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.

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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.

Act Your Age

A little over a week ago, we celebrated Max’s 6th birthday. Happy birthday Max!

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To be honest, I thought it was his 5th birthday, and I would have stuck by that if Erin had not been sure I was wrong. After looking back at his earliest records, I was wrong, he is definitely 6.

It’s hard to believe because for a dog that age is starting to sound a little old. I certainly hope he has much longer to live, but for some reason 5 still sounds closer to puppy age and 6 is definitely in a different category.

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And yet, Max still acts as wild and crazy as he always has. Just yesterday we went out for a walk and when we got to the gate he was so hyper that he started making laps around the backyard. We still wrestle every now and then and he is just as fierce as ever.

I know that it is hard for me to see any changes because I live with him everyday. Any development is so gradual that it is often imperceptible. But also, I just can’t bring myself to call this guy mature…

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I don’t really know what it would look like for a dog to act its age at year 6, but I keep expecting for Max to start mellowing out. In fact, many days I eagerly hope he starts mellowing out so that he doesn’t freak out when we pass other dogs on walks. But in the same breath I am grateful that he is active and healthy and I hope he maintains that liveliness as long as possible.

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Max has taught me that it is really difficult to determine what it means for anyone to act their age. We were walking this week and we passed some people building a house. As we passed, a guy on the roof started doing a hilarious dance. It was a moment of sheer goofiness, but also complete authenticity. I thought, what is that grown man doing dancing like that? Then I laughed and thought, good for him.

Similarly, when I see Max do some of the weird things he does, I wonder what is that dog doing sleeping like that? Factoring in dog years, he’s quite a bit older than me now. But then I laugh and think, good for him.

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Max has revealed a sort of existential question I continue to think about more and more. What does it mean to act my age? I can’t stay out late at wedding receptions as long as I used to, but I also still do a lot of stuff late at night and I like to make goofy videos. I am definitely still very young, but at what point does the switch flip to feeling and acting a different age?

And then Max teaches me that acting my age is ultimately about being authentically me. Acting my age is much less about acting, and much more about being myself. In a way, it is impossible not to act my age, because I am who I am.

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Now, I want to be clear that such authenticity doesn’t mean anything goes. There is certainly maturity that develops over my whole life. And there are societal and moral values that I must continue to uphold. But really, those don’t change just because of age. Respect of others, promotion of justice, and compassionate love are involved in being any age. Authenticity is no pass for gross misconduct toward other people.

And yet, true authenticity is key to acting my age. Max reminds me that I shouldn’t put on a mask trying to present myself differently just because I am older. Acting my age is about continual growth – developing the ways I can live more and more in loving, just relation with all people. But it also means I do that in an authentic way.

So thank you Max for acting your age – being authentically you at all times. I look forward to growing with you year after year and learning more from you as you get older and wiser. I may still laugh at some of the weird things you do, but I also think, good for you for being you.

Happy Howloween 2017!

Max never misses an oppawtunity to bring you some hair-raising howloween fun. For the fourth year in a row, Max is costumed up to the k-nines and you are furtunate enough to get a glimpse!

Livin’ that pupster life, man.

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Max is the ultimutt champion!

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But he may have played a little too ruff. Would someone please call the dogtor?

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Well hello there Mr. Hairy Trueman.

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Max insists on the golden standard of video gaming.

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And when he doesn’t get his way, beware…Mad Max: Furry Road

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Tune in Fridays on the Fido Network to learn how to make the perfect puppy chow with Barka Stewart.

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Layin’ down some jazzy beats with Max Pooch.

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This muttchanic is no tool. He’ll get even the ruffest jobs done.

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I hope you don’t have trouble retrieving your lines. I’ve head this director is impawsible to work with.

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No more tricks for this guy, just some much deserved treats!

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Thank you, Max, for giving us all a happy howloween!

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There’s plenty more where this came from. Check out year 1, year 2, and year 3 of costumed madness!

The Rules of the Game

Max likes games, but since I never really took the time to teach him how to play, he doesn’t know how any typical dog games are supposed to go.

Or maybe he does know and he just insists on playing by his own rules.

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Every now and then I get the urge to try to play fetch with him. It usually goes something like this: I walk out into the yard wherever he last left the ball. He gets really excited because I’m doing something he could potentially be involved in. (It’s important to note that this is the same level of excitement he shows when I sit on the couch -not something he can really be involved in-, or when I start making dinner -again, not something he can be involved in. So, his level of excitement is not a good indicator of actual involvement…)

After I pick up the ball, he focuses solely on it. I think, “Cool, we are doing this.” And I throw the ball. Max runs after it, but instead of bringing it back to me as a RETRIEVER probably should, he takes it away to a different part of the yard and lays down with it.

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Max clearly does not understand how the game fetch works and how fun it is to keep up the cycle of chasing and retrieving. What I’ve begun to suspect Max does understand is how fun keep away is.

Either Max is really clueless (and I might answer that differently depending on the day) or Max thinks that fetch is “keep away.”

I can’t help but come to the conclusion that Max is legitimately playing a different game than I am.

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And it is not just in fetch/keep away. Every now and then I get the urge to play tug of war with Max. It usually goes something like this. I see a toy where Max has left it on the living room floor. I pick it up. Max gets really excited because I’m doing something he could potentially be involved in…

After I pick up the toy, he focuses on it and I think, “Cool, let’s do this.” I extend the toy to him, he latches on and we do start tugging for a while. It is clear that Max knows he is not supposed to let go. Things are going a little better than fetch at this point.

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Max is pretty rough with the toy, and I’ve noticed that he usually readjusts his grip to catch the weakest part. It’s a weird strategy.

Then, if I let go (to make him think he has a chance, of course), he runs off with the toy and starts chewing on it to try to rip it to shreds. That is not tug of war.

Max clearly does not understand how the game tug of war works and how fun it is to have whole, not chewed up toys, to play it with.

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I’ve begun to suspect that Max thinks that tug of war is actually “tear stuff up.” And he legitimately likes to play the game tear stuff up with me – allowing me to hold in place what he wants to tear up.

Max and I are simply not playing the same games.

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Now this could be a nice lesson in which I learn how valuable it is to take someone else’s point of view and see how the world is fundamentally different for them than it is for me. I would otherwise have no clue why Max is such a weirdo when it comes to normal dog games. But in stepping into his paws for a second, I can begin to see this other possibility.

But I’m just competitive enough, that the first lesson I actually learned from all this is that playing different games means that we each think the other person is losing really badly. Max is owning me in keep away because I just keep throwing the ball away, and I think he stinks at fetch. Max is destroying it in tear stuff up (literally), and I’m just frustrated that he has ripped up another toy. If we are not playing by the same rules, no one really wins…if winning is even really the point of such interactions.

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I have found this to be an important lesson. And I can’t help but think that different segments of society understand each other less and less because we don’t even agree on the rules of the game. Of course, the issues that lead to the division we see are by no means games, but still it is easy to think we are winning if we are investing in values fundamentally different from each other.

I’m going to be more direct than normal here. I think President Trump is losing when he fundamentally misunderstands a peaceful protest about real racial injustice in our country or when he tramples on the civil rights of lgbtq persons, etc. And I have come to understand that he and many of his supporters think me and others who hold similar opinions are losing when we don’t support what he apparently sees as American values.

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Now, Max has not taught me a solution to this divisiveness…at least not yet. I think it goes beyond merely trying to understand one another, because this stuff isn’t a game. And even if we agree on the rules, I don’t see how competing to win will help those among us who really need help.

I look forward to that lesson with the solution, hopefully sooner than later. But for now, Max has taught me why he and I seem so disconnected sometimes. And he has taught me that both of us will always lose if we aren’t playing by the same rules.

So, thank you Max for teaching me that sometimes you really are playing by different rules of the game. Thank you for helping me understand some elements of the disconnect I see around me, and I hope that you will soon teach me how to address that division.