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.

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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.

Settling

When max came into my life about two and a half years ago it was a startling thing. One day I lived by myself and didn’t know this dog, the next day we were spending most our time living together. Now, after two and a half years, I don’t even think about how weird it is that a dog lives with me. In fact, I was pretty much used to it after a couple of months.

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I find it interesting how quickly I can settle into things. Max has taught me that there is something innate in my being that tends toward settling. If I remember anything from middle school biology it is that organisms strive for homeostasis – some balance in life. And as much as I sometimes hate to admit it, I naturally seek such balance, such settling.

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And Max has revealed to me all the things I am capable of getting used to. Some of them are good – like Max’s general presence or going on several walks every day or being more in tune with the needs of another being.

But he has also taught me that some of the things I have gotten used to are not so good – like dog hair in my cereal, a pretty rank smell in my apartment, the constant mess of dog toys, and on my worse days, ignoring the needs of another.

This tendency to settle and get used to things, both good and bad, extends to every corner of my life. It can be good to settle into a rhythm of life in harmony with another being, but also I get used to some pretty terrible things in the world.

Max has illumined this reality of settling, and in doing so, he has reminded me to consider what I am actually getting used to. What am I settling with and for? What am I content to live with?

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In what ways am I getting used to a life that is wasteful, exploitative, self-centered, or closed-minded? When am I allowing the dead hair of a past I thought I shed to get tangled up in the nourishment that is propelling my present life? To what extent am I ignoring the stench of injustice to the point of training myself to think of it as normal life? When am I just avoiding the strewn about mess of forgotten problems instead of picking them up and dealing with them? To what extent am I allowing myself to live with being ignorantly removed from the deep needs of those around me?

Max can offer some stinging teaching moments sometimes.

But he has also led me to question more positively: When have I settled into a truly meaningful conversation or enjoyed the presence of loved ones? In what ways have I exercised my freedom for adventure, creativity, and discovery and settled into the excitement of those moments? In what ways have I gotten used to bending the path of my life in order to walk along with others in need? And how can I do more of this kind of settling?

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Max has taught me that I am a person who settles, who gets used to certain ways of life. And he has taught me that both sets of questions are crucial to ask myself over and over in order to make sure I am getting used to the right kinds of things.

Ultimately, Max has taught me that I can be someone who settles into love, compassion, and justice, as long as I am settling intentionally.

So thank you Max for teaching me that it really matters in what ways I am settling. Thank you for teaching me the dangers of getting used to a life of self-centered wastefulness and for helping me to consider how to settle in more loving ways.

Persistence

Max is obnoxiously persistent. I’ve already shared how persistent he is on walks either when he catches the scent of something he just must smell or when he is ready to sprint around.

But he is also surprisingly persistent around the house. When he craves attention he will try to climb on top of and over people to be right in the middle of things (which is why more of the pictures I take look like this rather than the nice ones I typically post).

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While Max may be calm most of the time, when he really wants something he will stop at nothing to get it.

I begrudgingly admit that this must be some sort of virtue he is teaching me. I do so begrudgingly because it is really annoying. The couple times it is humorous are far outweighed by the times I will do almost anything just to get him to stop.

But then I think of what he really wants at those times – to lay outside, to get some loving attention, to play. Self-centered desires perhaps, but still ones that are innocent and honest and ultimately lead to mutual sharing of affection. Max is persistent because he wants to be an important part of my life.

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And maybe I begrudgingly admit the value of his persistence because if I do so it reveals my own lack of intentionally spending that little bit of extra time with him. His persistence brings to light not only my lack of persistence, but also my often-present apathy.

Max has learned that there are some things not worth giving up on, some things in which we have to invest a little extra energy, some things we have to do over and over again because for whatever reason it is worth it and for whatever reason those around us do not seem to get it.

Max has taught me to persistently seek the things that matter most, especially when they do not come readily. Max has taught me to push for things that I care about even when I think my efforts make no difference. Max has taught me that persistence is a form of love when someone invests in others regardless of whether or not they are open to it.

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But I think I am right to be at least a little hesitant on lauding persistence in whole. Max does not always incessantly strive for the best things. There have been times when his insistence on eating decaying things outside resulted in sickness the next day.

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Thus, Max has also taught me that persistence must be tempered with humility, for I do not always have the full picture and what I insist on may not be the best thing. I must take the time to consider (with others) whether what I am consuming and promoting with zeal is life-giving or death-bringing.

So thank you Max for teaching me that there are some things worth pursuing persistently. And thank you for teaching me to incorporate humility in those persistent pursuits so that I may seek to align what I value with what is truly the best for all.

Going

Max likes to go. Go outside, go back inside, go in the car, go around and around (and thankfully I don’t mean go in the bathroom sense, though he does like to do that outside a lot too).

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He likes going in the sense of moving. In fact he is more or less built for that. While I get around well on two feet, he has four to continually propel him.

And often he really gets going on our walks. I even have to jog to keep up. I have a hunch that it is usually because he thinks he will get fed when we get back, and, hey, that’s a good enough reason for me too.

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Max has taught me something in his persistent going, especially when he is ready to go when I am not, when it’s hot outside or I am tired or busy or just do not want to do anything. Whether he goes fast or slow he goes and is always ready and willing to go. He could be half asleep and if he hears me walking to the door or getting my shoes, he is up and ready before I get those shoes on.

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Max has taught me to go even when I don’t feel like it. He has taught me that although I often need a push and a reason, it’s always worth it. It is worth it because in going I experience life in all its beauty and mess and warmth and cold and life and death.

Max has taught me that going is important because that is how I grow and learn and live.

Going does not mean that I always have to be busy though. Max is full of energy and his going is an expression of that energy, but I also see something significant in his disposition to go.  Max’s going is not born out of a need to fill his life with activities, but rather an eagerness to live his life to the full.

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And Max does experience that fullness of life because he is eager and ready to meet it anywhere at all times.  Even though he spends much of his life in a small apartment, he is no prisoner to apathy. He keeps a desire for life smoldering within himself that looks for opportunities to go and seizes them with vigor.

So thank you Max for teaching me to go even when I am lazy or apathetic. Thank you for teaching me to develop a disposition of going so that I may be ready and willing to experience life in whatever ways I meet it.