What’s Going On Here?

Max is either clueless, curious, creative, or comedic. Whichever is the case, I love him very much, but I often look around the house and find him in some rather strange situations. I look and laugh, then he notices and reflects the joy I express. I never know what is going on in his head in these moments, but appreciate it all the same.

Here are some of my favorites:

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How did you even get in that pawsition?!

 

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I guess it’s just a dog-hug-coffee-table kind of world now…

 

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Should he stay or should he go now?

 

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Is he pawndering the art or retrieving some distant memory?

 

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Whatever is going on here, Max certainly chewses his own style and path.

 

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Max, are you comfurtable enough?

 

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Max, are you comfurtable at all?

 

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Max…how is that comfutable?!

 

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I see, I see, you’re a yoga mutt…clever.

 

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Now that is a real downward dog…

Whatever is going on, Max certainly does his own thing. Maybe he is all four – curious, clueless, creative, and comedic, or maybe he’s just a cool, confusing canine. Regardless, I am sure he has also looked over to me at times and wondered, “What is going on with him?” I know I too have my clueless, curious, creative, and comedic moments too, intentional or not. And I’m grateful that Max still sees the best in me anyway.

So thank you Max for being yourself and bringing some (confusing) joy to my life. You do you and I’ll keep wondering.

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Safe Spaces

A note to startI have written and rewritten this post over the past several months. At first I had intended it to be pretty lighthearted, then the weekend I was going to write it up there was a school shooting, and I didn’t even have words. Then there was another shooting, and another, and another. Sometimes they happened right when I was going to put up this or a different post, so I waited a week. Every time they have happened, they take the words out of my mouth and I am left speechless. And yet, I return, not because I think this will solve all our problems, but because Max gives me hope and makes my life better, and I think we need more of that. At least I need more of that.

Last year, I got Max a dog bed. Before that, way back when it was just the two of us, he had been allowed to lay on the couch, then I married and moved and we got a new couch and Max got kicked off. It’s not because we didn’t love him anymore, it’s just that he treated the previous couch pretty rough.

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We also got rid of a comfy chair that was basically only for him, because we didn’t have room. That was over a year before I got the dog bed, so it was a little overdue, but Max is resourceful and makes do with whatever he has.

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When I got the dog bed I was worried he wouldn’t like it. But that worry was soon eased when he began spending a lot of time on his bed.

He does still like my kneeling cushion, and random hallways, and probably the couch when no one is home, but at least he’s using his own cushion too.

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In fact, his cushion has become a sort of safe space for him. He is able to look out to the front yard and still be close to us. But even more than that, his cushion provides some safety from the vacuum cleaner.

I vacuum about once a week (because of Max’s hair, just to give credit where it’s due), and almost every time, when I come to the living room, I find Max perched on his cushion. I don’t think he is super scared of the vacuum, but he definitely does not like it. And he stays there as long as he can. The cushion seems to provide the safe space he needs to make it through vacuum day.

It is trivial – the vacuum poses no real danger to him – but thankfully it is the worst danger he has to face. We’ve been lucky to be able to provide an overall safe space for him.

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But Max has taught me the real importance of creating and maintaining safe spaces. In a world of uncertainty, fear, and danger, whether that comes from vacuums or something far more sinister, we all need some space where we are protected and where we know we belong.

This lesson has only been heightened by the recent events of shootings in Parkland, Florida and Santa Fe, Texas, not to mention the many, many others that have also already tragically happened this year.

We need safe spaces, not just because of the violent acts that continue to take place, but especially because of them.

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In light of this need, Max has taught me that safe spaces are created, they don’t just emerge out of thin air. He could go find a secluded corner, but that is not the same. A safe space is a place where there has been intentional work done to set it apart and make it comfortable and protective. And so, safe spaces take time to establish, just as trust in anyone or anything takes some time.

Max has taught me that it is up to those of us who do feel safe to create those safe spaces for those who are more vulnerable. I do not expect Max to create his own safety in circumstances outside his control.

And Max has taught me that safe spaces are fundamentally different from unsafe spaces. His dog bed is a unique place just for him that does not negatively effect others or contribute to unsettling peace anywhere else. It seems weird to say it like that, but I am very aware that many examples of creating “safe” spaces around the world involve making other places unsafe. But unsettling others to protect us is in no way creating safety, rather it is just reciprocating or redirecting the fear and danger.

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And then, when I see Max sprawled out in the middle of the hallway far from his bed, I realize that he is also teaching me that we shouldn’t need safe spaces, because our world should be safe for everyone. There is no excuse for us maintaining a world in which safe spaces would be needed, because there is no excuse for us perpetuating a world in which there is danger or violence or any tools that could contribute to such states. Max should know that he is safe in my house at anytime. He should know he is safe when we walk or travel or do anything.

Max has taught me that it is such an important part of life to be yourself, which can only happen if we feel secure from threats. He has taught me that by now we should have created a world in which that is a possibility for all.

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But until something actually changes, Max has taught me we do need safe spaces.

So thank you Max, for teaching me the importance of offering safe spaces to those in dangerous circumstances. Thank you for reminding me of my role in intentionally creating and maintaining such spaces, and working toward a world in which they are not needed. I hope you always feel safe here.

Devotion

This week I went for a jog. As I usually do, I left out the back yard and let Max outside while I ran. Normally, I also finish by coming back through the back yard and I see Max ready and waiting for me. This time, though, I ran a different route and came back in the front door without Max noticing.

When I got to the windows, I saw Max very expectantly waiting for me to return. He was laying in the grass looking out the way I normally come back, with ears eagerly perked and with attentive stare. I just stood and watched for a while as he stoically kept watch for me.

It truly warmed my heart to see such an obvious expression of his devotion.

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And then I took some pictures because I could not resist and because I immediately knew I wanted to write about that feeling.

Max was solely focused on my return. His whole being was dedicated to patiently waiting for me to come back. It was an expression of love and concern and loyalty.

I know Max and I are close, but in the day after day normalness of life, I sometimes forget about that bond. And I am ever grateful for that chance reminder of how much Max cares for me.

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Max taught me in that brief moment an important lesson about devotion. He reminded me of his loving devotion of me, but he also evoked some questions that I was forced to think about afresh:

To what in my life am I that dedicated? What am I willing to patiently sit and wait for without any certainty that it would be fulfilled?

What do I hope for with such expectant hope?

What would I give all my focus to and be completely present for?

What is so important to me that I would set everything else aside to attend to it?

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Thanks, Max, those are some deep and weighty questions. I have thought about some of this before, but seeing Max’s vigilant example made me reconsider how devoted I am to the important things in my life. And Max taught me that it is important to reexamine that devotion from time to time to make sure other stuff hasn’t distracted me.

Max taught me that there is stuff in this life that is worth such whole-hearted dedication. He has taught me that sometimes I need to take a moment and discover what I’m willing to sit in a backyard and eagerly expect for as much time as needed.

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But as I was watching Max, I also realized that his vigilant patience, as touching as it was, did not do anything to help him realize his hopes.

In the specific case of Max, I am ever grateful that he did not decide to jump the fence and run after me in order to realize that hope. But I also see the limits in just sitting and waiting.

Sometimes we have to sit and wait to know what is worth that level of devotion, but then sometimes we have to do something to grasp at that hope. Max taught me that idle devotion is good for scaring the squirrels away, but not much else (and I am convinced the squirrels would eventually garner the courage needed to come in anyway). He taught me that idle devotion leads to deferred dreams. He taught me that I have to do more than eagerly listen and watch for change, I have to jump over fences and go on a pretty uncertain, risky journey.

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And I don’t think that realization detracts from the profound expression of and lesson about devotion that I saw as he lay waiting. Rather, I think it adds to it. Because when a door was open to Max (the back door that I eventually did open when I couldn’t take it anymore), he ran to me in a full expression of that loving devotion come alive.

So thank you Max for teaching me about the beauty of hopeful devotion. And thank you for teaching me that such devotion is truly alive when it is riskily pursued.

Patterns

Max has started being more insistent about eating at a certain time of the day. It’s like he knows it is the time for his food and has to let us all know too. He’s always done something like that, but for some reason it seems more pronounced now. I guess we got in a steady enough pattern of feeding that he is confident he knows when it needs to happen.

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Max has a lot of patterns of life – eating, walking, sleeping. And taking care of him is another one put upon my life. It’s a good pattern, and one I am happy to incorporate, but still an additional rhythm to weave in.

Max has me thinking about patterns a lot more right now.

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I recognize that I got out of the habit of blogging about Max the past month or so. It was completely unintentional. In fact, I think I just got out of the practice of attending to any lessons Max might be teaching me. I didn’t forget about him or anything, I just got out of the pattern of considering those great truths he was trying to impart.

Max taught me that it is easy to get out of life patterns, as good or helpful or fun as they may be. It is easy to let the busyness of life wash out any rhythms that are not necessary. And sometimes a lot goes missing when those patterns fade away.

Max and I used to walk every morning. It was tough to wake up and go out when it was cold or rainy, but we did it, every day. And it was actually a really good start to the day. It was refreshing and my body appreciated the movement. Many things contributed to the interruption of that pattern, but regardless I see how easy it is to get out of even good practices.

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But Max has also taught me that sometimes the pattern needs interrupting.

I didn’t train Max as a puppy or have to go through all the bad stuff that come with that part of dog life. But I still have had to encourage him out of bad habits like jumping on people who visit because he is so excited, lunging and barking at other dogs on walks, slowly creeping into the kitchen while cooking so he can snag whatever falls (we are still working on that one).

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Max has taught me that there are many troubling patterns and those need to be dealt with.

Part of my absence here has been the overwhelming distraction of terrible patterns that keep emerging in our world: patterns of hate and discrimination, patterns of violence and lack of real concern, patterns of blame and shame. These are patterns of school shootings, racism and sexism, demeaning and hating immigrants and those who identify as LGBTQ. The intensity and devastation of these patterns makes me think anything I say here is superfluous. They have the tendency to overwhelm and silence me.

But Max has taught me that I must break my tendency toward retreat and silence and apathy in order to seek to break the patterns of hate that are still woven into the world around me. He has taught me that any bad habit or behavior has to be called out directly and unwaveringly.

And Max has taught me that it can’t stop there. I also have to work long and hard to establish good patterns in their place. The good rhythms have to follow right along behind in order to make a real change. He has shown me that it takes a long time to consistently develop good behavior to replace what has been chaotic or erratic. And those better practices of love and welcome and acceptance have to start with me.

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It is not quick or easy work to recover past good habits or to change current bad ones, but when patterns have such a big impact on life, there is no choice but to attend to and deal with them so that my life might bend toward a new and better order of things.

Thank you Max, for making me more aware of the patterns in my life – those that are missing and those that need to be changed. And thank you for giving me at least a little hope that the patterns of my life might make a difference.

Noisy

Max is a rather noisy individual. But it is a particular kind of noisy.

He does not bark much, especially compared to a lot of the other dogs in our neighborhood. He has a stoic, monk-like, demeanor as he watches things happen out the window and even when he is being barked at by other dogs.

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But he is still really noisy. He makes sure I know he is around.

Sometimes that noisiness comes out in his whining. He whines in the evening when he wants to play, he whines in the early morning hours when he wants some food or wants to go outside. He whines when he wants to come back inside.

He also is a pretty noisy sleeper. He must dream a lot, or whatever dogs do in their sleep that makes them move around and growl. It’s funny to watch during the day, a little less funny when he gets going late at night and wakes me up.

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And recently, I’ve noticed some of his other noises. The other day I let Max in from the backyard and then got ready to meditate. Max left me alone, but he decided to lay down right behind me. I did not notice, but he had brought in some leaves or sticks or something from the yard with him. In order to pass the time (or test my patience) he started to munch on those crunchy leaves. And they must have either been really delicious or really chewy or he really didn’t have anything better to do, because he kept munching and crunching the whole time.

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I consider myself a patient person, but that kind of noise cuts through whatever patience I can muster. It’s like a sharp wind that sneaks through however many layers I put on. Needless to say, Max’s noises, especially that munching right behind me, irritated me.

And Max is not the only noisy one, especially this time of year. It’s hard to find a place in which there is not a lot of sniffling and coughing and other noises. And I am to blame as much as anyone with my own sniffles that just keep coming no matter how much I blow my nose.

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It is not lost on me that I became very aware of Max’s noisiness while I was meditating. At first, it was especially frustrating – meditation is supposed to be quiet time! But because of the nature of that kind of work, I was forced to sit with my gut response to the noisiness.

I could either get frustrated by it and let it ruin my meditation or I could use the opportunity to consider the noise in a new way.

So, I took a moment to turn around and look at Max, with the debris hanging out of his mouth. Then I turned back and allowed myself to laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. The moment I desired the most stillness was the moment Max decided to be especially noisy.

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And Max taught me in that moment that there is another way to see his noisiness. He is a dog that eats weird stuff and has no way of understanding a desire for stillness or meditation. But even more significant than that is that his noise is a beautiful expression of life.

Max’s noise means he’s really there with me, and that we are sharing this messy, noisy life together.

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I’ll be real – his noisiness still bothers me. Any intrusive sound bothers me as much as it does anyone else. I have no secret to enjoying the sniffles and coughs that cut through my patience. But Max has taught me that in the messy mix of irritation there is still something beautiful – the opportunity I have to share my life with others, and especially to have some around me who are close enough that I can hear those noises.

Max has taught me to take one more second in that moment of irritation to consider how others are no noisier than I am and that our noisy living is worth it. The noises aren’t going anywhere, and if I can laugh at them and incorporate them into my rhythm, then we will all make more harmonious music.

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I still don’t think I will ever naturally like the noise of whining, sniffling, or leaf munching, but I try my best to look at it as if we are all wind chimes and that our clanging together has the potential to make some beautiful music.

So thank you Max for teaching me that however irritating it is, your noisiness is also a beautiful expression of life. And thank you for bumping into me, hopefully some good noise will come from that.

Celebrate

Hi, I’m Max and I like to party.

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Max is always ready to celebrate. We had people over at several times this past holiday season and each time Max came to life. He would be half asleep on his bed, not expecting anything special to happen. Then the door would open and in came people he has seldom or never seen before, and he popped up and was immediately a whole new dog.

It could be that Max just loves human attention…well, that’s definitely a primary reason. But I am still inspired by Max’s ability to always be ready to celebrate something.

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In a lot of ways, this past year has not been one of celebration. The news cycle has worn me and many others down and I have felt more disheartened and anxious about so many things.

And yet, each day I get home and Max is ready to party, ready to celebrate.

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On one hand, he has taught me that it is easy to celebrate when you are ignorant of all the sad things going on in the world. But he has also taught me that the escapist lifestyle is not a good path to follow.

So, I’ve been searching for some other lesson related to Max’s celebratory demeanor. And I have found that Max has also taught me that there is good in the world in the loving presence we share. That is worth celebrating. That is worth offering to others.

Max has taught me that things are never going to be perfect, but that in whatever is going on, there are people (and dogs) to love and share life with.

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While this kind of celebrating does come from a privileged place, I don’t think it is sugar coating otherwise crappy realities. Max has certainly taught me to mourn when things are sad and he has even been there for me in the downs of life. But Max has also helped me cultivate an underlying joy that guides me to celebrate the love I experience in my life even when it can be hard to find reasons to by happy.

Max has taught me that celebrating love and shared life does not always have to come with tail wagging. Max is certainly exuberant every now and then, but also I know Max celebrates in the more mundane things, like mornings laying by my feet as I get ready and evenings as we all watch TV.

And I have noticed that he is celebratory even before he receives anything. He is happy just because we are around each other. I think Max celebrates being able to show me attention as much as he is happy to receive it. Max has taught me the joy that comes with both receiving and giving loving attention and presence.

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As I look back on the past year, I am grateful to remember all the times Max celebrated our time together – the ways he shared love just because we could be present with one another. And as I look forward to a new year, I hope to celebrate more of that presence and love with Max. I certainly hope it is a year that brings more joy and light in the darkened places of the world, but regardless, Max has taught me that there is a love worth celebrating and highlighting in this world over and against any darkness.

So, thank you Max for celebrating with me. And thank you for teaching me to look for and celebrate the love I can give to and receive from others this year and every year.

Thankful (ver. 2)

I believe that Max is a very thankful dog. While I don’t know all that goes on in his head, it is not hard to tell he is grateful when he comes running up with tail wagging or when he flashes his loving, puppy dog eyes.

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He is definitely thankful for food and walks and attention. And he is thankful for us finally getting out of bed in the morning after he has been whining for an hour.

I think he is thankful that I only dress him up in costume a couple of times a year.

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And in the spirit of the week, I’d like to share a few of the reasons I am thankful for Max.

I am thankful that Max stopped knocking over the trash can and eating out of it this year.

I am thankful that Max reminds me of how much I need to rake leaves by rolling around in them and then dragging them in all over the house.

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I am thankful that Max is remarkably chill. I am reminded of this fact every time we are around other more hyperactive dogs. Max hardly ever barks and never scratches at doors. I am thankful that even though he doesn’t really obey commands to stay or come, he does remember how to act reasonably civilized.

I am thankful that he at least waits an hour before destroying a new toy.

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I am thankful that Max loves people and that he is always eager to meet a new friend.

I am thankful for his “fierce” protection.

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I am thankful that Max enjoys evening walks, even when I don’t let him sniff every little thing.

I am thankful for all the laughs he gives us.

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I am thankful that he provides me so much material to think and write about.

I am thankful that on my really busy days, he reminds me to slow down and appreciate the moment.

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I am thankful that Max is authentically himself, and that he embraces me just as I am.

And, of course, I am thankful for his cute face.

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Max has taught me much about being thankful for the nice, good, fun things in life, but he has also taught me to try to enter all the other parts of life with a spirit of thankfulness.

So, Max, we are thankful for you. Thanks for being you and for being a part of our lives.