Needs

Max cannot feed himself. At least he cannot feed himself in a healthy way. He has often knocked over the trash can and rummaged around for food, but that only makes a mess and leaves him sick the next day. Though I think it would be nice if he could learn how to give himself just the right amount of nutritious dog food, I know he has neither the will power nor the ability to do that.

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Max has certain needs, like being fed, which he cannot fulfill himself. And yet he also has such limited capability to express those needs. He can and does whine when he’s hungry or needs to go outside, but there is little else he can do.

And I have sometimes failed to meet his needs. I feel terrible when it happens, but there was a morning recently when my spouse left for work and expected me to feed Max when I got out of bed. I mistakenly assumed she had already fed him and went about my day only to find out later that Max had missed a meal through my poor communication and inattention. Thankfully, this is a rare occurrence, but it woke me up to an important realization about needs.

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Max has taught me that I cannot assume that the needs of others are being met, especially those who are vulnerable and cannot fulfill their own needs. Too often in my life I come across an expressed need and think that either the person will figure it out or someone else will provide help.

I am blinded by my own agency and ability to the point that I forget that there are many animals and people who do not have that same level of agency and ability. Max has revealed my ignorance and reminded me that so many people are trapped in situations where they cannot fulfill their needs for food, shelter, security, or home.

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Moreover, Max has taught me that the burden is on those with agency to attend to the needs of others. Max has a very small voice to express his need. While he should use that voice and use it often, the responsibility is ultimately on me to attend to that need by actively looking for signs of it. And then the responsibility remains on me to find the best way to fulfill that need.

This responsibility is easier to identify in my relationship with Max because I have willingly become his care-taker. Nevertheless, I believe the responsibility still applies to other people I encounter, even if it is harder to identify. The freedom and power of self-sacrificial love compels me to use my agency to attend to other people’s needs, especially those I encounter who cannot fulfill their own needs.

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Max has taught me to truly wake up to the deep needs of those around me – not with the grogginess that leads me to overlook those quietly begging for food, but rather with an alertness that actively seeks out expressions of lack. To do that, Max has taught me to step outside of myself, recognize the ignorance reinforced by my own agency, and use that agency to move toward others in love.

And finally he has taught me to do this work in a way that does not prop me up as a hero, but rather in a way that begins to embolden those with less agency to feel more comfortable expressing themselves. All of this is easier said than done, and that last part is especially hard to do. But Max is continuing to teach me how to best respond in a way that encourages agency in others instead of suppressing them with my own.

So thank you Max for revealing my short-sighted, ignorant view of others whose needs are not being met. And thank you for teaching me to use my agency to lovingly meet the needs of others. Please continue to help guide me in doing so in an empowering way.

Sometimes You Just Gotta Sit Still

Max loves sitting still.

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Wait. Scratch that, reverse it.

Max hates sitting still.

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Probably because when he does sit still, stuff like this happens to him.

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Max has taught me several things about sitting still. First, it is really hard. It takes a lot of discipline to sit still. Max does not have this discipline, especially when there is food to eat or new smells to smell.

And, to be honest, I don’t always have this discipline either. I’m patient, and I’m pretty good at meditating, but when there is a lot going on in my life, I find it very difficult to be still. It’s like I’ve trained myself to be constantly busy and get a lot done. But the few moments in which I do take the time to be still, I find that I am much more centered and productive. I am much less anxious and find more peace.

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Just this week, I learned about an image Thoreau used to comment on busyness and productivity. He explains that efficiency does not follow constant labor, and uses the image of a hen, who can only lay one egg at a time. He notes that it is useless for the hen to sit all day trying to lay more eggs, but rather the hen uses the rest of her time to feed herself and prepare for the next egg. The hen has to give appropriate space for the production of a new egg.

And such stillness is hard to do when there are many distractions and even more expectations of new results. Yet, Max has taught me that sitting still in healthy rest is what best prepares me for whatever movement or results I am trying to work toward.

Moreover, when Max visits other dogs and takes no time to be still, but rather plays non-stop, he crashes as soon as we go back home and is completely unprepared to do anything else. While I wish I could outlast even Max, I know the same is true of me too.

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But Max has also taught me that it can be good and virtuous not to sit still. Sometimes I have to get off my butt and be present and active in the world. Sometimes it is good to be excited and involved. And sometimes I can get trapped being too still.

While pushing myself always to be busy leads to unhealthy collapse, Max has also taught me that too much sitting still just leads to more sitting still. It leads to apathy. If I force Max to wait before going outside, he pretty quickly gives up and lays down. It is easy to get in a rut of sitting still, and not actually exploring or making a difference in the world.

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So, there seems to be a sweet spot of finding the right moments to be still, but also taking the opportunities to get up and be active. Sometimes I gotta be still to refresh and break up the busyness I fill my life with, but sometimes I gotta get up and move to refresh and break up the cycle of apathy and inaction I often find myself trapped in.

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And when I am sitting still, I need to be doing the things that really refresh me, that nurture me so I can produce better eggy ideas. And when I am moving, I need to be intentional and move toward love and justice, not just run after squirrels I will never catch.

So thank you Max for teaching me that I need to work a little harder to find the sweet spot between rest and action in order to be productively healthy. And thank you for spending the time with me to sit still or to move around as we try to find that balance.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas…According to Max

Every Who
Down in Who-ville
Liked Christmas a lot…

But the Grinch,
Who is my life-long companion,
Did NOT!

The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
And I may be the only one who ever really knew the reason.
For the Grinch was quite smart, even brilliantly bright,
And though he was jaded and wound way too tight,
He peered from the shadows and saw through it all
That the scope of this celebration was two sizes too small.

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For,
As he pondered and thought
Of those disabused
He stood there on Christmas Eve, sad for the Whos,
Staring down from his cave with a compassionate frown
At the forgotten widows in the corners of town.
For he knew not every one down in Who-ville beneath
Was accepted and happy or bearing all teeth.

“And they’re hanging their stockings!” he gasped with real drear.
“Tomorrow is Christmas! It’s practically here!”
Then he sighed, with his tired heart nervously thumping,
“I MUST find some way to stop Christmas from coming!”

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For,
Tomorrow, he knew…
…some of the girls and boys
Would wake frightened dearly. They’d cry and be coy.
Because – oh the noise! Oh, the Noise! Noise! Noise! Noise!
The deafening silence that rings louder than noise.

Then those ignored, neglected, rejected from feasts,
They’d be fleeced! And decreased!
Yes the “least,”
“beasts,”
And one’s from the “East.”
While the Whos feast on ignorance, and apathy yeast
Which was something the Grinch feared would never be ceased!

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For the new
Mayor of Whoville
Had proposed a great wall
And the Whos just kept feasting, the tall and the small.
The Grinch felt the insults, his exile still stinging,
And knew the deported the Whos would start bringing!

They’d swing and they’d fling!
Then they’d naively sing!
Since he knew the strangers had not done anything,
The more the Grinch thought, “I must stop this whole thing!
“Why, for fifty-three years I’ve put up with it now!
“I MUST stop this Christmas from coming!
….But HOW?”

Then he got an idea!
An awe-full idea!
The Grinch
Got a wonderful, awe-full idea!

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“I know just what to do!” The Grinch gasped with new hope,
And thought how to save them from their slippery slope.
And he pondered and cried, “What a great Grinchy trick!
“With this coat and this hat, I look just like Saint Nick!”

“All I need is a reindeer…”
The Grinch looked around.
But since reindeer were banned, there was none to be found.
And the Grinch gave a sigh…
And with tears simply said,
“If I can’t find a reindeer, I’ll make one instead!”
So he called his friend, me. Then he carefully thread
A solitary horn on top of my head.

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Now,
Some have since questioned
And unkindly asked
Why I’d help out the Grinch
With this “devious” task.

But the Grinch was cast out
Over looked and put down
By all the “true” Whos
Who desired a “safe” town.

And the Grinch, all alone, forgotten, needed care
So I stayed by his side when no one else dared.
And his plan was not bad, let’s return… he declared,
“This is stop number one,” at the first home adrift
With misguided dreams and a most ignorant mist.

He went through the chimney, an uncomfortable pinch,
But it hurt less than scowls often thrown at the Grinch.
He remembered the pain from the past year or two –
Being stuck in the cold, while his fears slowly grew.
Then he fell out with soot from his head to his toe,
“These stockings,” he said, ‘are the first things to go!”

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Then he took remainders of trifles most unpleasant
Reminding the Whos of his forgotten presence.
Their guns! And flags waiving! Pounding like drums!
Smart phones and selfie sticks leaving them numb!
All distractions now gone. Then the Grinch, very nimbly,
Set them afire, up in smoke, in the chimbley!

For he knew that he’d need to surprise them at least,
To release from the grasp of the self-centered beast!
To open their eyes to so many abashed
And accept once again those they treated like trash.

Then he took everything that had masked with fake glee.
“And NOW!” gasped the Grinch, “I will stuff up the tree!”

And the Grinch took the tree, to inspire true love
To force every Who to be vulnerable as doves.
His plan near complete, yet he heard a small Who!
Little Cindy-Lou Who, who was honest and true.

She was one of the few who cared, this Who daughter
She’d got out of bed to get the Grinch water.
She came near the Grinch and asked, “Santy Claus, why,
“Why are you taking our Christmas tree? WHY?”

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But, I know, that Cindy-lou Who at once did click
With Grinch’s soft heart, and he eased her fear quick!
“Why, my sweet little tot,” said Grinch, touched inside,
“There’s a light on this tree that won’t light on one side.
“So I’m taking it home to my workshop, my dear.
“I’ll fix it up there. Then I’ll bring it back here.”

For he cared for the child, and he meant what he said.
And he accepted her drink as she went to bed.
He returned to the kitchen and set down the cup.
The openness of that Who child choked him all up.

But he still had a task
And did light a new fire,
So that eyes would be open, for all the Who liars
Who ignored and distrusted those out on the wire.

And he thought of the Whos
All asleep in the house
Who’d wake with a start, as if they’d seen a small mouse.

Then
He did the same thing
To the other Who’s houses

Who cared less
For him than
Even dirty old mouses.

It was a quarter past dawn…
All the Whos, still a-bed
Blissfully ignorant
When he packed up his sled,
Packed it with injustice, distractions and wrappings!
The blinders, the safety, and all of the trappings!

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He took it all up! Up the side of Mt. Crumpit
To see if the the Who’s would wake up with a jump-it!
“Pooh-Pooh to the Whos!” and their self-centered humming.
“They’re finding out now that no Christmas is coming!
“They’re just waking up! I know just what they’ll do!
“Their mouths will hang open a minute or two
“Then the Whos down in Who-ville will all cry BOO-HOO!

“That’s a noise,” sighed the Grinch,
“That I simply MUST hear!”
So he peered to the streets, put his hand to his ear
And he did hear a sound new as fallen snow.
It started out low. Then it started to grow…

And at first there was shock!
But then, they sounded caring!
Could it be so!
Yes, it was caring! Very!

The Grinch’s plan had worked!
He had tears in his eyes!
And he wept!
For a new day was soon to arise!

Most Whos down in Who-ville, the tall and the small,
Came out to the streets, to welcome in all.

He thought they’d accuse, but instead Christmas came!
It truth and in beauty it came without shame!

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And the Grinch saw the Whos welcome in from the snow
The outcast and lonely: “Yes, let it be so!
“It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
“It came without packages, boxes or bags!”
True Christmas joy and hope was unwrapped there before
And the Grinch thought the Whos discovered something more
“Maybe Christmas,” he urged, “doesn’t come from a store.
“Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”

And then my dear friend
Well…when the Whos saw the way,
The glad Grinch went right down
To join them all that day!
He knew there’d still be some Whos who’d put up a fight
But with new-found acceptance some Whos saw the light
And that gave the Grinch assurance at very least,
That Christmas is welcoming all to the feast!

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Matted

Max’s hair often gets matted, especially just under his ears. It’s hard to see, but once I start petting him and scratching around his ears, I often get a big handful of clumped up hair.

Sadly, there is not much Max can do about this and I am pretty bad at both preventing the mats and getting rid of them when they emerge. Since he very rarely shows any sign of being hurt, I quickly forget it is a problem. The mats grow on unseen until they are really too big to ignore.

And Max has taught me that while I don’t experience matted hair like he does, there are many dirty, useless things that clump up in my own life too. Whether it is nagging doubt, failures, hateful thoughts, or apathy, my heart seems to experience a similar state of matted material at times.

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After some quick research, I learned that Max’s mats are probably caused by a mixture of movement (scratching his head/ears), old hair loosening but not falling out, and external dirt sticking it all together. As the old hair is pressed together with dirt and clings to the hair still growing, it clumps together in a tangled mess.

Similarly, I recognize that when I just can’t let go of something that is wearing me down, when the stresses of the world press upon me, and when external concerns cling to me, my heart gets matted and tangled. If I don’t fully let the self-doubt and bitterness fall away from me, it gets tangled up in the new directions I am trying to move and is all pressed together by hatefulness that is still too apparent in the world.

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I have also learned that mats are bad not only because they impede the growth of new hair, but also because they inhibit oxygen getting to the skin and begin to pull on the skin so that it is weakened. On top of that they become potential breeding grounds for parasites that can cause even more damage.

The mats of the heart seem to create similar problems. They keep me tangled up in unhelpful issues and make new growth harder. These mats make it harder for my soul to breathe the fresh air of forgiveness and easier for other forms of carelessness and selfishness to emerge.

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The good news in all this is that mats can be removed. But, Max has taught me that they must be removed carefully and that often it takes the help of others. Since mats are formed close to the skin, which is thin and fragile, most mats need to be worked out by hand. I have had to cut out some of Max’s mats, but that too must be done slowly and carefully so as not to cause more harm. And usually I have to have my spouse’s help so that one of us can comfort and distract Max while the other works out the mats.

I’m the kind of person that has about the same amount of patience as Max when trying to work out the problematic parts of my life. And when doing something as personal as working out the mats of my heart, I do not want to open up to others. But Max has taught me it is crucial to take time and allow others to help, because my impatient scratching at these mats only tends to make them worse. He has taught me that it is important to really try to get at the root of the mat, but that sometimes I have to work away one tangled problem at a time. I have to identify and deal with each strand so that I can really let it go.

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The other good news is that the hair itself is not the problem. The heart itself is not bad. And the work of getting mats out reaffirms the importance and goodness of what had gotten tangled. Max has taught me that in no way is the hair or the heart problematic or awry. They just need care and maintenance.

Max has also taught me that even after getting rid of the mats, they tend to return quickly. There’s something about that spot that lends itself to matted hair. Which makes it even more important to regularly brush out the old hair and care for the new. He has taught me the importance of letting go of harmful things and cultivating the ways I can grow in love and compassion, and to do that over and over again.

So thank you Max for teaching me how to identify and carefully remove mats, whether they be literal in hair or more symbolic in heart. Thank you for being patient with me (and teaching me to be more patient with myself) as I learn better how to address these mats.

When Eyes are the Windows to the Soul

Max has a remarkably expressive face, particularly his eyes. Though I may never really know what is going on in his brain, I think I can make a pretty good guess as to how he is feeling.

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Sometimes, he seems confused. I can tell by the way his eyes are cast that he just doesn’t fully know what’s going on, like in the past when I have rearranged furniture or when I start talking to him in goofy voices. And Max has taught me that it is natural to furrow my brow in confusion when I naively misunderstand something about the world.

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Sometimes, he is clearly anxious. I can tell by his eyes that he knows exactly what’s going on and is worried about it, like when I pack bags to go on a trip and he knows that he’ll be left alone, or when I pack boxes to move the whole house to a completely unknown place. And Max has taught me that it is natural to stare open-eyed in anxious anticipation of something that is likely not to turn out well.

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Sometimes, he is longing for something out of reach. I can tell by his eyes when he desperately wants to go outside or eat more food. And Max has taught me that it is natural to gaze longingly at a hoped-for outcome that suddenly seems so distant.

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Max has taught me that I can turn my eyes a lot of different ways in times like these – to the ground in despair, unfixed in the distance in apathy and hopelessness, or toward the “other” in anger. He has taught me that it is a natural reaction and that in many ways, my eyes do convey the state of my soul.

But Max has also taught me that I have control of my eyes and that I can cast them where and how I desire. And he has taught me that how I cast my eyes will direct what I take in and where I go.

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So, while my eyes have been turned in many ways the past few days, Max has taught me the importance of lifting them up from being grounded in despair. He has taught me to stop staring off in the apathetic distance. He has taught me that I can peer angrily at problems and the people who perpetuate them, as long as the cataracts of hate do not begin to cloud my vision. And so he has taught me to open my eyes wide in compassionate love so that I might literally take into my mind and body the images of as many people as possible, so that I might take in the awful complexity of a broken and beautiful world.

This is aspirational and it means I probably need glasses to provide the hope that I can’t seem to squint hard enough to see myself. Max has also taught me that eyes can fail, that the scope of my vision is limited. There are many times he does not even notice a car coming down the street on our walks. And so he has taught me to perceive this world alongside many others who can see what I don’t, and he has taught me to use resources and people who can help add color and clarity to my short-sightedness.

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Finally, Max has taught me that eyes are vulnerable. Sometimes, when scratching his head, he turns abruptly and my finger pokes his eye. I hate when that happens because I know it must hurt, but it reminds me how soft eyes are. It reminds me that when eyes or hearts or souls are hardened, they take in a distorted picture of the world and lead to distorted outcomes. There are too many hard-set eyes and hearts – I need to keep mine vulnerable and loving.

So, thank you Max for assuring me that it is natural when my eyes drift down in despair, off in hopelessness, or become furrowed in anger. But thank you also for teaching me to lift those eyes in loving compassion that can help bring hope into richer focus.

Howloween 2016

Well, Max is at it again – another year of pawsitively furocious costumes that will surely make your Howloween a little more golden.

This pupkin head dove right into the holiday spirit with his rendition of a Max-o-lantern.

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Isn’t this Golden Girl BEAutiful?

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A globe trotter mapping out his next tail-wagging adventure.

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Did anyone call for a fetching young gentledog?

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Meet the newest Puplo Picasso! Or is it Vincent Van Growl? Or Salivador Dogi? Or Fido Khalo? Or Edgar Dogas?

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To pup a butterfly

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Real dogs wear pink. (And Max was clearly on board with all these costumes…)

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“Bowties are cool.” –The Dogtor

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This rocktriever’s cover of “Muttster Mash” is sure to drive his record sales to gold!

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Max hopes your howloween is as inspawrational as his!

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(Like what you see? Max has been at this for three years now! Check out his catalog of costumes from 2015 and 2014.)

Max is a Punk

Max is a punk.

This last time I moved, I looked specifically for a house with a backyard that Max could enjoy. I was excited for Max to have a backyard for many reasons – he could spend more time outside, he could run around more, I could leave him alone longer when the weather’s nice. And I was most excited that a backyard meant I would not need to walk him every time he needed to go to the bathroom.

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I did find a house with a backyard and Max has made use of it, albeit not as often as I’d like. He uses it in the mornings and late at night, and it has been wonderful not having to walk him at those times.

But, I quickly found out that Max does not poop in the backyard if he can help it. Instead, he saves it all up for when I walk him every afternoon. He makes sure that I have to pick it up, instead of just going freely in the backyard.

Max is a punk.

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I suppose I understand this behavior. For three years, I trained him to go to the bathroom when we walked, because that was the only option. So, he’s probably just doing what his body is trained to do. But, he does go in the backyard sometimes, and he knows that’s ok. So, maybe he just doesn’t want the area he runs around in the most to be all poopy.

Or maybe he just wants to make my life harder and secretly enjoys the fact that I have to pick up his waste. (I know he’s smirking when I do it).

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Whether his behavior is intentional or not, Max has taught me that while we have to let crap out, we also have to be mindful of where it happens and who it effects. He has taught me that it is important and healthy to have an outlet, but it is not good if that outlet is inaccessible most of the time or if that outlet causes more harm to others around.

There are many sad and distressing things happening in the world that can cause unpleasant thoughts and feelings to well up in me. While these crappy thoughts and feelings need an outlet, I am aware that the things I say and do will impact the world and especially those close to me. Thus, there is a delicate balance to be met in how I let go of those things.

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I don’t want the crappy responses to pile up in my backyard. I don’t want them to overwhelm and stink up my personal life. And I do want them to bear witness to the crappy situations that caused them so that maybe those situations will change. Sometimes it is a real wake up call to me when Max poops a lot on walks, because it forces me to reconsider how much I have let him out – which in those instances is usually not nearly enough.

But I also don’t want to overwhelm others by only spewing crappy responses out into the world. And I don’t want to negatively impact the people walking alongside me, causing more harm to those unintentionally caught up in the matter.

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Max has taught me that it is not easy work being a punk. It is not easy to find the best ways to express all the emotions that are built up as reactions to a crazy world. Such expressions can easily overwhelm and cause more harm to self or others.

But he has also taught me that having the right people around me to guide toward appropriate outlets and patiently walking with me through the process of expression can make a huge difference in healthy release of crappy thoughts and feelings. He has taught me to be more mindful of all outlets available, and to work with the people around me to find the best opportunities to bring light to crappy situations while not furthering the messiness of the world.

So, thank you Max for teaching me to look for appropriate outlets for responses to a crazy world. And thank you for teaching me to be more aware of who is effected by the expression of crappy thoughts and feelings. And, though I love you even when you are being a punk, maybe we can start working on your less metaphorical crappy expressions.