To sit idly, not doing, merely experiencing, comes hard to a primate … Primates feel pure, flat immobility as boredom, but dogs feel it as peace.
The Hidden Life Of Dogs by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
March 6, 2009
The great beneficiary of my unemployment has been my dog. She used to get one long walk per day, usually at night, and spent her days doing nothing. Now she gets two, sometimes three, walks, and spends her days doing … well, nothing.
Our routine now is to go to the bus stop with the boys, send them off to school, and then take one of our usual routes: east to the river and south to 38th Street, or north to 28th, or west to the grain elevators. Along the way she inspects whatever the melting snow and ice have left behind: not magnificent boulders and deep lakes like the prehistoric glaciers, but the putrid remains of squirrels, discarded fast food wrappers, and other unidentifiable but no doubt armotic refuse. Then it’s home for a quick bath if the mud was up, a dog treat, and a nap. She moves from sunny spot to sunny spot, finally ending up on the couch with her nose by the window, occasionally letting out a warning bark at a cat or squirrel. And then it’s time for supper, another nap, and her nocturnal walk.
At first I thought that she was relishing in her unemployment, but then I realized that this is in fact her job. A companion animal’s assignment, after all, is to be a companion, or at least a resident of a human abode. Employed house dogs are fulfilling their duties by napping, walking, and occasionally barking. An unemployed dog is a stray, doomed to wander aimlessly and live off the scraps in the alley–a busy life, perhaps, but not an easy one.
For the contemporary unemployed American in the white-collar corporate world, it’s not too different. Although we look busy enough when we have jobs, we’re more likely to be engaged in companion-animal activites: finding a comfortable place, letting out occasional warning barks when someone comes too close to our territory, pleased to receive occasional snacks. And most importantly, the nervous parts of our brain are napping, comfortable in the place we’ve found. We might be desperate, but quietly so.
Without the sedating effects of work, though, those nervous regions of the brain roam the alleys with fear and trepidation. Garbage we might have turned our noses up at a few weeks ago suddenly look like tasty morsels, and we scan nervously for other scavengers that might be moving in on the scraps we’ve scrounged. Our desperation tends to be quiet to the outside world, at least here in the Midwest, but there’s a growing chorus of despair in the interior caverns.
Finding peace in immobility, serenity in the moment, is something that humans, ironically, work hard at; my Buddhist dog has already found her Nirvana. I find that I need to fill those quiet hours between nine and five (especially from about one to three) with spasms of activity to keep the chorus quiet.