George had an upset stomach last night. He woke first at 3:30 and gave that familiar, polite little bark that says: "Help me out here, please!" He's finding it a bit hard, now that his dog years exceed even my respectable count of human ones, to find the spring in his back legs that's needed to hop up on the bed where he makes it his custom to sleep with us. (I know. Bad dog habit. Bad humans. But what can you do? Besides, he's a King Charles, the ruler of his domain, and the king's bidding must be done.)
Anyway, he gives his little bark and I drag myself sleepily out of bed into the cold (it's uncommonly cold for Southern California: the night time temperatures are down in the thirties, just a few points above freezing!) and help him down to the floor in the darkness. He rushes to the back door to the garden and waits impatiently for me to put on a sweater and retrieve his leash: we won't allow him out at night without one, for fear he'll meet up with a raccoon or a skunk. Out in the garden, he takes a pee and sniffs purposefully around. It's clear that he's looking for one of the plants or grasses that he recognizes as medicine. Unfortunately, there's not much in the way of medicine for him in our back yard and I'm frankly getting cold, so I drag him back in again and hoist him back on the bed.
I try to get back to sleep but by this time I'm pretty much awake and my brain, as is so often the case, decides that this quiet moment presents a marvelous opportunity to take up certain problems that it considers to be unresolved--and in need of resolution. I watch it grab on to the tail end of one and play with it like a dog with a rag doll. I breathe. I tell myself I have learned how to handle this, and breathe again. The thought dissipates... but a moment later another one appears, and the brain latches eagerly on to it. I repeat the process. And so does the brain. It's not too long before it has the better of me and I find myself lying there... thinking.
George's digestion, meanwhile, has not improved. He too has made a valiant attempt to fall back to sleep, with no better results than I--though for different reasons. He asks to go out for a second time and this time I opt for the street, where he might have a better chance of finding what he's looking for. He manages a big poop, which must have been a relief, but the medicine eludes him. His favorite patch has been dug up and replaced by a bed of vegetables, which are no use to him at all. We find what I think, in the darkness, might satisfy his need, and he chomps for a while on a few blades of grass, not noticing the cold. He, after all, wears a fine winter coat year-long. I, however, am impatient--too impatient, as I'll soon discover--to get back to my warm bed.
I drag poor George back into the cottage and replace him on the bed, patting his back and telling him that it's time to get some sleep. 4:30-ish, now. And the brain refuses to acknowledge the wisdom of my mind, which keeps trying to assert authority and shut the damn thing down. There follows another half hour of problem-solving--not really, nothing ever gets solved this way--before George is up at the foot of the bed again, pleading for yet a third expedition out into the darkness and the cold. Last time, I took him up the hill in search of what he needed. This time, we head down to the bottom of the hill, where he finds a patch of the sharp-bladed grass he favors at such times of need. I let him chomp away for a while, then hit on the bright idea of feeding him some of the pumpkin (one hundred percent pure organic) that he eats with every meal.
It works. Back at the house, I pile a couple of forkfuls into his bowl and he wolfs it down. Then back to bed--I guess around 5AM by now--and, finally, off to sleep for a couple of blessed hours. It's New Year's Eve, I recall this morning, and I look back on my years of meditation practice and everything I have learned about training the mind to behave as I want it to, and am, let's say, bemused by a night in which I have been powerless to slow it down enough to get a little shut-eye.