Acceptance is the path to peace.
This is the story of Annie. She is a special dog. She is also my teacher. Several years ago Annie injured her back while running on ice and her hind legs are no longer working. Her owners, Jim and Bonnie, made a harness with wheels that allows her to go for walks and get around. Annie is special because of all the dogs in our retirement community, she is the only one that barks and lunges at me when I run by. As a runner, I know that most dogs pay little, if any, attention to me. However, the smaller the dog the greater the chance that one will be the “ankle nipper.”
Annie is that dog.
My history with Annie goes back several years to the first time I ran by her. She barked and lunged at me, to the surprise of her owner. Annie extended her leash with her front paws up off the ground. When this happened every time I ran by, I stopped and asked Jim if she barks at other runners or walkers. He replied, “No, only you.” Why was Annie barking only at me? I thought that I would try a few tactics to see if I could change her reaction to me. When I saw Annie ahead, I quit running and started walking. I thought perhaps Annie also wanted to run and knew that she could not. This did not work. I took off my sunglasses and made eye contact with Annie. Again no success. I even tried giving her a doggie treat. Jim and Bonnie’s other dog, Dolly, who always walks with Annie and never barks at me, ate all the treats while Annie continued to bark and growl. I was baffled.
The next time I saw Annie, I stopped and asked Jim if he had any idea why Annie barked at me. Jim told me the only thing he and Bonnie could think of was that I resembled the veterinarian who treated Annie immediately after her back injury. While this explanation did not feel quite right, I thought perhaps the underlying issue with Annie was forgiveness. Whenever I stopped, I could see the anger in her small brown eyes. It was time to ask Annie to forgive me for what I did not do.
Ho’oponopono is the Hawaiian practice of forgiveness. Certainly this strategy would work with Annie. I even recited the mantra on days when I did not see her while running. The next time I approached her on the sidewalk, I started my forgiveness mantra:
Annie, I’m sorry
Annie, please forgive me
Annie, I love you
As I neared Annie, as soon as she saw me, the barking started again. I tried this strategy several times with no success.
I was now ready to surrender. The next time I talked with Jim, I told him I was at a loss as to why Annie reacted to me with barking and anger. I mentioned there must be a reason that triggers her reaction. What Jim said next changed everything about my approach to understanding Annie. He casually mentioned that Annie was a “rescue dog.” The second I heard him say that I knew. I could feel it—a wave of knowing hit me. There was no doubt in my mind that Annie had been mistreated, either by a man resembling me or by a man who had forced her to run. Everything made sense now. Annie still harbored anger for the man who had mistreated her. It was now time to ask for guidance on how to address and ultimately heal Annie.
That evening in meditation, I asked for assistance from my Guides. What came into my mind was surprising. I was told to sit on the grass in the lotus position, close my eyes, quiet my mind, and focus all thought on saying “I love you, Annie.” I was told to tell Jim to wait a few seconds, and then let Annie go, to no longer restrain her with the leash. Finally, I was told to trust what would happen next.
It was several months before I saw Annie again because Jim and Bonnie had taken a summer trip. We met again on the boulevard shortly after their return. As expected, Annie started barking as soon as she saw me coming. I stopped my run, asked Jim if he had a minute, and then told him about my plan. After checking the narrow strip of grass between the street and sidewalk for fire ants, I assumed the lotus position, closed my eyes, and proceeded to send thoughts of love Annie’s way. I thought the flow of adrenaline from running might impair my concentration, but I was immediately able to relax and focus. What happened next was amazing. At first Annie continued to bark, then the bark turned to a growl, and then the growl ceased. It became very quiet—no sound at all from Annie. After a minute, I opened my eyes. Annie and Dolly were both sniffing around as dogs do, but neither was paying any attention to me sitting on the grass. I got up and talked with Jim. During this time, Annie never barked or growled. She also did not bark when I resumed my run.
During that evening’s meditation, I asked my Guides for an explanation of Annie’s behavior. What came to me was: “Anger cannot exist in the presence of Love.” Was it really that simple? Could all the anger that Annie had expressed over the years be resolved so quickly? I would have to wait until the next time I saw her.
Two weeks later I saw Annie again. I stopped my run and approached her. Jim did not restrain her, so she was at my ankles, barking and growling. I immediately sat on the grass and offered her my palm. Annie sniffed my hand, growling, but was not as aggressive as before. I thought in my mind, “I may look like him, I may run like him, but I certainly don’t smell like him!” Then I reached over and touched her head. She immediately backed up, but her barking and growling was now more subdued. Was I making progress? When I asked my Guides why it was taking so long, I heard: “Just like humans, she doesn’t want to give up her story.”
It would be another month before I saw Annie. I immediately sat on the grass, but Annie was barking and growling at me again. Any headway that had been made in the past was certainly gone now. Jim handed me a doggie treat, which Annie promptly rejected and knocked from my hand. On my run home, quite discouraged from the encounter, I again asked my Guides.
However, this time I heard nothing.
It would be over a month before I saw Annie again. When I did, she was back to her barking and growling. Then, unsolicited, in the “quietude” of my next run, a realization came to me. I was so caught up in my attempts to “heal” or “fix” Annie that I had missed her lesson for me—the lesson that I was to accept Annie just as she is! If Annie barks at me – so what? If Annie doesn’t like me—so what? The part of me that wanted to change Annie is far different than the part of me that knows that acceptance is the path to peace. I have now chosen to honor Annie just as she is, barking and all. When I see her while running I still tell her she is “special” and say “I love you Annie.” If she wants to bark at me, that is okay because that is who she is. If she were to stop barking, that would be okay, too. It really doesn’t matter. The lesson has been learned; and for that I will always be thankful to my teacher and special four-legged friend.
Steve Priester’s spiritual journey has included A Course In Miracles, Zen, and mediumship. He teaches Choosing The Spiritual Path at Fairy Dust Crystals and Such in Belleview, FL. He has been a runner for over 50 years. Steve can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.