Wait for it…

Max is decidedly not good at waiting. Even as I write this, he is impatiently staring at me to feed him, even though it is an hour before his normal dinner time.

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When he thinks it is time to eat or go outside or come back inside, he will let me know in as many ways as possible. He whines, he paces, he starts running around, and sometimes he even jumps up on me.

I try my best to respond in reasonable ways, and only make him wait when it is really necessary. But unfortunately for him, he has to wait on me for many things central to his life. He cannot get the dog food himself or let himself outside. And in those moments when I am distracted or my hands are full, Max makes sure I know the time is ticking.

I can’t really blame him, because waiting is hard, whether you have control of how long you wait or not.

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But I do hope that he can learn to wait with a greater stillness in his heart. When I see him getting more and more anxious in his impatience, I just want to assure him that it will be ok, that I am not ignoring him, and that everything will be remedied soon. His anxiety only increases the franticness of the situation and usually doesn’t bring things about any faster.

Max has taught me through his impatience that sometimes waiting with a little more stillness can make a big difference in how anxious the in-between time can be. I’m pretty good at waiting in stillness, and I wish that I could just give Max the peace I feel even when things are unresolved.

But Max is not wired that way, and so he is not good at waiting…

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…at least if waiting is primarily seen as a time to be still and passive. Max is definitely not still and passive. But maybe what Max is teaching me is that waiting is not always about stillness. Maybe sometimes waiting is about moving and bringing awareness.

Waiting in stillness usually refreshes my perspective and helps me to see what is really important in a matter. But sometimes that waiting only increases the harm or injustice happening. And too often I sit in stillness when I should be more impatient about the wrongs happening around me.

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In that sense, Max’s impatience reminds me of the value of waiting actively and loudly – the kind of waiting that characterized the civil rights movement and helped push forward the kinds of changes needed in society to ensure equal rights. And in a world where those equal rights are still not extended to all, maybe even more impetuous waiting is needed.

Max has taught me that waiting need not be somber and still. But it also goes beyond the “squeaky wheel gets the oil” mindset. It’s about tapping into a kind of waiting that is really attuned to justice and compassion for all – and then insisting that problems are addressed. It’s not a “squeaky” waiting, it is a stop all the traffic on the road because there was a major crash due to the fact that someone was sold a car with no wheels kind of waiting.

Max’s impatience may not be that weighty, but in observing the way he waits, I have learned that sometimes it is good to cultivate a sense of stillness and peace while waiting, especially for the things beyond my control. But sometimes, it is good to cultivate a sense of disruption and passion while waiting.

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And Max has taught me that either way, in stillness or action, waiting is best approached as a time of preparation. That could be preparing our hearts by instilling a sense of calm in the face of anxiety, or it could be preparing to make real change in the face of injustice, but either way the in-between waiting time is crucial for how we encounter or create whatever comes next.

So thank you Max for waiting on me. I hope you find a sense of peace in your waiting, but even in your impatience I thank you for pushing me to embrace a more active, uneasy spirit when waiting for wrongs to be righted.

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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.

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Max likes to be in the middle of everything going on.

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In fact, the only time I have seen him anxious are when he is in a place but cannot be involved in the main action.

For instance, about a year ago I took him with me to a day full of games with my friends, but I had to tie him up while playing. He barked the entire time and strained against the chain to be involved. He did not like missing out.

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Then, just yesterday, I took him to my mom’s house so he could play with her dog. We left them both in her big back yard to play and sat down to chat in the living room. Instead of playing, however, Max just sat at the window and stared at us.

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Max feared missing out on what we were doing.

And his fear of missing out kept him from actually engaging in the wonderfully fun setting he was in. He had a backyard full of toys and new smells to explore and another dog to play with. My mom even mentioned that one of the bones he likes was out in the yard, but he never found it because he stayed right by the window, wishing he was involved in a different setting.

He was stuck in a state of not getting to do what he feared missing and not taking advantage of the opportunity all around him.

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Max taught me that it is all too easy to be struck by a fear of missing out. And he taught me that it is not just a matter of longing for the greener grass. Rather it is a paralyzing state that both keeps one from noticing the good opportunities all around, and also makes one believe that some amount of worth or importance is tied to being involved in what other people are doing.

Max’s fear of missing out taught me that it is worthwhile to find ways to be fueled by an eagerness to engage the opportunities afforded me, rather than fear of what I may be missing. Both set my vision on new things and keep me in just enough discontent to yearn for new ways of interacting in the world. But whereas fear of missing out paralyzes me as I look toward those new opportunities, eagerness to engage my actual surroundings enables me to live and create and experience fulfillment.

Max has taught me that as I am afforded opportunities and different paths to take, I should live with the knowledge that I will miss out on some things. But he has also taught me that I should live with confidence that when I find myself in a certain situation, I can engage it with joyful eagerness and thus experience wonderful new things.

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So thank you Max for teaching me not to become paralyzed by a fear of missing out. Thank you for teaching me instead to look around and find the treasures in my own backyard.

The Unknown

A couple of weeks ago, when Max and I were walking through the snow, we came across something new to Max. Two snowmen sat happily right by the sidewalk. Max had no clue what to make of them. First he backed away a little while intently staring at them, then he stood in eager expectation. Eventually, he crept close to them, sniffing in overdrive.

He stood there sniffing the tree branch arm for a while before I started to pull him away. Yet, even as he was being dragged off, I could tell he was still very curious. He had not yet figured out what that new creation was and wanted to investigate more.

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During the rest of our walks that week, Max continued to slow down and stare at the snowmen whenever we passed by. He still did not know what to make of them, but he had a determined, cautious curiosity.

Max has acted the same way before when we walked close by some cows. One day the cows had come right next to the fence and Max could see and probably smell them. New sights and smells captured his attention and he paused, waiting to gain some better understanding of what the thing was.

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So, I began to notice a pattern in how Max approaches the unknown. He slows down, but I don’t think it is because he is scared. Rather, he gives it solemn attention and tries to glean as much as he can about that unknown thing. Then he slowly approaches, cautiously finding out more and more about it.

This approach is quite different from what is often my reaction. Granted the unknowns I face are a little different from snowmen and cows. The unknowns in my life are far more often the next step in the future of my career or personal life, the uncertainty of whether something I’ve planned will succeed, or a new development that I haven’t had to work through before.

I am the opposite of reckless, so sometimes when I am faced with these unknowns I freeze. Not Max’s attentive pause in which he tries to figure out the situation, but a full on freeze where I either try to ignore the new thing or become immediately overwhelmed with not knowing where to begin.

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Whenever I finally get unfrozen, I don’t approach the unknown until I have it all figured out. I don’t have Max’s courage to ease into it, and since I can’t figure it all out if I don’t approach, I sometimes stay stuck.

Whereas Max stays calm and approaches with a healthy curiosity, I sometimes get anxious and treat the unknown as some opposing force or task to be conquered or overcome. Rather than treating it as an opportunity for me to grow and learn, I treat it as a test of my worth or an obstacle to full living.

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But Max has taught me to approach the unknown things in my life in a healthier way. He has shown me the value of treating these situations cautiously, but also eagerly. He has taught me to embrace the unknown as an opportunity to learn and grow rather than become anxious and fearful.

Max has taught me that even when I have no clue what to make of something, I should neither run away from it nor be overwhelmed by it. Rather, I should take the little steps necessary for getting to know it so that I may enhance my understanding by embracing another part of this complex, interesting, sometimes weird, sometimes cool, sometimes hard, sometimes awe-inspiring life.

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So thank you Max for teaching me how better to approach the unknowns in my life. Thank you for your cautious courage and eager curiosity that inspire and challenge me.