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Practice is a Wet Nose

Standing in the chilly morning air looking through the young beech trees and fallen white pines, the sky is slate grey behind the yellowing canopy of leaves just after dawn. Magic's ears turn like a radar in a war zone. We just stand there for what feels like a long time. We listen to the birds and the chipmunks and we smell the fresh cool air. We especially listen for any footsteps from the bear or deer both of whom like to visit his woods.

Magic is a soft dog. His skin and fur are soft. His ears are silky and the top of his head smells so good. He has a soft heart, mostly.

We've gotten in the habit of stopping on a particular hill during our morning and evening walks on the trail in the Abenaki Forest. We can see pretty far and I think Magic can hear every little thing happening in the whole forest and his nose paints a clear picture. It's like we're hunting. The stillness and silence is profound.

The trick seems to be the same as zazen. Just staying with the present moment. Following along. The forest can be pretty dramatic, even a tiny one like that.

The other day Magic ran off into the woods and I heard the loud scratches of claws bounding up a tree. I thought it was the bear (there's a yearling that hangs around). When I caught up to them the creature was on top of a dead white birch tree. It sort of looked like a bear but really small. Then I realized it was a badger.

Another time it was the bear. Magic just wouldn't come to me, so I had to bust through thick branches. The bear didn't retreat up the tree either. She stood next to the trunk in her shiny black coat and hissed like a cat at Magic who was fiercely barking inches away from her wet nose. Magic's backbone is made of steel.

Practice is like this for me. It's hunting. But the paradox and the trick is we can't really be looking for anything. If we seek something we are making ourselves separate from everything else. Standing and listening, taking everything in like a dog hunting in his woods, there is oneness.

For us though, we don't want to "tree" our emotions and our fears like wild animals. We're not trying to be rid of them or kill them. We just practice to get to know them like a dog knows the scent of a badger, without concepts without attachment. Becoming intimate with them and not rejecting them. Mujo taught us to welcome them all.

This is the practice to free all our emotions, fears, anxieties, stories, concepts, beliefs, attachments and aversions. First we must be as keenly aware of them as Magic's wet nose and silky ears are aware of the bear. With the subtlety to welcome all that is and the steel backbone to have the courage to face it all.

A bear pictured in North Conway village about decade ago. She was in the tree for several days and was celebrity for a while.

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