A Reflection on Skunk Stink, Expectations, & Wanting Change

A REFLECTION ON SKUNK STINK, EXPECTATIONS, & WANTING CHANGE
by Rev. Perry Dougherty

Last Tuesday night, I finally made it to a meditation class that I had been meaning to attend for weeks. Over the summer, my meditation practice suffered because of busyness, stress, and lots of change. I had set an intention for myself to reinvigorate it by finding a community of practice that would help re-inspire me.

I sat in the class and the teacher talked about the theme of aspiration—those things in life we aspire to do in order to achieve a certain outcome. In his talk, he explored the tendency that we all have as human beings to want to hold on tight to outcomes or conditions of our lives that feel pleasurable or good. Then, as we sat in meditation he guided us to noticing our orientation to the conditions of the mind, body, and spirit that come and go—those that are pleasant and those that are not. He encouraged us to greet the conditions equally, not trying to preserve or fight them but simply being with them. With all of my grand aspirations to get my meditation practice back on track so that I could feel more grounded, his teaching was a spot on reminder to hold my desires and expectations gently so that I may more easily embrace reality as I encounter it.

Even with these lessons in mind, on short walk home, I couldn’t help but feel proud of the fact that I had made it to class and glad that I was feeling so thoughtful and relaxed. As I approached my driveway, I slowly became aware of the stink of a skunk (a small animal that sprays a liquid with a terrible smell when threatened). I then saw a water hose and bottle of shampoo left out by our car. I began to piece the puzzle together, and as I turned the corner to see our front porch, there sat my husband with our wet dog tethered to him. My husband looked despairing and the dog seemed to share the sentiment.

My relaxed, contemplative state of being was certainly being tested, and my expectations of a relaxing evening had quickly been killed.

Our dog had been sprayed by the skunk directly into her mouth. She had then dashed into the house with skunk-stink saliva dripping all over the floors. Needless to say, we had a bit of a problem on our hands. I calmly opened the front door to figure out how best I could help, and the smell in the house was beyond anything tolerable—so strong that truly it felt hard to breath. My relaxed, contemplative state of being was certainly being tested, and my expectations of a relaxing evening had quickly been killed. We set about getting supplies to wash the dog and the floors. We spent nearly two hours de-skunking. But the stink, while perhaps diminishing a bit, stayed. It stayed on the dog, in the house, and on us.

The next day, my son got on the bus to school only to be greeted by his friend who promptly said, “Yuck, you smell like skunk.” Generally speaking, we all were surrounded by the smell and truly pitied ourselves for being in the situation. Eventually, we decided to take her to the groomer to let the professionals de-skunk her. With joy, I picked her up proud that we had invested in a permanent solution. And for a while it seemed we had succeeded in our de-skunking mission, that is until she splashed herself with water from her drinking bowl and the stink came out again. Yesterday it rained, and the stink persists a week later!

Asking the questions has helped me cultivate greater awareness of what is going on within me in regards to the skunk challenge of the past week.

So, this experience got me wondering about how we as humans confront persistent problems. What are the interior orientations we need as individuals when approaching persistent challenges? How do we avoid getting stuck in despair or frustration? And most importantly, how do we aspire to change while accepting the reality of the process of change?

I’m not sure I have answers, but I have determined that the questions are important. Asking the questions has helped me cultivate greater awareness of what is going on within me in regards to the skunk challenge of the past week. And, with that awareness, last Friday, I noticed that I’ve stopped clinging to my frustration with the smell. I’ve stopped wanting to go back in time to change the circumstances of the present moment. I still notice the smell, am aware that frustration emerges, and am resolved to continuing to wash the dog, but I’ve stopped spinning on the thoughts and therefore the frustration passes quickly. This is mindfulness.

And, so I ask you:

Are there conditions of your environment that feel difficult and persistent? 

How might this story relate to the experiences you are having with those conditions? 

What questions can you ask about your interior orientation to these experiences?

What are the expectations or desired outcomes that you are seeking... and could you hold them more gently?

How might some combination of effort and mindfulness help you as you pursue the changes you wish to see?