My Best Teacher

Named after the late, great Ms. Radner, Gilda is my very first pet. She came to us from a rescue operation in Denver while we were living in the San Juan Mountains of southern Colorado. We’ve had her since she was two, she’s now 10.

As with many rescue dogs, Gilda came with her own set of issues. To gain her trust, I immediately enrolled the two of us into an agility training class in Crested Butte. We attended once a week throughout that first summer and have been the best of friends ever since.

By the time Gilda arrived in our lives, she was already well-versed with the basic commands. She’s a sharp biscuit, so it wasn’t long before she was throwing me high-fives and reading my mind.

Aside from a certain person who pushes my buttons, I believe that Gilda is currently my best teacher. One morning not long ago, we were toying around and going over the basics again. I gave the command “Platz” (which means ‘down’ in German, Standard Poodles are German dogs after all), and instead of dropping to her belly as she’d done so many times throughout the past 8 years, she made an interesting choice – she gave me a high-five instead. I didn’t blink an eye. I threw my arms around her, gave her a playful hug and told her in my most approving doggie voice that she was such a good girl she could do whatever she wanted and I’d love her anyway! Not a second passed before I realized the lesson in what had just taken place. I immediately found myself thinking, “Wow, is this what it means to love unconditionally? Could I be this forgiving with my employees? My family? My husband? What would my life look like if I made that choice?”

In the January issue of The Current, we were asked to create a space in our homes that would lend itself to a few minutes of peace every morning. It’s in these few precious moments that we learn to anchor ourselves to our breath. We are simply providing the platform to create space within our minds. When there’s space in the mind, we might discover there’s more space in our hearts. It is through daily cultivation of this physical and mental space that we begin to notice changes in ourselves that far surpass the ability to touch our toes or stand on our heads. Perhaps we are slightly less irritated with the long lines at WalMart. Maybe we’re not so quick to tailgate the jackass that threw her cigarette butt out the window in front of us. Or we heed the small voice inside that encourages us to breathe deeply the next time the DOW drops another 400 points.

Count your breaths (inhaling, exhaling = one; inhaling, exhaling = two) up to four. Then begin again. When thoughts race in and carry you away, simply recognize them for what they are – just thoughts. Say silently to yourself, “Thinking”, and then gently bring your attention back to counting your breath, beginning again at one. I’ll be honest; I have yet to get past 2 before I’m pondering my retirement or singing some ridiculous jingle about shampoo.

How do we practice not flying off the handle when we’re angry? We sit. Everyday. We sit. This is what it feels like for the mud to settle, to create enough space before we react so the next right action can arise on its’ own. As we practice patience and forgiveness on our cushion, we’re becoming better equipped to handle ourselves in a more enlightened way the next time those sentient beings don’t respond to our commands.

Lisa Bracken teaches yoga at The Canebrake ( as well as at NSU in Tahlequah. Everything she needs to know, she learns from her dogs.

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