The difficult way

Max doesn’t think things through…almost ever.

And often that gets him into some peculiar situations.

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It’s almost as if he has a knack for doing things the most difficult ways…but at least he does it in style.

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While I am usually confused by how and why he gets in those situations, he has also taught me that even the difficult way still accomplishes the task. He has taught me that there are many ways to do things or think about things and that my way, though it may be most comfortable for me, is not the only way and sometimes not the best.

For I am sure he probably has as much or more fun doing things his difficult way as I do in mine.

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And he has taught me that when I look around the world and see things working out in a long, slow process, I can still retain hope that things are progressing, even if in the most difficult ways.

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Max also sometimes needs a little assistance when he gets into these situations and has taught me that we can be there for each other when we get stuck.

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My oh my.

I still wish we could all work out our tough situations, whether individually or together, in quicker, easier ways, but Max has at least taught me that there is a way through even the most convoluted circumstances – we may just have to fall down a couple times and depend on others to pick us up.

So thank you Max for providing entertainment when you do things in an unnecessarily difficult way. And thank you for teaching me that there are many ways through tough situations and that we can be there for each other to help get out of them.

Forgiveness is hard

Max has a problem. He eats things he shouldn’t, particularly poop.

Perhaps I am forcing my human point of view onto natural animal actions, but I just can’t come up with any good reason to let him eat other animals’ poop.

And Max’s problem has only gotten worse over the past several months. Every time we go outside he tries his hardest to eat as much poop as possible.

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Usually he is on a leash, so I can control the intake. I don’t like doing it, but I have to keep pulling him away and stopping to yell at him when I have lost focus and he steals a chance to grab a bite. (After all this, there is no way he can think that action is acceptable.)

But sometimes we go to a little dog park and I let him off leash. Every time I think, maybe he will just play, maybe other dogs will distract him, maybe he will be too eager to chase a ball. And every time I am wrong.

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Just yesterday when we were at the dog park he completely ignored the other dog who wanted to play so he could roam around and find all the nasty treats laying around. After following him around for several minutes and pulling him away when he went in for the bite, I finally had enough and we left.

On the way back I was frustrated. I was frustrated with Max, who is a good dog overall, because no matter what I do or say in this matter he disobeys me. And I was frustrated with the people who don’t clean up after their pets. There are even little bags and bins provided! At least Max’s behavior can be explained away by natural instinct.

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But as we continued walking, I realized that in addition to researching new ways to prevent a dog from eating poop, I had to forgive Max. And as much as I hated to admit it, I had to forgive the people who don’t clean up after their pets.

When I held onto that anger it only hurt my relationship with Max more. A part of me didn’t even want to be around him for a while.

Don’t get me wrong, I will continue to be angry about the whole poop eating situation, and I think that is good and natural. But I also learned that forgiveness is necessary for me to deal with the situation in a worthwhile, loving way.

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And Max has taught me that forgiveness is not a once and done thing. I have to forgive him for trying to eat poop every time. But that’s what makes it such a powerful force in our relationship.

I choose to forgive Max over and over again despite what he has done and is doing. I choose to love him even with his continual disobedient behavior. Granted Max’s behavior does not harm or effect me directly, in which case forgiveness would be much harder yet also much more meaningful. Still, these little forgivenesses are also important in sustaining and enriching our relationship on a daily basis.

And this is not purely a let it go or shake it off sentiment. I don’t forget or look past what he has done and I don’t ignore the negative emotions that arise in me. Yet, in spite of all that, I choose to love Max, over and over and over.

So thank you Max for teaching me that forgiveness (to whatever degree it must be extended) is hard, but worth it, especially when it must be extended over and over. Thank you for teaching me that despite my frustration, I can still choose powerful ways to sustain our trust and love.

Routine

Max and I have a pretty established daily routine at this point.  Everyday is a similar rhythm of walking, feeding, playing, walking, feeding, playing…

And yet, Max seems to be endlessly excited about it. It is as if each time we are discovering or experiencing something truly new. Maybe he absolutely loves the routine or maybe he is able to look past the structure of the day and discover something new within the activities.

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I, on the other hand, often get bogged down by routine. Whether it is the routine of living with Max (which does take out a lot of spontaneity from my life since I have to come back and take care of him at certain times of the day) or the routine of work, it seems my life is smothered by endlessly repeating cycles of activities.

Granted, my work is often not routine, and even this week has been refreshingly chaotic, but through most of the year it tends to settle into a structured progression of tasks. While this is often for the best since I have to plan regularly scheduled weekly events and the routine of tasks throughout the week allows me to plan efficiently, it can begin to feel rather mundane.

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But I am still struck by how Max, who has an even stricter routine than my own, can not only refrain from being bored in it, but can even find joy.

Max has taught me that even in going to similar places at similar times to do similar things for similar reasons every day, he can still experience an exciting newness.

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And I think it is because Max is attuned to the details of dirt where exciting little things happen behind a thin veil of brown, boring mundaneness.

Max takes the time to really explore the nuances of his surroundings no matter how routinely he experiences them. And so Max is immersed in the exciting newness of the world – a newness that breaks into all structures.

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Max walks the same paths each day but seeks new ways to walk them, new smells to smell, new sights to see. He eats the same food everyday but, through what I believe is a high level of gratitude, encounters it with renewed appreciation and a joy for the life and satisfaction it brings him. And he plays in the same place with the same person each day, but finds new adventure in those moments and new ways to share and experience love.

So thank you Max for teaching me how to find newness in routine. Thank you for teaching me to be attuned to the details of dirt so that I might begin to transform my perception of the mundane to discover the exciting little bits of newness all around me.

Being Barked At

I often wonder how Max perceives the world. Both how he actually senses things and also how he understands all that is going on around him.

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I have wondered this about all animals, but I am especially intrigued by Max because he is such a chill dog. Sure, he gets riled up when he is ready to play, he obnoxiously seeks attention, and he is very eager to smell new things on walks, but in general he has a very even temperament.

For instance, Max encounters other dogs pretty frequently on our walks. Just this morning we walked by three dogs whom all barked very ferociously at Max. The humans walking these dogs had to pull tight on their leashes and walk well out of our way.

The ferocity of the barking startled me each time, but Max trotted right on by. He noticed it and seemingly acknowledged the other dogs, but he neither ran from them nor returned their barking.

This is something for which I am incredibly grateful as Max’s human companion. I rarely have to hold him back unless he really wants to play with another dog and I never have to scold him for barking at others ferociously.

But today I also learned something from Max’s reaction. In the face of a rather chaotic encounter where others are barking at him, Max retains a remarkably centered peacefulness.

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Granted, I do not know all that is going on in those interactions between dogs, but from my human point of view I see much worth applying to my own interactions with others.

When I enter chaotic situations and face those who oppose me or ideas and beliefs I hold dear (whether this is a face to face interaction or, as seems increasingly the case, on the internet), there are two reactions that immediately bubble up within me.

First, I often want to return the barking that is directed at me. I feel that power or control in the situation can only be gained through being louder. I want to fight back. Second, I want to run away and put the situation behind me. I feel like it is a pointless encounter and nothing good will be gained from it. I want to flee.

I don’t think it is a coincidence that those evolutionary responses of fight or flight are experienced even in non-physical encounters. And yet, neither option really deals with or helps the situation.

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So, I come back to Max, who has taught me a different way of responding. Max has taught me to encounter the barking (or quacking or whatever is directed at him) without returning it and without turning away from it. Rather, he has taught me to be open to it and take it in and show a little compassion. He has taught me to understand that the barking is an honest expression of the other. It is not to be judged or run away from, but rather accepted and maybe even appreciated.

Max does engage the other dogs, but in a way that demonstrates he accepts them and their barking while choosing not to reciprocate. Thus he engages them in a way that redefines how power and control in a situation can be realized – not in force but rather in understanding.

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In this way, Max has taught me a little more about what it takes to bring peace to chaotic situations.

So thank you Max, for your chill presence. And thank you for teaching me how to react to the barking in my own life with patience and acceptance rather than fight or flight.