I woke up at 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning, and as I got ready and went out for some early brunch, I accidentally stepped on dog poop in the hallway of my building. That’s quite an interesting way to start your day. Not only did I have to clean both my boots, but also the hallway carpet, leaving it free from any odors. After stepping on dog poop four times in a space of two weeks I can clearly see a pattern forming here.
Why aren’t pet owners more conscientious about taking responsibility for their pets’ behavior and random bowel movement’s needs? How many times do we have a similar experience outside in the street or in parks where pet owners just fail to clean after their dogs? Big cities everywhere have a proliferation of incidents like that, making the lives of the rest of the population miserable. Those ones who choose to not have a pet, feel frustrated, angry and somehow wronged by certain elements in their community that are protected by a social group that share the same pet lover credo that: “it’s actually not a big deal”. Well, it is a big deal. People should be responsible for the choices they make, and if you want to have a pet you need to take full responsibility and not let your beloved animal disrupt the lives of those people who are happily enjoying their own company and solitude. Try to talk to someone who has a dog about the “poop plague” that’s taking over the city, and they will quickly look at you as if you are against pets, some kind of abomination in the circle of a pet friendly city. I experienced that a few times. They just don’t get it that it’s not about the pet, but about them.
A woman who used to live in my building asked me if I could feed her cats while she was out of town for the weekend. She was quite attractive: tall, blond, fair, smooth skin, skinny body like that of a model. She looked incredibly beautiful when you would meet her at the lobby. Of course I was more than happy to help her out, being a cat lover myself and all. From day one I was in for a big surprise. Her house was a big mess: clothes all over the floor and clutter everywhere. But the worst was the intense, nauseating smell of ammonia and dirty litter. As I looked for the litter box and the food bowls, I had to literally tip-toe across the main room towards the kitchen, carefully avoiding the dried cat poop everywhere. I felt like walking on a land mine; luckily for me, the explosives were all visible. I just had to make sure I’d miss all of them. How can anyone live like that? I thought. I suppose your sense of smell gets so used to it that you just don’t smell it anymore. But I did.
I feel that the dog poop issue is actually something that reminds other heated arguments, discussions that frequently lead to frustration and animosity among neighbors and people within a close community. I’m quite sure that many cultures have a similar saying: “Religion and politics should not be discussed”, it is an old belief for sure. This pithy warning usually comes from the mouth of someone who has, suddenly, ventured into the intrepid waters of such subjects, or has witnessed other people’s boats on the verge of sinking. When can we have challenging conversations, with divergent views, without slicing each other’s throats open?
People become very defensive when you talk to them about certain things. We seem to hold our opinions in such high regard that we safeguard it at all costs. Are we incapable of accepting a view that’s completely different from our own without judging or thinking that we are really right and the other person is completely wrong? Are we really so self-centered that we think we have the right answers and the others don’t? What makes us so sure we are right?
It appears to me that our minds are really what get us in this confusion? We often believe what we think without even questioning, and we go on further by attaching words and labels to the things we are describing or identifying. Words are arbitrary symbols, but once it’s attached to an idea they actually color our perceptions of reality and define who we are.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” These are the words from the Gospel of St. John. Words stick to us like a second skin and they carry meaning beyond our imagination. I was always intrigued by the word “GOD”. In my Catholic upbringing, God was always a reference to some old, bearded man, dressed in the style of the Renaissance period. God was always caring, understanding, yet distant and intangible. To top it off, the Catholic guilt has a definite purpose in keeping the faithful sheep in their community so closely-knit that any discussion that will undermine the main tenets or dogmas can never be achieved. You feel as if you are the black sheep, the fallen angel, or the pariah who dared to doubt and question the established order.
I’ve always felt inadequate in the religious community. It was as if I wasn’t holy enough to deserve the peace of mind that comes from blind faith. I never focused enough, it seemed. I was too distracted with being a kid and later a teenager. I used to fall asleep during nightly prayers which, incidentally, lasted over an hour in a succession of tedious repetitions of litanies. The very atmosphere of church rituals bore me to pieces. The smell of incense, wafting from the single chain thurible, always made me feel nauseous and smothered. I felt the walls of the temple closing in on me and the feeling was of anguish and fear rather than peace. I felt giddy and looked forward to being home reading my cherished comic books over breakfast. God was nowhere to be found. I felt alone and unheard.
I was probably in my teens when a peculiar event happened in my life. I was being really stubborn, having a tantrum and behaving like a real brat. I hid myself behind the wardrobe and refused to come to the table to have lunch. I needed attention, I suppose. Next thing I remember, our neighbor, who was a self-proclaimed medium, came into the picture and dragged me from behind the wardrobe and started “exorcising” me with her incantations and trance-like groans. Looking back, I was not possessed, but the whole experienced scared the hell out of me, and prompted me to behave in a more “religious” manner thereafter, that meaning going to church without complaining and staying alert during the long nightly prayers.
I tried my best, but eventually the boredom set in again. I guess I was not pious enough. Once I went to college, my life took a different turn. I was free to read the books I wanted, and now my ideas of that God faded away. I was proud to announce I was an atheist. But that did not last long. The spiritual fire still burned within me somehow. I can say I have finally found that one God I had been looking for. It was all around me all the time, but the preaching, the candles and the smoke coming out of the thuribles would not allow me to see it.
I can say I had a dialectic experience with spirituality. It started with blind faith, it quickly moved on to a rebellious and complacent atheism, and then it turned into a constant practice of the spirituality within me. To me GOD revealed itself as everything there is, the very source of who I am and reality itself. The word god became unimportant. I freed myself from the constraints of the symbol. Instead, my experience of god is the energy of creation. In this sense we are all co-creators of reality. Reality is in a constant flow of change. The moment we are present with ourselves, and we feel ourselves breathing and being without thinking or conceptualizing, we are GOD, we are the energy that surrounds us all the time. In that space we are always safe.
There’s really nobody to ask or place to go to but within. The experience of God is found when we learn who we are and we make the effort every day to live mindfully, ever watchful, always observing. It is in our every step that we find the essence of God as the energy of creation present in everything. It is in that sacred space that we find peace. There are no guarantees in life, no promised land to be experienced at some other time. The time is now. We need to pay attention to our lives now because it’s really all we have. Every second counts, every breath, every step.
Our minds try over and over again to catch our attention by fabricating innumerable stories and attaching erroneous meanings to them. It is our task to untangle ourselves from this living hell. We are the only ones who can successfully accomplish this. We need to be a light unto ourselves, said the Buddha. It’s the function of the mind to store experiences and possible scenarios. We only need to acknowledge them, and move on. It is in this space that I find God every time in every situation; even when I feel tempted to resist and complain after stepping on a pile of dog poop.
Stepping on dog poop gives me the chance to be with myself and be in the moment. The first reaction is to be angry and complain. But then, some magic happens and I stay present, as if in a moment of meditation while cleaning the poop off my boots. It brought me to the present moment. It brought me to myself. It brought me to God. It brought me to the energy of life that lives inside me and keeps me connected with everything else. In God I trust. In Reality I am. With my Breath, I am present – even while cleaning dog poop.