I am part of a Zen sangha, a group of practitioners, called Suffering and Delight, for people dealing with chronic pain and/or illness, whether it be physical or emotional. Quite often, of course, when one has chronic pain or illness, emotional pain comes along for the ride. This group has been a life-saver for me, especially since, unlike many other things, I did not have to sacrifice it when I lost my ability to drive. I used to go to a regular Zen practice group which I could no longer attend, because it was over an hour’s distance from my home. The beauty of this group? We meet online, via Zoom video conferencing. So even when I moved to New Mexico, I brought my Zen sangha with me.
Every six months we begin a new practice period, where we focus on a different syllabus, a new angle of study. Some things remain the same. We always open the night with fifteen minutes of zazen, or sitting meditation. But from there, we go in all kinds of directions.
Now, we are looking at “radical self care,” and one of the assignments we were given was to introduce a ritual into our daily lives. Our priest, Beata, said it could be something as simple as bowing to your toothbrush before brushing your teeth in the morning. Each of us was invited to come up with something in our day that caused us to pause, and acknowledge an act in a new way.
I thought about this for a while, and then I realized I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I created a good-night ritual for Ripley.
Sometimes, in the scurry of daily living, with three dogs in the house, cats to feed, and my focus on working with Rocky, it is easy to overlook Ripley. She spends most of her day napping on the king-sized bed. Even when we come home from an outing, as much as she wants to run to greet me, she is the dog who holds back, afraid of being bumped and jostled by the others, especially now that her vision is failing. I wanted to carve out a time just for her, filled with respect and love.
Each night, after the dogs have alerted me for my medications and after they have all piled onto the bed, right before I am about to get into my spot, I go to the foot of the bed on my side, which is where Ripley sleeps, and I kneel down. She turns her body towards me. I put both hands up, hold her face, and, like a mantra, I say this phrase very softly, over and over again:
“Thank you for your years of service. May you sleep gently tonight.”
I stroke her chest, rub the inside of her ears, pull her close to kiss her nose. We do this for about five minutes. I give her one last kiss on top of her head, then stand, and get into bed, snuggling my feet down next to her.
We have been doing this for about a month. Ripley waits for it now, waits for me to come from the bathroom, waits for me to kneel. Her whole body leans towards me, towards the whispered words.
Sometimes Rocky gets jealous. I tell her, “When you are old, I will do this for you, too.”
(photos by Sabrina Temple)