Living with dogs; Why I like monasteries

Mr. Winston, Sophie and Rocky.


Yes, yes, I’ve moved again. The last place didn’t work out even though it was incredibly beautiful. The tribe that lived there was, well, not my cup of tea (to the say the least.) Well-meaning, maybe but from another universe I think. Anyway, I’ve relocated and am living with two, and sometimes more, of the cutest dogs, both personality-wise and physically, the little fur balls. They have far more character than some people I know, with a premium on honesty as well. There’s chickens out back too but their story is for another time.

Said dogs – Mr. Winston and Sophie – are Toy Pomeranians. As such, they come with an abundance of hair as well as attitute. Spritely little things, they trot around the house behind their owner, Barbara, who dotes on them shamelessly. She is truely an affectionate, nurturing canine lover, with a maternal instinct that is impressive and reassuring. Sidebar: sadly, she is also a recovering caterer, a talented cook and food presentation expert extraordinaire. Now this is very dangerous for me since I am a, how shall I put this, healthy eater! But I digress.

Mr. Winston and Sophie are the perfect examples of Tamar Geller’s “The Loved Dog”. There’s not a mean bone in their little bodies and they dote on Barbara in their own dog-like way as much as she on them. When Barbara comes home from being out, they bark and nearly turn themselves inside out with excitement. When I come home, they bark for a minute, settling down fast, knowing I am a cheap substitute at best. To say they are all bonded with each other is an understatement. Don’t get me wrong, they like me and, when I’m home alone with them they want to hang out on the bed with me, nuzzling and looking for love. Yet, I know I pale in comparison with their real human mom, even though I have quickly become attached to them myself!

In short, I love living with them all, this pack of three and now four. It’s truly amazing to be in the folds of such warmth and occasional foolishness, as I firmly believe well-trained and well-loved dogs bring out the best in people, surely the best in me.  And even though Barbara takes in other’s dogs for occasional ‘board and care’ (see Rocky below), each interloper canine benefiting from her great, good love and dog sense, Mr. Winston and Sophie are the apples of Barbara’s eye and have quickly become mine as well.


Escondido monastery

Escondido monastery

I’ve been reading “Gift From The Sea” by Anne Morrow Lindbergh recently, feeling even more affected by it than the first reading years ago. The beauty of it, her poignant insight, strikes a profound cord someplace deep. Take, for example, the following passage:

  • It is not the desert island nor the stony wilderness that cuts you from the people you love. It is the wilderness in the mind, the desert wastes in the heart through which one wanders lost and a stranger. When one is a stranger to oneself then one is estranged from others too. If one is out of touch with oneself, then one cannot touch others. How often in a large city, shaking hands with my friends, I have felt the wilderness stretching between us. Both of us were wandering in arid wastes, having lost the springs that nourished us–or having found them dry. Only when one is connected to one’s own core is one connected to others, I am beginning to discover. And, for me, the core, the inner spring, can best be re-found through solitude.

I can ‘get’ to inner solitude at home, when meditating or contemplating. I can ‘get’ to that inner core through achingly beautiful music, and be replenished. Certainly I can arrive there when in nature, either through the fragrance of trees, the squawks of early morning bird chatter, a flaming sunset, or when the sunlight strikes a lush mountainside at just the perfect angle. But all these environments or conditions require instantaneous connection through the a priori of solitude, even if lasting only an instant. And there’s no better, no more all-pervasive quiet than in a monastery, be it inhabited by nuns or monks, for they are the cultivators of quiet, the revelers in core connections through solitude.

In her book, Lindbergh speaks of the distractions of everyday life that constantly tug one away from that core, particularly woman, although man is not exempt. Distractions are something I am well acquainted with, having them imposed on me from family at an early age, but continuing to traffic them all by myself as an adult. Sadly, it is one of the very mechanisms I use to keep me from myself. Mercifully, I can never do it for extended periods of time without going quite mad. In fact, time spent on distracting myself from the nattering, chattering mind, from the minutia of daily living, from binging on Netflix and other devices I find myself intoxicated by, becomes seriously painful at an ever-shrinking pace. As a result, I reach a stage where reconnecting with the core becomes downright mandatory for spiritual and psychological survival. Hence, my trips to a monastery.

For Lindbergh, it was a trip to the sea. For me, it’s the quietude, the peaceful surroundings of a monastery that includes those who speak the language of solitude in which I am also fluent. Quite simply, it is the energy field in which we vibrate collectively and singularly at the same speed, recognizing one another without having to utter a word. Like Lindbergh, I have no desire to reside there for the rest of my life, nor did she at the beach. For there is a quality after replenishment, after connecting with the core that requires engagement with the world, to share that core with others as is my nature, and was obviously hers as well.

It takes practice to quiet the mind, devotion, dedication to a fierce seeking of that which we really are, not the world-speak person, but the utterly truthful soul. It took years to recognize I was disconnected from that core, and more years still to learn how to seek and cultivate a quieter mind so that I could reach the quietest place of all: the core, some call it the soul, or the real Self, as acted through the thinned down version of persona, personality. Over time, monasteries (among other things) have been an enormous facilitator of replenishment, of reconnecting, a vessel for interior hospitality feeding the interior life.

As it turns out, my last visit to a monastery was to Mt. Calvary, adjacent to the Santa Barbara Mission. As always, it was far too short a stay. However, the connection was made thanks to the miracle of no one else being there; it was just me and the monks, a perfect incubation for solitude, however brief. And while seemingly insufficient to satisfy the entire parched core, the very foundation of what I am, it was enough to replenish, reinvigorate, re-inspire it, enabling not only continuation, but enlivening me as a consequence.

After more than a month back home, I have become thirsty again though not parched. I fantasize about the next visit to Mt. Calvary, or to another place like it. In the meantime, I will practice disconnecting from distractions, however intermittently, until such time as more quenching is possible.

Rosalie Cushman is the author of two books, The Man Confused By God, a memoir about Holocaust survivor, Cantor and LA Garment District pioneer, Bennet Mermel, and One Grasshopper’s Journey, the true story of a young Chinese-Korean boy who endures the trauma of the Korean War as a 10-year-old child. Cushman is currently collaborating on a third manuscript with graphic designer Cassanna Ouelette, Vibrating At The Speed Of Love, a contemplative style meditation book expected to be released later this year.

After attending Boston University, Cushman graduated from Iowa State University in 1985, ultimately spending most of her professional life since then writing in one form or another. Now at a creative crossroads, Cushman offers her blog, Holy Ground, comprised principally of spiritually-oriented essays that are rooted in the context of ordinary living, examining both the joys and trials required to transcend a former definition of self that no longer applies. To that end, she believes elements of her journey are universal, capturing the heart of both serious and playful quests that are shared by all seekers of the Truth.

For more visit

Be the first to comment on "Living with dogs; Why I like monasteries"

Leave a comment