Crocus close-up

It’s more than a bit ironic that this weekend’s Photo Friday theme was “Cleanliness,” as I spent the weekend tending (and cleaning up after) three dogs and eight cats while J is overseas on business this week.

Crocus with shadow

Tending (and cleaning up after) such a menagerie means you spend approximately an hour and a half doing pet tasks every morning: the dogs have to go out, various food and water dishes have to be refilled, five litter-boxes have to be cleaned, and three cats and a dog need their respective medications. In the evening, there’s another hour or so of tasks: again the dogs go out, food dishes get refilled, and various medications are administered. Folks with one or two pets might be able to let some of these daily tasks slide, but if you have a houseful of pets and don’t want to appear on the next episode of Hoarders, you really have to keep on top of your chores.

After spending this weekend doing the chores J typically does every day, I’ve realized how much like living in a Zen Center his routine is. If you live in a Zen Center, you spend about an hour and a half practicing first thing in the morning: first there are prostrations, then there is sitting meditation, then there is chanting. In the evening, there’s another hour or so of practice: again you chant, and again you sit. During the two and a half years I lived at the Cambridge Zen Center, this practice regimen quickly became routine: instead of fighting the schedule or complaining about how much time I “had to” spend meditating, I learned simply to show up for practice.

Crocus trio

This weekend felt like a return to old times…except instead of getting out of bed at 5:00 am to do prostrations followed by meditation, I got up at 7:30 to let the first of three dogs out, followed by litter-box cleaning. When you have a dozen pets relying upon you for food, water, and medicine, you can’t take the day off because you don’t really feel like cleaning litter-boxes today. Like meditation, the tasks of litter-box cleaning and pet-bowl refilling are mindlessly repetitive: while doing them, you have ample opportunity to leave your mind alone, and this provides a welcome break from the intellectual rigors of work and other concerns.

When you spend a weekend at home with three dogs and eight cats, there comes a time each afternoon when your chores are temporarily done and all the animals are resting. At quiet moments like this, the satisfaction you feel walking around a house of sleeping, contented pets feels a bit like the the surge of contentment you feel on a Zen retreat when, after dinner and a hot shower, you walk uphill to evening practice believing with all your heart that nothing in the world could be more blissful than the plain gravel path underfoot. When I first met J, I felt no need to teach him meditation, for even though he doesn’t practice Zen, I could tell J has his own practice regimen, the ritual of daily pet-tasks serving to ground him in a way that my Zen practice grounds me. Some folks refer to Zen practice as “just sitting,” and after having spent a weekend retreating with a houseful of animals, I feel confident that “just pet-sitting” works toward the same end.