Gimme Shelter

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
Meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Rumi, "The Guest House”

Last summer, I was scheduled to teach about an hour north of Asheville. Friends had just moved there, so I took the opportunity to visit and spend the night with them. When I arrived, they explained that they have an old cat that has not only very poor vision but Alzheimer’s as well. The cat cries out at random times in the middle of the night because it wakes up, doesn’t know where it is, and can’t see. I pitched a tent and slept outside.

It turned out that the neighbor has a dog that barked for hours. At first I thought it was barking at me, so I tried to be very quiet. Eventually I realized that it had nothing to do with me.

Buddhists call mental chatter the “monkey mind.” Why can’t the brain just settle down? Partly because it’s like a dog. It’s been trained, over thousands if not millions of years, to bark at the slightest hint of danger. Intruder alert! Pretty soon, all the dogs in the neighborhood are barking.

Barking, then, is just a bad habit. In fact, it’s not really bad, just mostly out-dated. What can we do?

We can yell at the dog. We can put it “in the dog house." But the only thing that works is to either bring it inside, wait until it gets tired or distracted, or like the proverbial burglar, throw it a bone.

In a world of barking dogs, all you can do is to either distract them, go inside yourself, or bring them all inside. The first two options aren’t really solutions. We can only insulate ourselves or others from the world for so long. What does it mean, then, to bring the world “inside?”

To bring the world “inside" means to bring it into your heart. Give 'em shelter. There is room in there for everyone. Someday, you too will go blind and cry out, like a baby, and someone will take care of you.

The mind like is a barking dog.