The Art of Discomfort (v. 2)

Max is one hot dog.

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Sure, the weather may be turning cooler now, but up until yesterday it was very hot in Texas where we live. So hot that I am glad Max stays inside most of the day. He of course still loved our late afternoon walks all summer, but I noticed how he would go a bit slower and head straight for the water when we got back. It was just not very comfortable to be out and about in such heat, especially with a thick coat of fur.

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Overall, though, Max lives an incredibly comfortable life. He may have to deal with less treats than some dogs and not having 100% of my loving attention all the time, but all things considered, Max is able to live his days in considerable peace and comfort.

And yet, there are moments when Max acts very discomforted. Like the other day when I made him wait until his normal dinner time to eat rather than filling his bowl an hour and a half early like he wanted. You would have thought he hadn’t eaten in a week the way he carried on whining and pacing.

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In such moments, Max has taught me that I am not so different. I too have a very peaceful, comfortable life. I may also have to suffer through the Texas summer, but I can choose to do so in a nice cool house and office. Like Max, I may want my dinner an hour early, but I always have the means to eat one (and eat a snack an hour earlier, since I know how to open the pantry door…sorry Max, thumbs really are the best).

Like Max, I have had times in my life where I have felt justified in expressing discomfort. When something I ordered (food or amazon packages) did not come quickly enough, or when I’ve had to do extra dishes because we cooked more kinds of food, or when I couldn’t successfully argue a bill I thought I shouldn’t have to pay completely.

Max has taught me that we both are a little too good at acting discomforted. It is an art form that can be perfected the more privilege one has to expend toward the effort. And Max and I both have that privilege.

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Max has also taught me to identify that art of discomfort when I see it around me. There are many who join us in acting discomforted when in reality we have all the privilege and means to address whatever concern it is – our lives are not really derailed because of it. Those who feel hurt because of a certain act of protest, those who complain when a social ideology doesn’t win the vote, those who feel discomforted by “politically correct” language, those who feel left out because a government program doesn’t benefit them (even if it does benefit those who really need it).

To be fair, that art is practiced by people on all sides of issues – conservatives and progressives, because the reality is that both camps, and things in between, are still dominated by those who have the privilege to practice the art of discomfort.

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There are definitely people who have been oppressed and marginalized and because of that really are discomforted. I appreciate when that pain is expressed and lifted up to shed a light on what is really at stake. But that is not the art or act that I see in myself or Max or others who hold great privilege in society.

That does not mean we are exempt from pain. There is still injury, despair, loss. But we have some really good means of dealing with it all, and we don’t have any excuse to act discomforted.

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Max has taught me that even though I like to think I can understand discomfort in my own life, I live a very comfortable, privileged life. There is discomfort in the world, but I do not know it. And he has taught me that it is all too easy to see through those times when I act like I have been wronged or hurt. He has taught me that the art of discomfort is not one of the finer art forms to practice.

Instead, he has taught me to look out for and act for those who are not “acting” discomforted. He has taught me that there is real pain around us, and the less I am practicing the art, the more I might be able to see and address those real forms of injustice.

So thank you Max for teaching me to lay aside the art of acting as though I am discomforted. Thank you for helping me recognize my privilege and pushing me to focus more on the real discomfort present around me.

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Inspiration

Max is an inspiration to me.

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That may be obvious given the fact that this whole blog is filled with lessons, insights, and new ideas I have gained from living with him. Max teaches me and reminds me how best to uphold my values. He helps me see the world differently when I feel stuck. By watching him and encountering life with him, I think of new ways to interact with others and my brain is sparked to find new connections between things.

You could say Max’s inspiration has enlightened my mind.

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And that is not all. Max has also inspired me to live more authentically and courageously. In all the tough and happy times I have gone through, Max has been fully present with me. His joy, openness, and hospitality have nurtured me. And I have felt the warmth of the inspiration he has offered through his enduring commitment to me.

Max has truly touched my heart and helped fan the flame of compassionate living.

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But, as much as I love Max, the point of this post is not to be overly sappy. I hope to share what he has taught me about inspiration itself, which goes even beyond head and heart.

At the root of it all, Max is an inspiration in the true sense of the word: he in-spires. He breathes new life into me. This notion of inspiration goes beyond enlightenment or encouragement to include enlivening.

Through his loving companionship and true appreciation for life, Max reminds me of the value of the gift of existence. From his eagerness to explore on walks outside to his contentment laying in a beam of afternoon sunlight, Max rejuvenates my sense of peace and wonder. And through his constant reminder to consider others over self shown in his own selfless acts, Max leads me out to the true source of new life found in giving of myself to others, and thus my soul is refreshed.

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I am wary of over-exaggerating Max’s influence on my life – I mean, he does eat his own poop on occasion – but I am confident in my assessment, because Max has taught me that inspiration does not just come from grand, exalted places. In addition to inspiring me directly, Max has taught me that inspiration can come from everyday things like the way plants and insects grow and live together in a garden, or a moment of stillness in the middle of a chaotic week, or a smile or kind word from a stranger.

All of these and many other ordinary things are sources of great insight, encouragement, and new life. Max has taught me to be more and more aware of all that inspiration around me and to breathe it in deeply.

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And he has taught me that the fullness of my life is connected to all others around me. Hopefully when I am inspired by Max or anything else, I can then breathe that fullness of life back out into other places that may need a little more inspiration.

So thank you Max for teaching me that inspiration impacts the mind, heart, and soul. And thank you for offering me that fullness of inspiration.

Space Cadet

Max is a space cadet. Of course he is often clueless about what is going on and will bumble into things, but I actually mean that I think he is preparing to be an astro-mutt. Maybe it is the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, or maybe he is just expanding his horizons, either way I have noticed these unique behaviors emerging recently…

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He’s gotten less 10tative when looking down from the heights. I believe Max is ready to take any giant leaps for dog-kind.

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This K-9 may be weird about getting in the water, but he certainly dives right into his weightless training.

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In his new diet the past few months, Max only 8 his own bowls of food, plus all the crumbs the baby dropped, and whatever he could find outside. I think he is making sure can stomach anything.

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Max puts in a solid 7 minutes a day studying, sometimes even reading the most cutting edge scientific research. He knows reaching the stars will take a mind as toned as his body.

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He has been waking (all of us) up in the 6 o’clock hour. I’m not sure if it is his training regimen or that he knows he can nap all day. Either way it is far too intense for those of us who are not morning people.

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By every evaluation, this is a 5-star dog.

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Max insists that sleeping with all 4 paws in the air will help him quickly acclimate to a bed with no gravity.

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This dog has been pulling up to 3 Gs in his own homemade gravity training, tail chasing program. Though he usually falls down afterward.

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Max is simply 2 cool for this world.

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For over 1 year, Max has been studying other strange creatures and is now prepared to meet any weird extra-terrestrial life.

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There are 0 reasons to keep Max from blasting off in pursuit of his dreams.

Keep reaching for the stars, Max!

Dig It

Max is a pretty weird dog in that he doesn’t like swimming in water, won’t play fetch, prefers human attention over other dogs, and does not dig in the yard. At least (for that last one) until recently.

Last month, Max started digging little holes in the backyard. It came out of nowhere and I honestly thought he didn’t even know how to dig or that digging is a thing dogs tend to do.

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It really took me by surprise, and then I got mad and told him to stop. Since then, I have not seen any new holes, but that also could be because the weather is ridiculously hot now and Max does not want to be outside any more than he has to be.

Still, Max’s short foray into digging has made me really consider how well I do or do not know him. I don’t question that we have a bond and I recognize that I can typically predict his behavior, just as I am sure he can predict mine. But Max taught me that there is still some mystery hiding just below his surface.

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And often that mystery is frustrating, because I really want to know what’s going on with him (both in a good, helpful way and a not-so-good, prying, unnecessarily curious way). I too am tempted to dig. I want to find some way to uncover Max’s motivations and know without any shadow of doubt what makes him feel and behave the way he does.

I recognize my fear of uncertainty in that desire. Maybe it comes from wanting to control things or maybe it comes from discomfort with change, especially sudden unexplained change. Regardless, it is a gut reaction through which I seek to uncover something that is not really my business, or even worse it is a reaction through which I seek to impose my own desire on the matter.

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Then I remember scolding Max for digging and wonder if I should heed that advice myself. Max may confuse, frustrate, or even baffle me sometimes, but in doing so he reminds me that relationships are not equations to be solved or experiments to be dissected or forces to be controlled. Rather, Max has taught me that relationships are mysteries to be appreciated and explored.

To be sure, I am all about honesty and authenticity in even the most superficial of relationships, and Max consistently teaches me how to be and express myself openly and fully. He reminds me not to conceal or deceive by being transparently present in all he does. But it this moment of digging, he also taught me that I can’t claw my way into understanding someone completely. There are certainly layers to people which can be wonderful to uncover and explore, but a frantic disturbance only leaves fatigue and a dirty mess.

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Maybe that exploration is less like digging for information or certainty, and more like appreciating the deeper and deeper layers of connection we can share and develop as we live life together.

Maybe that exploration is less like exerting my control or insecurity on another, and more like embracing the reality that we are not simplistic and can consistently expand the ways we value one another.

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In that sense, I certainly dig Max and the many other important people in my life. I may not completely understand everyone or the things they do, but I dig the mysterious fullness of who we all are, and the way we can learn more and more about one another every day, even without unnecessarily digging into things.

So, thank you Max for teaching me the real value of exploring and appreciating the complex nature of our relationships with others. Please don’t dig any more holes in the yard, and know that I dig you even when I don’t understand you.

What’s the Rush?

Max has become a big ol’ lazy bones. Most mornings and nights he is in no rush to do anything. There are still occasional moments when he is rearing to play or anxious for attention. And when he knows food or something new and exciting is at stake, relaxed Max goes out the window and the frantic rush takes over.

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But those frantic times are increasingly the exception. Maybe it is the reality of Max entering middle age, or maybe he just has a more laid back view of life.

Either way, it bothers me quite a bit, especially when I am in a rush. Most often, such frustration hits me on walks. I enjoy walking Max, but often I am fitting it in between getting home from work and going to another meeting or getting dinner ready or whatever else fills my evening time. The worst is when it is raining in the mornings and Max will not go out on his own, but I know he needs to go to the bathroom. On those mornings (and they are always the ones for which I am already running late), Max seems to take an extra long time deciding which identical spot of ground to pee on; in the rain; while I’m getting later and later.

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Max is simply not in a rush.

As frustrating as it sometimes can be, Max has taught me to reconsider whether that rushing around is really worth it.

Sure, there are things I can’t help but hurry to do, but perhaps I have given in a little too much to a rushed lifestyle.

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Recently, I spent half a year reading the James Joyce novel, Ulysses. Some of that was due to an overly busy schedule leaving little time for reading, but also the book itself is written in such a convoluted way that it forced me to slow way down. And that frustrated me. I have so many other books I want to read and that pace was not acceptable.

But now that I’ve finished, I see some of the same wisdom I have learned from Max – what was the rush? It is a fantastic read unlike anything I have read before, and in the moment I just wanted to get it done. But that wasn’t the point, and thankfully the writing itself forced me to slow down a bit.

Max, in his counter-cultural approach to life, has taught me to be more aware of how rushed I allow myself to get. As I busy around the house frantically doing stuff, I see him out of the corner of my eye, enjoying the beautiful sunny day or sprawled out on the nice, cool floor.

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To be fair, he has the luxury of no responsibilities, and I have the privilege of living a life in which I can afford taking breaks and slowing down a bit. But Max is teaching me a value of life that I see ignored and trampled upon around me, and which I myself am tempted to see as lazy or weak or trifling.

To slow down certainly means giving something up – a sense of efficiency or productivity, maybe even a bit of reputation or pride. But in observing Max closely, I see that his lack of rush is not all laziness or weakness. By not rushing, Max is much more present. He sees things going on that I wouldn’t see. He can much more easily adapt to anything new happening that either requires his attention or is merely something fun. And he certainly has less stress and worry.

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I know I will still be busy and that there will be plenty of times I have to rush around, and sometimes it might lead to something good. But Max has taught me that there is a difference between being busy and rushing around. Even the busyness can be approached in a more intentional and less rushed manner. In order to best navigate those busy (or still) times, he has taught me to question consistently, “What’s the rush?” And in doing so, he has taught me to seek the values of presence, appreciation, adaptation, and peace over only looking to the next thing, productivity, schedules, and non-stop-ness, so that maybe I can define not only my day, but also myself in a healthier, more wholesome way.

So thank you Max for being an easy-going presence in my life. Thank you for helping me question why I expect such a rushed life and showing me the true strength and value of a slower, more intentional approach.

Cleavers

Max is a pretty hairy guy. He so graciously reminds me of that fact every spring and summer as he sheds his hair all over the house. And somehow, even after shedding so much hair, he has loads of it that stays with him.

At this point in the summer, I am much less bothered by the hair he sheds than I am by what happens with the hair he keeps. Because the weather is pretty nice, Max enjoys being outside in the yard, rolling around, and exploring any sights or smells of other squirrel or bird friends. As he does all of that, especially the rolling around, he tends to get matts in his fur.

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But those matts are not even the worst part. Also at this time of year in our yard, plants that I believe are called “cleavers” or galium aparine are growing like crazy. They grow up fast and spread like wildfire all along our fence, right where Max likes to sniff around.

And that would be just fine, except that these plants have little seeds with hooked hairs that tend to cleave to anything they touch, and Max has his significant furry coat. Even when I actually try to stay on top of things and pull up those plants, Max finds a way to rub up against them and get the seeds all throughout his coat.

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Even at that point, it would not be a problem if Max had opposable thumbs. But he does not. And his attempts to pull the seeds out with his teeth only makes things slobberier and more tangled.

The annual struggle with managing the plants and all the seeds in Max’s coat typically takes a good deal of time. But Max has taught me that it is necessary.

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Max has taught me that cleavers happen, the stuff he and I brush up against throughout the day sometimes sticks to us. And often what sticks to us is not all that helpful. It causes tangles and for Max those tangles quickly turn into matts of hair (often with one of those little seeds at the center) that grow more and more uncomfortable.

Max’s cleavers may be more visible, but he has taught me to be more aware of my own less visible ones. Those negative messages I scroll across on social media that do nothing but make me mad and spiteful, those messages I see and hear in other media that I am not working enough or successful enough, those fears and worries that spring up like weeds and cleave to me until I give into the ever increasing entanglement of self-doubt or anxiousness or despair.

Max has taught me that those cleavers can make a real mess and that they can spring up quickly just about anywhere. He has even taught me that often we may not be able to remove them easily by ourselves. But he has also taught me that they can be dealt with.

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Max helped me realize that the best solution to those cleavers is being around others who care enough to help brush them out. I am grateful that I can provide that for Max and that he continues to remind me of the importance of having a community that can help, even if all that community can do is sit with the tangled mess and slowly work those cleavers out.

But Max has also taught me that it doesn’t take any elaborate training to get them out. Since we all know what it is like to have those cleavers, we know how to sympathize and help. All I need is to bear witness to the tangles and then set aside some time to work through them. And that is exactly what a caring community can offer.

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At the end of the day, Max has taught me that even with the cleavers, the yard is still full of wonder and beauty. He certainly does not avoid going outside just so he doesn’t get the cleavers. In fact, I think he has the confidence to run and play out there in part because he knows he has a community here that will take care of him if he were to get too tangled. That trust provides him not only security and untangling help, but also the freedom to be himself fully. And through that, Max inspires me that if I have a community that can help me deal with the cleavers that may spring up all around, then it is still worth it to explore and roll around in the grass and venture out into wild places.

So thank you Max for teaching me not only about the reality of that which cleaves and leaves us all tangled, but more importantly about the value of community that can help with the untangling and provide the assurance for a life of freedom and adventure.

Comfort

Max is a sneaky little blanket thief. Throughout this past winter, I documented every case I could of his diabolical plans to horde all the blankets in the house. Then, I looked back over the past 5 years to see just how bad it has always been. Here is what I found.

It started way back, when I was much nicer and let Max on the couch, when I didn’t realize just how much he was taking advantage of that bougie life.

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“If comfort is an art, call me Claws Maxet. For I will certainly leave my impression in this landscape.”

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“A little privacy please. Jeez dad.”

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“Heads…

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…Or tails. Either way you toss it is a win for me.”

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“Don’t hate. If it works, it works. And this right here works.”

Then, I realized his behavior was bleeding over to sleepovers with his friends, and with blankets that were probably not his.

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“Hey, I let him have the bones so I could have the blanket! Ok, now I want the bones too.”

Then, we got a new resident at our house, who also was partial to blankets. That shook things up, but not for too long.

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“What’s this baby doing on this blanket!?”

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“Ok, ok, I will share…for now…”

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“Ha ha ha. Victory is mine. I am still king of blankets!”

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“And now I extend my reign. You leave dirty clothes and towels on the floor? They are now my blankets.”

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“This pillow will make a fine addition to my blanket collection.”

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“I know…It’s not a blanket, but I claim it. It is flat and soft and close enough.”

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“Leg is the new blanket.”

What can I say? This dog likes blankets. And that doesn’t even count the one I specifically laid out for him in our bedroom that he now uses almost every night, or many others of which I did not get a picture.

Thank you Max for enjoying the comforts of life and for reminding me of the value of a good, trusty blanket.