What Happens When My Wife Says Woof

Many years ago, I was listening to an experienced meditation teacher counseling a student about her practice. The student complained that every time she sat to meditate an owl started to hoot outside her window. She seemed frustrated and lamented that this owl was disturbing her meditation.

I remember thinking, “Ah, so perfect. This owl is a gift. You get to practice letting the owl be what it is. You can let the hooting happen and gently bring your awareness back to the breath.”

I was shocked when the teacher recommended that the student buy a pair of ear defenders to shut out the sound of the owl. I couldn’t believe it; I was incredulous. I actually felt a little angry.

This morning, as we sat down to meditate, Cindy and I discussed the owl scenario, and we brainstormed for solutions. She suggested, “How about putting the ear defenders on the owl?” This idea sent me into a round of belly laughing that knocked me off my meditation cushion. There is something perfect about that “solution” to the problem, and something impossible about the challenge it represents. “The next time it happens, go put ear defenders on the owl.”

I can see that owl in my mind’s eye, sitting there on the branch, with feathers ruffled from a struggle. It has a pair of bright-red ear defenders perched on its head. All it has to say is, “Whoo.”

Increasingly, my perspective on this owl issue has shifted. Now it doesn’t seem so much that the hooting of the owl is a challenge to the ability to focus, but rather that the hooting is actually the point of the meditation. You sit down to meditate and what is happening is the hooting of an owl. That hooting is silence hooting. It’s ironic to me now that the very thing that was being searched for by the meditation student was, in fact, the hoot of the owl. Yet the student rejected what she sought when it arrived. Worse still, the teacher recommended a way to shut the truth out if it came again in the future.

Cindy often says “meow” to me. I don’t fully know why. I often sing silly songs to her and about her, such as, “Cindy Dinh, Cindy Dinh, everybody’s talking ‘bout Cindy Dinh,” and she will respond to me with, “Meow meow, meow meow, meow meow meow meow meow meow.” Sometimes, I ask her a question, and she simply responds with, “meow.” This can be a little frustrating. When we’re apart, and we have not communicated for a while, she will sometimes text me, “MEOW?”

After Cindy’s best friend died when she was a teenager, she went through a period of selective mutism, a time when she didn’t talk at all. She still doesn’t talk very much. On the other hand, I talk a lot; I talk about everything. In the wild, cats don’t meow to each other. Cats have learned to meow only in response to humans. Meowing is the sound of cats trying to talk. I imagine that Cindy’s meowing is a way for the mute part of her to respond to the human sounds that I make.

After all that meowing, Cindy recently she said “woof” to me, and it broke my mind. I think it’s because I’ve been really listening to each thing, trying to hear nothing and everything in it. For some reason that sound of Cindy saying “woof” is overwhelming to me. The overwhelm doesn’t even happen to me; it happens to nobody. I also don’t know where it’s happening. It seems like it’s happening everywhere at once. Somewhere, something happens, and that something makes me buckle over and start laughing out loud. I can’t grasp hold of it and keep it, unless it shows up again as a memory. It’s just there for a moment and then it’s gone. I wouldn’t even really want to keep it. Who wants to hold on to being hit by a bus?

It’s like an easter egg hidden inside me. It’s right there, about to happen at any moment, and when it does my whole world turns upside down. It’s like a bug in the matrix. When Cindy says “woof,” the screen on the picture of reality seems to fuzz and glitch. I can’t make her say “woof” and I can’t stop her from saying “woof.” It happens when it happens, and when it does it seems to shatter my world, stripping the seams out of reality.

Perhaps, one day, I will notice that everything and nothing is woofing, even the owl, and even the meditation teacher recommending ear defenders.

An engineer-psychologist focused on machine intelligence. I write from my own experience to support others in living more fulfilling lives | duncanriach.com

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