This is our dog, Harvey. He’s not as ferocious as the Rottweiler that gave chase to me on the trail three weeks ago, but I needed a dog photo to go with this story, so Harvey’s filling in. Even if I knew where to track down that Rottweiler, I doubt he’d sit nicely for a portrait, given our recent history.
I was about halfway into a late-afternoon run a few Tuesdays back when I saw a man walking three dogs about 50 yards up the trail.
This run started, as many do, from my front door and continued down the country trail for five miles. At that point I reversed course for home to make it an even 10.
Doubling back like this can make for some puzzling interactions with fellow trail users who happen to be at the halfway mark. I’ll run toward them, and as soon as I get within a few feet of them, inexplicably hightail it in the opposite direction. It plays out like a Pepé Le Pew cartoon – I wonder how many people have given their armpits a sniff test upon my hasty retreat.
Even more awkward is when I encounter someone just before the halfway point of my run. That means I’ll be running past them on my way out, and then pass them seconds later as I start my way back home. When that happens, I’ll usually extend my run a bit further, lest someone mistake me for some creep who’s circling them like a vulture.
I met up with the guy and his three dogs at about 4.9 miles into my run, which meant I would be coming up from behind them about two minutes after the first time I passed them. The dogs were gorgeous and seemed very well behaved, and I had no reason to think they’d act up. Still, I figured I may as well give the guy a heads up so the animals wouldn’t get spooked.
“I’ll be coming up behind you again in a couple of minutes,” I said with a wave, which he returned.
Minutes later, he could hear me shuffling closer from behind him on my return pass, so he put the dogs back on their leads and kept them to the right side of the trail to make sure I had plenty of room to get around them.
“Thanks,” I said, giving another wave.
About two minutes after that, while stepping around small frozen puddles that had formed inside the muddy imprint of horse hooves, I heard a chain rattle and stones being kicked up.
I looked over my shoulder to see the Rottweiler, 40 feet away and closing, bolting toward me at top speed. His owner and the other two dogs were nowhere in sight.
Turning to face the Rottweiler, I backed my way to the edge of the trail, near a tree I figured I’d be able to climb if things got ugly, and not too far from a baseball-bat-sized branch I could start swinging if things got really, really ugly.
The dog, now a few feet in front of me, snarled as he paced back and forth.
Thankfully, his owner came into view, about 50 yards up the trail. He jogged toward us with one fist held high in the air, and shouted something I couldn’t make out right away.
“Do this!” he yelled, pointing to his fist. “Raise a fist like this and tell him to sit!”
So I did. But I guess my delivery needs work, because it made the Rottweiler more agitated. He started mock-biting at my heels, taking big gulping chomps out of the air. I could feel the dog’s breath hit the hair on my legs.
It was clear I wouldn’t be able to calm the dog down by myself, and that it would be at least another 30 seconds before the owner was able to physically put himself between me and the Rottweiler and bring the dog under control.
I decided that, as long as the dog didn’t make any physical contact with me, I’d wait things out. If it did, I’d make a run for either the tree or the makeshift weapon, depending on how the dog came at me.
Fortunately, as is often the case with stories involving Buddhists, the problem just kind of dissolved without the need for intervention on my part. The owner grabbed hold of his dog and reattached the leash, and I finished my run.
The experience has reinforced for me not just the value of practising mindfulness, but the value of practising it earnestly and consistently.
I’ve read a lot of articles written on mindfulness. Some promote it the same way one might pitch an aromatherapy session or a mud wrap at a spa – something that can help you feel more relaxed and reenergized.
Mindfulness practice can help cultivate a sense of ease, to be sure, but it encompasses much more.
My recent run-in with the Rottweiler highlighted two other ways (of many) mindfulness practice – or paying attention to what’s going on in the present moment – is helping me both on and off the trail.
The first is that it opens my eyes – and ears – to potential dangers.
When I took up running, I would have sooner skipped wearing shoes than go without earbuds; nothing passed the time like blasting my brain with music.
As I put on more miles and shifted from tolerating running to actually enjoying it, the tunes tapered off. I left the music player at home for good when I began approaching running as a form of spiritual practice.
Paying closer attention to the sights and sounds around me hasn’t only made running a richer experience, but a safer one.
I’m certain if I were sporting a pair of earbuds a few weeks ago, I wouldn’t have heard that Rottweiler come at me from behind. I can’t say for sure that he would have acted more aggressively if I had kept running, oblivious, instead of stopping to face him. But I’m inclined to think I was at least better off being aware of the threat.
A second way mindfulness served me in that situation was by helping me see the choices I had.
When that big dog started growling at my heels, my brain served up a shot of adrenaline and made it a double. I felt a sudden urge to either scoot up a tree or pick up that branch and swing for the fences.
But mindfulness practice has helped show that being reactive in a stressful situation isn’t the only option.
Sure, I was on edge when that dog started flashing his teeth. But there wasn’t a second, as I was waiting for the Rottweiler’s owner to get between us, that I felt like I was out of choices. The decision to wait, to refuse to react unless the situation escalated, ended up serving me well.