truth!
Puh-leaze! Who is this guy to judge me and insult me at first glance simply because my dogs barked at another dog? They are a reflection of me? Is that some kind of new-age spiritual teaching he got off Instagram?
This is the hazard of half-baked spirituality being spewed with a lack of understanding and deeper embodiment of the teachings. This happens a lot. Spirituality is for sale everywhere you look. We live in a time when you can open Facebook any given day of the week and see a plethora of quotes from the Dalai Lama or even Buddha himself over stock photography, a time where people wear spiritual catch phrases or deities on t-shirts and when teachers regurgitate insufficiently thought out psycho-spiritual innuendos on a regular basis in yoga classes all across the country.
Reading a few books or re-posting inspiring quotes on Facebook doesn’t make one an authority on Buddhism, yoga philosophy, or spirituality. And it really doesn’t make one an authority on strangers in the street. Or dogs for that matter.
As yogis and people just trying to live a happy and awake life, we must be careful not to fall into that ugly trap of becoming psuedospiritual, or supposedly “spiritual” people who quote one-liners and judge how “unspiritual” other people are.
It happens all the time. Like at a yoga conference when you show up with a Starbucks latte and people sneer at you. “Oh my God! You’re drinking coffee?” Or when you panic over your finances and your friend says “you really just need to trust the universe more.” Or when your boyfriend cheats on you and tells you to “practice non-attachment.”
To me, living a spiritual life is an invitation to step into greater tolerance of others – not judgment. It is a call to compassion – not pity. The spiritual life is to be kind to others – not criticize. It is to allow others to have different opinions, different food choices, to experience the full spectrum of human emotion – including anger – without labeling them as less-spiritual for it. To me a spiritual life creates deeper connection, not cliques.
Please consider: Does your brand of spirituality make you feel more connected to others or somehow superior to others? Can you more easily appreciate and accept peoples’ idiosyncrasies or do you judge and label them?
Whatever your path is, I hope that progress on that path looks more like increased acceptance, love, compassion, and kindness and less like judgment, elitism, and separation. That is what I am aiming for and I know it is not always easy. But that is the great invitation of spirituality: to cultivate an open and kind heart.
And please for the love of God, keep your dog on a leash. Because mine are punks. And they just might bite.