Zen + Dogs: Thanks-giving

tom-thanks-giving-sThis post is inspired by Robert Carter’s discourse on ethics in his book Becoming Bamboo. He integrates views from Western philosophy and Zen Buddhism. Zen practice is inseparable from ethics. It is a way of life, a ‘spirited caring and effective willing’.

Oct 12

  • Lesson from Tom: Dogs are attuned to their human’s emotional states and often mirror this state back to the human.
  • Tom says, “When Julie’s anxious, I get anxious and I don’t know what to do!”

“We got this amazing delivery of twenty pounds of pork yesterday!” she said. “We had the whole machine there and all the materials for making sausages!”

“It was incredible to dig your hands into the meat…!” he said.

I look at them and don’t respond except with a weak expression of interest. Greg, at my side, just says “Oh.”

“Are you vegetarian?” she asks.

“Vegan” I say.

“Ah” they both say in unison. “And you?” they both look at Greg. I don’t look but hear him say, “I live with her”, gesturing to me. He elaborates, “I eat vegan at home, but sometimes away from home…” his sentence peters out. Then, as though intending to deflect the attention, “the dogs are vegan too.”

Instinctually, I glance over towards the front door. Tom is there, mildly hyperventilating with wide eyes, giving me a look that says, “get me out of here!”

We are at Greg’s sister’s place for thanks-giving dinner. She kindly invited us over while we were in Victoria visiting my mother. She warned that there would be meat, but that she and her daughter would provide vegan options which they generously did. I often feel torn about going for dinner to meat-eating houses. It is uncomfortable for me to watch people prepare, eat and discuss the meat meal because it brings up images in my mind of animal suffering. On the other hand, I feel grateful that people go to the trouble of inviting and hosting. I usually offer to bring something. I try to look at these dinners as opportunities for small openings towards conversations on ethics. This time, the couple changed the subject to growing veggies, which I welcomed.

I take Tom and Sugi outside, sense the crisp damp air and feel better. They let me know that they’d rather wait in the truck than in the house. After, I return to the dining table to be seated.

  • Large browned turkey. I think about the appalling living conditions of turkeys bred for consumption.
  • Brussel sprouts with bacon. Don’t they taste great already? The image in my mind is of the crammed conditions of pigs who never get to see the outdoors, and the gestation crates where females are forced to lay on their sides for months nursing the piglets who’ve had their tails and other parts cut off without anaesthetic.
  • Mashed potato with butter. There are great alternatives to butter! I think about the male calves born into the dairy industry who are born and disposed of, or kept alone in veal cages for months before slaughter.
  • Apple pie made with lard. Seems that this would conjure a disagreeable image for anyone.

The whole evening, I practice meditative techniques of breathing, attention to the moment, compassion towards the other guests, but with mixed results. I continue to feel a small familiar cloud of despair hanging overhead…

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