Photo: Zoë on a winter path.

My dog Zoë raced out of the dark woods. Her body split the night like an arrow until she rammed into a maple tree. She fell silent. Then her cries began. I ran to her crumpled body, her eyes were open yet vacant. She wailed as if her soul had been flung away, leaving only confusion. She seemed to be meeting the terrible question we all must face: When everything I rely on fails, who am I?

Zoë had always been confident. She was so tiny at two months old that I could pick her up with two fingers. But the first time she met Ranger—our one hundred pound Doberman—she had pulled herself onto her tiptoes and unleashed a defiant series of yaps. She grew but remained undersized for a Dobe. With the foxlike agility she leapt and sprinted through life, yet often lost track of her surroundings; skidding on ice; gashing her chest open on brambles; tumbling down stairs. We had visited our veterinarian for sprained muscles, stitches, and once a ruptured knee ligament.

So this time I ran my hands over her and checked for injury and concussion. I bagged up the waste that her bowels evacuated from the shock. Her cries diminished. But she could not stand. I went inside to get my husband, yet Ranger refused to leave. He stood guard over her until my husband carried her inside. Tucking her into her crate; we kept a close eye in case we needed the vet. She curled into a ball as if holding together the only parts that remained.

Winter drafted through the house and the baseboard heaters ticked quietly as I stroked her long nose. She looked at me with vacant eyes, remarkable for the lack of suffering, lack of connection, lack of hope.  All I could do was bear witness. I tucked the blankets tightly around her and considered that fear is something that company helps us bear; but ultimately we must face it alone. Gradually over the weekend she crept out of her crate, tip-toeing to the kitchen with her head lowered, peering around each corner as if something might leap out.

Before bed each night she had always run around the barn and to the edges of the woods; her last chance to secure the perimeter before bedtime. Of course she was running from canine instinct and training, but as part of the fabric of the Universe. Zoë, it seemed to me, had always felt that she was the one in control. The news that this was not the case must have been quite a shock.

The wise yogis would say that the fundamental nature of our Universe is that everything is already One Thing. One great bundle of energy released during the Big Bang; arising as myriad forms as humans and dogs and winter nights. From this point of view Zoë had not run into a tree, she had run into herself.

After a few more days she began to explore the outdoors. Her trot returned, then a gallop, and occasional sprint. Except at night. She would wrap around my legs and shy from looking at the dark woods. Her breath chugged vapor into the brisk air. I clapped my mittened hands.

“Come on, Zoë,” I said, “It’s too cold to stand still.” She pressed against my knees. A wind blew through the dried grasses and the wind chimes rang hollowly. I put her leash on. “Enough is enough. Heel.” With one snap of the leash her training kicked in and she walked at a perfect heel with me around the barn. She balked when the tree came into view and I snapped the collar for a light correction—pay attention!—and together we walked circles around the tree until she was so busy following my commands that she forgot to be frightened.

Over the next few days the frozen ground crackled underfoot as we explored the darkness. Soon she was off-leash again, but it would be another month before she ran with zeal. Sometimes I still catch her standing at the edge of a pool of moonlight. Her long legs prance in place as she peers ahead into the dark woods. She’ll snort and shake her head in defiance, only then releasing into a sprint.

Now instead of running through the night, she runs with it. Perhaps this is yet another example of spiritual awakening; these moments of fear that come when everything we count on fails. Stripped of our unshakeable ideas about ourselves, we are left to stumble in the darkness. We ache to feel our wholeness as part of the Universe; while craving the confidence of enjoying our individuality. Each experience in spiritual life is a doorway to exploring this facet of who we really are. It takes courage and tenacity to drop our worn-out beliefs in order to feel our underlying unity that is the One playing as the many.

And maybe Zoë revealed a new doorway for me, too; that to be a disciple on the spiritual path is to nurture my own soul and to offer compassionate companionship to fellow beings. There are still dark nights ahead for Zoë and I, but together we will walk confidently into the doorway of the night, straight on to the awakening of our souls.

About the Author:

Gita Brown is a wellness activist, musician, and writer. She is a certified Advanced Integral Yoga®  teacher and licensed Yoga for the Special Child® practitioner. Through her “Yoga with Gita courses” and podcast, “The Gita Brown Show,” her mission is to teach her students how to adapt the traditional practices of Yoga to bring more ease, wellness, and joy into everyday life. Gita started Yoga as a teenager, when her love of Yoga grew in tandem with her career as a classical clarinetist and music therapist. For three decades, she has taught Yoga, wellness, and music courses at colleges, schools of music, community schools, private studios, public schools, and hospitals. She is currently finishing final revisions to her memoir. The story is about how she repurposed her wedding vows into a yogic vow to live love as a way of life—a pilgrimage that endured even as her husband and childhood sweetheart battled end-stage alcoholism. She offers Yoga to students of all ages and abilities through online programs and in person at her home studio at Three Dog Farm in Kingston, Massachusetts. Learn more about her services by visiting: