What’s in a Name?

zanshinpuppytroubleI almost dread saying his name when people ask!  Well almost.  I always say it and then spell it because it is a word most people have never heard before.  

His name is Zanshin.  Z A N S H I N

It’s literal meaning is “left over or remaining heart/spirit.  I have heard it called “the spirit that remains”.

All of the dogs that are a part of my family come to me from serindipitous origins.  I believe that they come to usher in a new direction or new life lessons that I am ready to undertake.  Zanshin is no different.   

I was not planning another puppy, I did not need another dog.  I was too busy for another family member to care for and yet he is here with me now.  

I admired the litter on Facebook, a breeding that was a half sibling to Venture.  I was very interested in another son from the amazing sire Chex and here was one that had been bred to a dog with lines I had been seeing and admiring for some time.  When the breeder asked if I was interested I have to admit I was immediately intrigued.  I honestly did not have room in my car for another dog and the care of my 14 yo Border Collie Shen had been exhausting over the last 6 months.  I considered it but ultimately decided that it was just too much and that I was going to tell the breeder thanks for the offer but I was going to pass.  

A big part of my decision to not take a puppy was because I felt obligated to spend as much time with Shen during the last of his time with me.  Shen came to me when I really needed him.  I had lost the first dog that had been my own, Buck, and spent many days missing him and trying to come to terms with his loss.  One of the most profound memories of my life was holding Buck as he died and seeing the “light behind his eyes” go out as he left.  That night I had a dream that Buck was coming towards me in a field and running with him were several red Border Collies.  I had never seen red Border Collie at that point and really did not make much of the dream until I met my first one, a fabulous boy named Todd owned by Rosie Sutherland.  

It was a few years later that I was reading the book “The Well Connected Dog” and when I saw the word Shen I got chills from head to toe.  In the book they describe the Shen as, “the spirit aspect of the Chi”.  I remember thinking, “what a cool name for a dog” and made a note to remember it.  I was in massage school at the time and went to class the next day and asked the instructor what his interpretation of the Shen was.  When he said, “some call it the light behind the eyes”, I knew it was time.  A few months later I had my red boy.  

While this story is about Zanshin and what his name is about, I just cannot separate it from who Shen has been for me.  He has been a life changing dog and as a friend put it, “If he were a human there would be a restraining order!”.  He has been my rock, my soulmate and my support for the last 14 years.  

It was shortly after seeing that litter on FB that Shen really took a turn for the worse.  He grew increasingly weaker and stopped eating. He got lost right next to me and would run about the house looking for me even though I was right beside me.  I could not take him off leash because he would run and try to find me and have no idea where he was or where he was going.  He broke my heart on a daily basis with each and every new symptom that presented and showed that our time together going forward was short.  I cried all the time. I would lay on the floor with him for about an hour every night.  I would watch him breath, and hold him and I would talk to him about the adventures we shared, the lessons he taught me and the bond we would always have.  We talked about how he changed my life and brought me from someone who did casual Agility for the fun of it, to someone who would spend their life working on helping others learn about the sport and the bond that was available to them if they approached their training with an open mind, an open heart and a willingness to learn from the dog’s perspective.  

I made the decision to let the idea of the puppy go when I logged on to FB with a cup of coffee in my hand.  I was reading a few posts when I saw post from a friend that she’d run into some scary situations while traveling.  One of the responses was from agility photographer Ken Gee.  Ken advised her to remain vigilant and present at all times and referred to a state of awareness in Martial Arts called Zanshin.  The word struck me for some reason and I had to look more deeply into the meaning. 

As many of you know, I own The Spirited Dog and all of my dogs are named with some sort of reference to my own spiritual journey. There is Shen (Sogn Valley’s Spirit of Kandu), yes Nicole you can do!  Bliss (Sogn Valley’s Spirit of Contentment), yes Nicole you can be happy!  Venture (Off On A Spirited Adventure), yes Nicole you are a wanderer and it is time to head west!  Seeker (Circle S’s Seeker of the Spirit), yes Nicole you can heal and find that spirit inside again!

The first site I visited to explore the meaning of Zanshin had the heading Zanshin, The Spirit That Remains  The second I saw that heading I had a sense that there was something bigger happening here.  I looked at Shen lying at my feet breathing softly, staring up at me and I knew he was sending me something.  

In this blog the writer states, "To me, zanshin conveys the "fighting spirit" of the individual after the fight is over.  If victorious, there is a forward-looking awareness that does not lose focus by the victory.  If defeated, there is an indomitable spirit that is evident, with honor and grace."  She goes on to say the she used this concept in her own personal struggles to help her “stay the course”.  It is a state of awareness, readiness for anything.  Calm and centered and prepare to act at any moment.  

The second site I visited was a martial arts site.  They describe the Zanshin as a combination of several Fundamental elements.  In english it is translated as Posture, Eye Control, Engagement at a Distance, Focused Energy and Connection.  In it’s more advanced form you also add the elements Decisive Force, Essence of Technique and Intuition and Awareness.

Now if that does not sound like a recipe for successful agility handling what does?  I could not believe the similarities between this practice of martial arts and the Elements of the One Mind Dog philosophy!  It was as if the challenges I faced in my training were all being spelled out for me on this website.   

The next site I visited on the advice of a friend described Zanshin as a Buddhist concept.  They defined it as the state when the mind is fully vigilant and aware.  The mind is still without attachment and is totally present in every action and even movement.  This really got me.  I has recently come to realize that this was my number one issue with my agility competing.  I struggle with staying in the moment and maintaining focus throughout the course.  I am easily distracted and have a hard time focusing on making my body move in the manner I would like it to.  I have spent months working on this and have gotten pretty proficient on shorter sequences but am always working on trying to find ways to improve.  

I am now working on a few practices that help with this kind of alertness and I hope that little by little I can continue to improve my focus and sustained awareness.  The end result they suggest striving for is to realize that there are no ordinary moments.  Every moment matters!

So there I am, reading all of this, realizing that life is short and our time with our dogs is even shorter and that when the universe sends you a message, you should pick up on it.  I have changed my work schedule to give me more time and energy for my self and my dogs, I recommitted myself to improvements outside the agility ring like hitting the gym and yoga and meditation classes to work on my own Zanshin and I sent the breeder an email.  Ok I am in.  I just have to get a bigger car!

Here we are, about 6 weeks later and Zanshin is playing at my feet.  It is really funny.  Although I did not pick him out of the litter, he looks so much like Shen it is uncanny.  I feel as if Shen has played a part in bringing Zanshin to me and that a part of him will remain in that puppy forever!  He is bright and beautiful and smart and loving and so attached to me already.  About a week after my decision to take him, I switch medications for Shen and I am thrilled to report that he has bounced back in an amazingly energetic way.  He is bright and happy and hungry and stronger than he has been in months.  

I am truly blessed to have these amazing Spirited Dogs in my life.  

Oh and I get it.  I am a single woman with 5 dogs.  I am one trailer and porch swing away from being one of the crazy old dog ladies.  

I guess if the shoe fits…..put them both on and run!