A while back a series of problems surfaced in my life, one after another, all of them with serious ramifications. A business deal fell through, a money problem surfaced, two members of my family became very ill and the medicine each had been given wasn’t helping. The problems got under my skin and I watched helplessly as concern gradually grew into anxiety and anxiety devolved into depression. I worked at letting my fear go but the feelings of upset persisted. It was sort of like ushering an intruder out the front door and to the street, only to find him there in the house when I came back inside.
About three days into this struggle I went for a walk on a trail in the hills where people often walk with their dogs. I felt a sense of dread as I started up the trail because I am afraid of dogs. My uncle was viciously attacked by one when he was a child and my mother and grandmother conditioned me and my siblings to be on guard around them. I had hiked this particular trail a number of times with other people and every dog I’d ever come across had been friendly. Some even seemed to have smiles on their mugs, if that’s possible. But facts are irrelevant when the part of the brain in charge of fight or flight has been aroused by a troubled mind. And that day I was out alone, without the buffer a companion can provide.
For an hour I hiked the trail while my brain’s fear center scanned the terrain for the monster dog that had torn into my uncle’s face nearly 75 years before. The legacy of this old family trauma was still embedded in my brain cells, infusing the present moment with an event that had happened back when they were still making silent films.
Ironically, I did not see one single dog the entire way to the top of the trail. It wasn’t until I came through a wooded area on my way down. Then suddenly a large unattended dog appeared, bounding up the path, coming straight at me. My body froze and my stomach churned. My mind began feverously devising escape plans, while at the same time striking a fearless façade, which of course any animal could smell right through. When the dog reached where I stood he stopped and eyed me curiously, tilting his head to one side, as if to say, Are you OK, pal? Even in my paranoid state I could sense that this dog was gentle and meant no harm. I relaxed and said hello, upon which he immediately came over and nuzzled his head against my knee, coaxing me to pet him. I knelt down and we gave each other some affection for half a minute until his owner came up the trail.
“What’s your dog’s name?” I asked.
“Bingo,” she said.
Strangely enough, that’s what my uncle used to say when he found the solution to a problem. I told the woman this and she smiled and said Bingo often helps her solve her own problems just by making her feel more loving.
Her words helped me remember once again that there is really only one problem and only one solution. The one problem is fear and the solution is to have faith in love and to be at peace. By that I don’t mean emotional love or passivity, but rather the healing power of love and the enormous intelligence we tap when our mind is at peace. The last few days I had lost sight of the power but love eventually found me, as it always does. The very thing I feared on this hike turned out to be the one thing that loved me. It woke me up. It felt like a miracle telling me I wasn’t alone. It meant in facing difficult circumstances, I could count on a power greater than myself.
As I walked down the hill, I felt much better. The shadows that had dulled the land on the hike-up had receded and now everything was vibrant in a peaceful light that fell around me like silence. In its calm light all of my conflicts disappeared.