“If you go slowly enough, six or seven months is an eternity—if you let it be—if you forget old things, and learn new ones. Even a week can last forever.”
Rick Bass, Winter

"In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer."
Albert Camus

Friday, January 13, 2012

Day 37: The Goblet is One-Third Full Meditation, Or: What I'm Learning from Writing this Blog

It's Friday the 13th, a day I'm fond of because, perversely, I always think the number 13 brings me good luck.

Yesterday marked the one-third point in my project, "Winter with Zoe: 108 Meditations on Love, Dogs, and Mortality."  I don't want to say that the time has flown because I'm trying to wrestle time down onto the mat and not let it run away from me as it likes to do.  But it is amazing how quickly we can zip through 36 days.

When I began this project, it was the last week of classes for fall term at St. Lawrence University, where I teach creative writing and environmental literature.  On Day Three: Pub Stress Break at the Chapel, I brought Zoe to campus for a dog-and-student love-fest.  That seems like a long time ago, now.  The winter solstice arrived when I was maybe two weeks into the project, and just yesterday I noticed that the sun didn't set until nearly 5. Did you see it?  It was very pink despite the ice storm we had here.  Streaks of brightness across a riverscape of nearly monochromatic black and gray.

I'm writing "Winter with Zoe" because I've been made to answer an awful question: What would you do if you found out someone you love, a family member, might have only a year or less to live?  How would you want to spend that year?

And what if that loved one was a dog?

What would you do differently?  What new things would you want to learn?  And what activities would you cherish more than ever?

Dogs tie us to the present, to living mindfully.  They show us that what is right in front of us--river, blue heron, snow, fleeing squirrel--is a now you see it, now you don't affair.  Dogs remind us that all we have is now.

In other words, dogs are Zen masters, with tails.

This summer, after I returned home from travels and teaching in France and India, I was eager to remind myself again of the beauty of my community, the North Country of New York State.  Through daily meditation, writing in my journal, and now in this blog, I hope to savor every day I have with Zoe, my dog, and indeed, every day I have on this earth, period.  I'm not in any hurry to grow old.

If you are new around here. other pages and posts explain the concept of doing something that enriches your life for 108 days straight, which is the number of the beads on a Buddhist mala and, I think also, on the Catholic rosary.  In August-December of 2011, I meditated every morning and wrote in my journal about what was going on--work, Zoe's health, dog walks, nature, discoveries--and I found that this process of sitting in meditation and writing for a few minutes each morning made me a lot less hyper and gave me an equanimity I'd never known before.  My insomnia went away.  I was rarely a grump.  I noticed beauty more often.  I taught better.  I wrote better, I think.  I enjoyed mealtime more.  And I had more fun with the people I love.

(See Day One: Why 108 Days? which is also the first official post.)

Some friends reading have told me they have launched themselves on their own 108-day projects.  One person is writing.  Another is keeping a journal--her first in a long time.  A few others are meditating as well.  If any of you who have been reading are doing something like this yourselves, please write in.

When this journal began, In December of 2011, I was beginning a second 108-day series, only this time instead of journal entries, I'm writing mini-essays and living life out loud in a way that still surprises me, and indeed seems out of character, but is widening my circle of friends and community in ways I had never expected.

Most of the people reading are from the States, but I've found out how to check the audience, and there are people in France and India who tune in (some of them, I think, are friends I made in these places) but also, for some reason, quite a few people in Russia and the Ukraine have been following the story from the start.  (I like to think some of them might be distant relations: my grandmother was from Bellarus.)  I have people reading regularly in the U.K., Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, and Canada.  Yesterday I had a reader from Israel and another from Morocco.  Just a minute ago, someone clicked in from Brazil.

Sending a post out into cyberspace is like that message you throw in the bottle into the sea, not knowing where it will wash up, only in this case, the results are immediate.  It's very exciting.

I understand what a luxury it is to have a dog and to love her to such excess.  And to have the time (sabbatical!) to explore that love on the page.  Time is the one thing we all have too little of--human and canine--no matter where we call home, or the condition of our health, or how we spend our days.

Writing this blog has also made me feel much closer to my students, many of whom love their dogs to excess as well.  For the young, loving pets is a way of coming to terms with their own mortality, which is hard to do when you are in college and you feel like every amazing thing is still before you.  On three occasions so far, I have invited talented student writers to guest-post for me.  For a recent example of a story of dogs and family and coming-to-terms, read Day 35: Rebekah's Dogs Teach us about Family and Caring.

In fact, until last week the post that had received the most "hits" was written by another beloved student of mine, Lettie Stratton, whose piece was not about dogs but about living mindfully. (Day Eight: Lettie Discovers the Zen of Orange-Eating.)

In my attempt to live more mindfully in 3-D, and here on the page, I'm exploring the beauty of the quotidian, the sacred in everyday life.  I'm writing about walks with Zoe, about tasty meals, about meditation, nature, people we love, students and teaching, and I'm also writing about places we've been--France, in particular.  Although Zoe's diagnosis is something to mourn, she's living well and we're having an excellent winter together.

Some of what I'm writing will probably go into a book, a dog memoir.  And some of what I'm writing will probably go into my ongoing travel memoir.  This blog is allowing me to rehearse my thoughts, and it's so nice to have the immediacy of the internet to do this.  My normal way of writing is to sit alone in my corner for five years avoiding sunlight and perfecting a paragraph before anyone sees it.

I'm spending this winter with Zoe learning, anew, how to live.  I feel so lucky to have the time to write this blog, and I'm very grateful to you, gentle reader, for reading, sharing, and sometimes sending in a comment.

Zoe is right next to me as I write these words.  I have to go now because she is very cute and I want to pet her immediately, instead of writing about her.

Photo by Tara Freeman


  1. woof. Petting is a good priority.
    I like the way you are summarizing at this point (a third of the way through) and I love how you connect past entries to recent writings, it helps me connect the dots.

  2. Beautiful Natalia! I'm on the same journey with my new blog; it's such a different writing process for me, and so energizing (At least for now)! I almost have too much to say now, and have to learn what's appropriate and what's not. The community, both visible and invisible, is becoming a tribe that encourages from the sidelines, and I think of them as I write. My dog Abbe is infiltrating my blog more than I thought she would; she's always been my ambassador!