Paranoia

Max has developed a weird habit when we walk through a certain section of the trail around my apartment complex. He starts picking up speed and constantly looking back as if something threatening was chasing him. We sometimes even run through that section as he pulls me along. Then, once we get around the bend, he goes back to normal as if everything is fine.

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I think this behavior developed from a couple times when neighbor dogs that lived in that section got out and actually did chase him down. Normally Max loves encounters with other dogs, but these are the kind of dogs who really don’t want other dogs around their house, so they barked and chased Max until we were around the bend and far enough away.

So, I don’t blame Max for not liking that stretch of trail, I sure wouldn’t want little tiny bully dogs barking in my face (though I wish Max would realize how much bigger he is and that he really shouldn’t feel threatened).

But I also recognize that those encounters haven’t happened in a very long time. In fact I don’t even know if those dogs still live there, as there is so much turnover in these apartments. I can’t even hear them barking from within the house anymore.

And yet, Max is still haunted by something.

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Assuming it is the bad memories of the bully dogs, Max has taught me how gripping paranoid fear can be and how much it can impact daily tasks. Max is clearly uncomfortable in those times when he could be having a really nice walk. And this is a real shame, because he used to like that stretch and all the unique smells it had to offer.

Something from his past that is not even real anymore has taken control over how he is living his life now.

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Not to get too Freudian here, but Max has taught me that if he doesn’t face that fear, if he keeps running away from it, it will continue to haunt him. In running, that fear only chases him farther down the path. I am pretty sure that if Max walked over to that apartment and smelled around and realized that there was nothing to fear, he wouldn’t be so paranoid when walking by.

Max has taught me that it is easier just to run by, or to avoid that section when possible. He has taught me that it is easier to give that fear the space it needs to grow and prosper.

But he has also taught me that it is not a good, comfortable, wholesome way to live.

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The worst part is that Max doesn’t even realize he has created such a space of fear in his life, and until he does his fears are far from being resolved. So, he has taught me to examine my own life to see what fears I am running from, so that I might find ways to face them and create spaces of understanding, joy, and acceptance rather than paranoia.

So thank you Max, for teaching me that fears have real power over our lives, even though those fears are often unfounded. And thank you for teaching me that it is much better to face those fears than to run from them. I do hope you find a way to face your fears, overcome your paranoia, and begin to enjoy that stretch of our walks again.

Good enough?

Max gives me hope in many ways. Often that hope comes less from something he does and more from the fact that he is here with me, especially when I get overwhelmed.

And I often get overwhelmed. I am overwhelmed about the brokenness of the world, about how I should be impacting the world, about the many other ways I could be doing good but am not at the moment, about all the people to whom I can and should show love.

I too often get that pit in my stomach that tells me I am not doing as much good as I should be doing. And it is incredibly overwhelming to think I must constantly be doing more.

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Then Max walks in and reminds me that life is not about doing more and more, even if it is all amazing, good stuff. Rather, life is about living presently in love, in whatever tiny ways such loving is manifest. Life is about recognizing that even a single act of good or love in this world drastically impacts the very shape of the world.

Max walks in and I am reminded that life is not about balancing the good, the neutral and the bad to see what is weightiest at the end of days. Life is richer and more meaningful than that.

Max walks in and I am reminded that even if I do nothing else than take care of him, I have done enough.

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Don’t get me wrong, I don’t support being a lazy, self-centered couch potato. Being apathetic about the good I do is even worse than trying to quantify it, and there are definitely times I have to step out and look for new opportunities so as not to become apathetic.

But Max has taught me to appreciate whatever little good I do for another instead of worrying about what more I can do, because good and love are not quantifiable things. Sure, the acts of good and love can be measured, but the significance and impact cannot, and that is what matters.

Max has taught me that any good act of love and care resounds greatly in this world, so that even the smallest of such acts is worth doing. He has taught me that doing good in this world is equally important whether it is directed to one being or to millions. And he has taught me not to be overwhelmed or to think I have to reach the millions to have a worthwhile life.

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I take care of Max – I show love to Max – and that is good. And that is enough.

So thank you Max for teaching me not to focus on the lack of good I’ve done or all the things left to do, but rather on the significance of every little good thing I’ve done. And thank you for showing me that it is good, it is enough, to show love to one small being.

Pulling Against

Max is stubborn, but so am I. Lately I have noticed how much strain we put on each other during walks. Max frequently likes to dart off to explore a scent or sight and I have to pull hard against the leash to reel him back.

It’s not that I always want him to stay on the path; I understand a desire to explore new things even if it takes you off the path. But I just do not want him darting off wildly. And I don’t want him pulling me along as he darts off. I like my course and I like my control.

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But he lurches off, I hold tight, and when the short leash reaches its length we both feel the harsh jarring of the impact of the force. And my shoulder has really taken a beating.

Somehow, Max and I have a hard time walking together.

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Nevertheless, it seems easier to carry on as we have been even though it causes both of us (I presume) some pain. We don’t have to consider each other too much, but rather just do our own thing. We don’t have to take the time to think about what the other wants to do, we can stay in our own respective worlds.

But that leash connects us whether we want it to or not.

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Max has taught me that we too often pull against each other – especially those we don’t understand well. It is hard to step in the other person’s shoes (especially when they have none) and think about how they experience the journey. So we go our own way, mindless of those to whom we are inherently connected.

And through the struggle against this connection, Max has taught me that it really does hurt every party when we refuse to walk together.

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So, what do we do, I think as I continue to drag Max along the path. There has to be some better way of walking alongside each other. Perhaps it involves stopping on the way and getting to know each other and our differences. Perhaps it involves allowing a longer leash of freedom to be different from one another and to be perfectly fine with going down the same path in very different ways. Perhaps it means taking a chance and following the other instead of insisting on staying my own comfortable course.

Regardless, there has to be a way to see and experience that connection between myself and others as a benefit, as something that allows us to encounter the path in more meaningful ways, rather than something to struggle against.

So thank you Max for teaching me that working toward a way to walk together is much better than continually straining against each other. It may be hard and uncomfortable, but you have taught me that it is worth it so that we might live more peacefully connected to one another.

New Year, New Toys, New Wisdom

Max has had a fun couple of weeks, besides getting sick last week. He has received several new toys, which he has been enjoying very much, and has been surrounded by festiveness.

And I think he has been trying to teach me various things during this time…

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“Do not try to hide true joy. I can perceive past the wrapping and sense the wonderful value of what lies at the heart. Let it go! Unveil the deep-seated joy! No…for real…open this gift!”

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“Also, opposable thumbs are awesome, never take those for granted. And don’t use so much tape!”

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“Every person and dog is an invaluable gift in and of him/herself. Remember that especially after I eat the popcorn on this tree and constantly worry you about destroying these other gifts. He he he.”

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“Holy tug toys, Patrick, you gotta get one of these. Trust me, I read “Doggy Style” magazine regularly and this is the fashion for 2015! #swag”

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“I mustache you a question, do I look wiser because of the facial hair or because I am peering off thoughtfully in the distance? Oh, and mustaches are cool! #HipsterRevolutionForeverrrrrr And no, I’m not copying you; I had facial hair from the moment I was born…I’m just, you know, trying something new.”

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“I never knew style could be so tasty! Did you put something in this mustache, it is quite delightful. Also, if I could just have a little taste of yours…”

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“Sometimes the best things in life are small and fuzzy and fit in your mouth…didn’t you say we could get a pet rabbit, I mean, on an unrelated note.”

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“A new year means a fresh start. I resolve that you:

Give me twice as much food

Let me chase all the rabbits

TREATS TREATS TREATS

Trust me when I start climbing over you while you are sitting on the couch. I just need to lick your face. It’ll be fun.

Let me eat whatever I find on the ground – It’s FREE FOOD!

Never put this hat on me again. It’s cool, but I’m more of a red tug toy headwear type of dog.”

Toughness

Max acts like he is a tough dog. And he often is. He takes slips on the stairs or ice and people stepping on his paws or tail like a champ.

But sometimes his toughness is a façade, masking a deeper pain.

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Earlier this week, when I was out of the house, Max ate a lot of the sweet goodies people had given me for the holidays. Unfortunately, many of these treats were covered with chocolate. When I came home, Max greeted me as normal and I did not know anything was wrong until I saw the empty plate and shredded wrappings around the kitchen.

I paid close attention to Max over the next hour or so, trying to figure out how sick he was. I could tell he was a little lethargic, but we went on a walk and he behaved mostly normally. Since he had not vomited and did not seem like he was in pain, I decided to wait it out.

But, as he continued to lie around I got more worried. He wasn’t showing symptoms of pain, but I could tell he wasn’t quite a hundred percent either.

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As I sat with him, I remembered back to the summer when I found out he had an ear infection. I had no clue that he was in pain until I took him to the vet for a regular check up. Perhaps it was mostly me not knowing what signs to look for, but Max is an expert at not showing pain and generally remains as happy as he can be.

So, with memories of how Max masks his discomfort, I decided to act. After rushing to the store and getting some chemicals, I took him outside and made him throw up a lot of chocolate.

He was clearly better after that purge and by the next day he had regained his normal energy, sort of.

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Yet, reflecting on the ordeal made me realize how dangerous it is to hide such pain, in whatever forms it is manifest. And I further realized that Max and I are far too similar on this matter – we are both experts at pushing through things and acting like all is good.

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Max taught me that this hiding of pain is harmful. Even if it is meant to ease the worry of others around us, such masking really only prolongs the pain and provides a way not to deal with it.

And Max taught me that it is often in moments of deepest vulnerability that we put up our most resilient masks of independence.

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Perhaps the tougher thing to do is to let down the guard and let someone else know what is really going on inside. Perhaps the tougher thing to do is to admit the illusion of independence and be open to the loving care of others. Perhaps the tougher thing to do is open up the wounds so that they can fully heal.

So thank you Max for teaching me that putting on a mask of toughness is neither the tough thing to do, nor the most beneficial. Thank you for teaching me to be more open and vulnerable, willing to depend on others so that we may all grow and heal together.

P.S. Max, I’d sure rather know the next time you need serious help. 🙂