Archives for posts with tag: animals

meditation

What happens when you sit still? St. Francis attracted wild animals— the foxes and wolves and hawks— when he was sitting still, praying outside. When you sit still, things will approach you, things you cannot actively beckon.

When you sit still you can create something. The monastic traditions of different religions all agree on this. They have different ways of describing what you can create by sitting still by yourself, or sitting quietly still with others, but they are thematically similar: peace, understanding, love, nonviolence. I understand now that, as absurd as it sounds, meditation in solitude has an effect in the world. Not that it is a direct effect, or one that is easy to trace. But I understand now that something real is created by that serenity.

What you can’t do by yourself, no matter how peacefully you contemplate the light on the trees or the rhythms of your silence, is control what things come to you. St. Francis may not have wanted anything to approach him. When I am sitting calmly still there is something, someone, I want to approach me. But although I beckon, he won’t draw near.

When I reflect on my inability to control who and what approaches me in my moments of peaceful solitude, I feel despondent. I think about you, and the serenity you achieve. You radiate such calm and peace when you sit still that hummingbirds land on your shoulders, and tigers sprawl into sleep on branches over your head.

What happens when I sit still is meager, but it is life. An earwig falls from a leaf above me. It writhes along my leg, and I shiver and flinch. Then the bug lands, safely and alive, on the grass, and disappears from sight.

#9st-francis

There is another side to St Francis, of course, one that I remember learning about in grade school (parochial, suburban). He beat himself pitilessly, and denied himself every possible comfort. But he was gentle with animals. When we were in grade school they didn’t tell us about the self-mutilating part of St. Francis, just the stories about birds, foxes and wolves tamely approaching the gentle man in the woods. I was enthralled.

Is it contradictory that St Francis was viciously self-abusive and also gentle enough to overcome the instincts of wild animals? Maybe the two characteristics are not opposite, but convergent: the only thing Francis accepts in himself is his ability to be gentle and loving. Everything else about his humanity he loathes, demonstrably. His acceptance of the part of him that is gentle and tender is as extreme as the rejection of everything else about himself— his physical needs, his irksome body which he punishes as odious.

My afternoons are a torment. I can still be somewhat productive in the morning, but after my unnecessarily abundant lunch I sit on the couch with my books, and with Virgil. He jumps up beside me after I get settled, and turns around three times. Sometimes he ends up facing me, and he puts his muzzle in my lap with a sigh. He relaxes, and I relax into sleep.

I awake to dusk, and I gradually parse the colors on the floor: the partially torn cover of a book published by Princeton University Press.

But this brown and black creature loves me. This animal is completely unable to recognize a threatening gesture, like kids throwing rocks, or drunks who brandish sticks. Because of a lifetime of affection from me, he cannot comprehend malice. I taught him about tenderness, which is all he knows.