My friend Gretchen Cherington described a profound experience she had over thirty years ago on last night’s Casual Buddhism. She was going through a divorce, raising teenagers, and running a new business. She decided to take a month off to collect herself. One day as she sat on her front porch, she became mesmerized as she stared intently watching an ant shuffle back and forth across the lawn carrying a bit of food in its mouth. As she did, she felt completely merged with this little creature, as if she was no more important or less important than the ant. It was truly the first time in her life that she felt completely connected.

Venerable Dhammananda described Gretchen’s experience in Buddhist terms—that crossing the boundary of being Gretchen or being the ant. “The wall of Gretchen (self, ego) fell away. That is the purpose of our practice, the Buddhist practice,” Dhammananda said. In fact, Gretchen had, by pure coincidence, achieved one level of meditation that many people strive hard to attain. “That letting go sounds very easy, but it’s very difficult and comes with a lot of practice,” Venerable said. Gretchen experienced transcending the “thinking mind to the knowing mind.”

I have had an experience similar to Gretchen’s when my world falls away, time ceases to exist, and I am fully absorbed in the present moment.  It happens when I am with my son’s dog Bubba, the friendliest dog I have ever met. When he curls up beside me, we both fall into a reverie of petting. I dissolve into the softness of his fur and the warmth of his body, and there is no separation between us. I become totally relaxed, as is Bubba, and we become one. Being with Bubba is like settling into a deep meditation, an expansive state of awareness of being connected fully with my experience.

When I descend into this expansive state, my heart fully opens and I am fully alive. It is not easy to quiet my mind and yet when I am sitting with Bubba, he guides me to a serene place. It seems to me that some animals take us beyond the gates of our minds into the vast world of nature, where thought dissolves into a world of calm. Our animals help us access that centered place within ourselves, and within the natural world, we awaken to life and the beauty that surrounds us.

There are many avenues to finding this awakened state, practicing meditation is certainly one of them. I meditate daily. My mind is so busy, the thoughts come like “popcorn” as one guest on Casual Buddhism described it. It’s not easy to quiet my mind and yet when I am sitting with Bubba, he guides me to a serene place where thought dissolves into a vast world of calm. Our animals help us access that centered place with ourselves, within the natural world, where we “awaken” to a wiser, gentler, knowing state of mind. Graced by the presence of a loving animal like Bubba, we can truly find that exquisite moment of benign connection with the universe.

Have you ever experienced this divine moment of connection with all beings around you? I would love to hear about your experience.