What running with my dog has taught me about meditation

My dog Gigi loves when I take her on my runs.  Me?  Not so much.  But it's getting better.

You see, she pulls on the leash and chases squirrels, with no regard for the feeling in my arm.  She stops suddenly at mailboxes and piles of trash and random patches of grass to sniff, and I trip over her long torso.  She rarely holds a constant pace, instead preferring to sprint in bursts and then slow to a meandering walk.

I had the hardest time with meditation for years.  I hated sitting still and attempting to force my mind to clear itself and focus.  I would easily become distracted with items on my to-do lists, thoughts about how I wanted to redecorate the space where I happened to be meditating, and concerns with how much time was passing.  I then would be distracted by my propensity for distraction and would go down the rabbit hole of berating myself for being a bad meditator.  What kind of contemplative was I, if I could not meditate for even a few minutes?  How could I be a person seriously "religious" and "holy" if I could not spend a few quiet uninterrupted moments alone in focused reverence?  

I was a terrible meditator, until my attitude changed.  When I received permission from other so-called meditators to move my body as I meditated, whether running or chopping vegetables, I felt a bit freer.  When I realized that meditation would never be finished, that it was not an exercise that sought perfection but simply continuation, a weight lifted.  I could be distracted, acknowledge that distraction, and return to my meditative center.

Running with Gigi is a lot like my meditation practice.  It will never go perfectly, and I do not even always enjoy the process, but afterwards, I am satisfied (so is she).  When she drifts from me, I call her back and we reset.  Sometimes, like now, during the fall season, hundreds of squirrels seem to be out, and we must reset many, many times.  Her sniffing detours occasionally lead to profound discoveries, like the time she found a baby turtle on the side of the road.  In these instances, the distractions become the instruments of our refreshment and invigoration, ways in which we both see the world around us more fully and clearly; the run is no longer the primary goal or restorative medium.

Running with Gigi--and meditation--requires patience and openness on my part.  They are not solely about me; I must make room for that which is not myself.  When I succeed, I notice how light dapples the tree leaves that span miles upwards and outward, that envelop me so completely that I almost disappear.