Throw the Dog a Bone

By Jo Mooy

As we attempt to live virtuous lives and do the right thing, sometimes we need to take a breather, give ourselves a break and do something “normal.”

Many years ago a friend asked me to accompany her to a Weight Watcher’s meeting. I’d never gone to one before and didn’t know what to expect, but, as a show of support, went with her. After the obligatory weigh-in and pep talk, we took our seats near the back of the large conference room. About 75 dieters, most of them women, poured in to tell how their week had gone.

The instructor or counselor (she may have worn two hats) led the session, encouraging them to share their stories of triumph or failure. One by one the women stood up to tell the group about their difficulties with certain foods and how they had overcome an urge to eat something “not on the program.” Some of their stories were funny. Some stories triggered others to relate theirs.

Then one woman with a chocolate chip cookie addiction got up. She talked about doing well for two days after the previous meeting. Then the cookie-monster addict arrived. She walked past the cookie jar on her kitchen counter several times an hour. She touched the jar, opened it and smelled it. Then she left the house and went for a walk to calm the beast. In my ignorance I silently wondered why she had cookies in the house if they were such an issue. Her story continued with the explanation that her three young sons and their father loved chocolate chips so she had to buy them.

When she got back from her walk, she saw the smiling face of the cookie jar once more. She put the jar in the refrigerator so she wouldn’t have to look at it. But all the food was in the fridge so she had to keep opening the door. She managed to get through the evening until about 3 a.m. when the cookie monster called her. She got out of bed and went to the kitchen. She opened the jar and took out a fat cookie.

She described what happened. “I wanted the cookie. I knew I’d hate myself if I ate it. So I put it back. Then I took it out again. I wanted to eat the cookie so bad…” As her voice trailed off in this almost 20-minute story, my thoughts became vocal and I said out loud, “Just eat the damn cookie.” Audible gasps followed my words, until the instructor said, “She’s right.”

Thirty years after my only visit to a Weight Watcher meeting I stumbled on a story from a Zen retreat center. The story, which is actually an important Zen teaching, is called, “When the dog howls, throw the dog a bone.” It seems that when students or disciples come to meditation or retreat centers they’re usually filled with zeal and good intentions. At times, the disciplines, as well as the diligence of the practice, is so intense the student freaks out. This apparently happens even to those who have been practitioners for many years. The “dog bone” teaching gives an example of a senior student who freaked out.

This student followed the practices conscientiously rising early for meditation, then yoga, then a vegetarian breakfast, then more meditation, then chanting, etc. One morning when the center’s bell was rung for early meditation the student decided to sleep in. While the others were in meditation, he sneaked out of the retreat center and hitchhiked into town. There he bought a newspaper. Then he found a diner where he ordered a hamburger with French fries and a chocolate milkshake and sat down to read the newspaper. He said he wanted to feel like a normal person again.

He wandered around town all day enjoying the break from the retreat center. At the end of his day off he hitchhiked back to the Ashram where he was met by one of the teaching monks. He immediately confessed what he’d done, expecting to be tossed out. Instead the monk said, “The dog howled and you tossed him a bone.” The monk then went on to describe his own escape from a center years before, and the student went back to his daily practices.

As we attempt to live virtuous lives and do the right thing, sometimes the effort seems too great. We wonder if it’s worth it. We feel deprived in some way and then the dog begins to howl. Before the effort completely upends the diligent practices, take a breather. Give yourself a break and do something normal.

Eat a hamburger with fries. The world will not end. Better yet, “Eat the damn cookie.” One won’t kill your diet. Whenever the dog howls, pay attention to what’s happening and toss it a bone. After that, regroup, settle down, and get back to your work.

Jo Mooy has studied with many spiritual traditions over the past 40 years. The wide diversity of this training allows her to develop spiritual seminars and retreats that explore inspirational concepts, give purpose and guidance to students, and present esoteric teachings in an understandable manner. Along with Patricia Cockerill, she has guided the Women’s Meditation Circle since January 2006 where it has been honored for five years in a row as the “Favorite Meditation” group in Sarasota, FL, by Natural Awakenings Magazine. Teaching and using Sound as a retreat healing practice, Jo was certified as a Sound Healer through Jonathan Goldman’s Sound Healing Association. She writes and publishes a monthly internationally distributed e-newsletter called Spiritual Connections and is a staff writer for Spirit of Maat magazine in Sedona. For more information go to or email

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