Devotion

This week I went for a jog. As I usually do, I left out the back yard and let Max outside while I ran. Normally, I also finish by coming back through the back yard and I see Max ready and waiting for me. This time, though, I ran a different route and came back in the front door without Max noticing.

When I got to the windows, I saw Max very expectantly waiting for me to return. He was laying in the grass looking out the way I normally come back, with ears eagerly perked and with attentive stare. I just stood and watched for a while as he stoically kept watch for me.

It truly warmed my heart to see such an obvious expression of his devotion.

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And then I took some pictures because I could not resist and because I immediately knew I wanted to write about that feeling.

Max was solely focused on my return. His whole being was dedicated to patiently waiting for me to come back. It was an expression of love and concern and loyalty.

I know Max and I are close, but in the day after day normalness of life, I sometimes forget about that bond. And I am ever grateful for that chance reminder of how much Max cares for me.

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Max taught me in that brief moment an important lesson about devotion. He reminded me of his loving devotion of me, but he also evoked some questions that I was forced to think about afresh:

To what in my life am I that dedicated? What am I willing to patiently sit and wait for without any certainty that it would be fulfilled?

What do I hope for with such expectant hope?

What would I give all my focus to and be completely present for?

What is so important to me that I would set everything else aside to attend to it?

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Thanks, Max, those are some deep and weighty questions. I have thought about some of this before, but seeing Max’s vigilant example made me reconsider how devoted I am to the important things in my life. And Max taught me that it is important to reexamine that devotion from time to time to make sure other stuff hasn’t distracted me.

Max taught me that there is stuff in this life that is worth such whole-hearted dedication. He has taught me that sometimes I need to take a moment and discover what I’m willing to sit in a backyard and eagerly expect for as much time as needed.

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But as I was watching Max, I also realized that his vigilant patience, as touching as it was, did not do anything to help him realize his hopes.

In the specific case of Max, I am ever grateful that he did not decide to jump the fence and run after me in order to realize that hope. But I also see the limits in just sitting and waiting.

Sometimes we have to sit and wait to know what is worth that level of devotion, but then sometimes we have to do something to grasp at that hope. Max taught me that idle devotion is good for scaring the squirrels away, but not much else (and I am convinced the squirrels would eventually garner the courage needed to come in anyway). He taught me that idle devotion leads to deferred dreams. He taught me that I have to do more than eagerly listen and watch for change, I have to jump over fences and go on a pretty uncertain, risky journey.

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And I don’t think that realization detracts from the profound expression of and lesson about devotion that I saw as he lay waiting. Rather, I think it adds to it. Because when a door was open to Max (the back door that I eventually did open when I couldn’t take it anymore), he ran to me in a full expression of that loving devotion come alive.

So thank you Max for teaching me about the beauty of hopeful devotion. And thank you for teaching me that such devotion is truly alive when it is riskily pursued.

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Disturbing the Peace

This past week, Max woke me up in the middle of the night twice on Monday and once Tuesday. And by middle of the night I mean right in the dead center of what would have otherwise been some really peaceful sleep.

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He usually does not wake up in the middle of the night, but he had spent all weekend with some other dogs and had partied a little too hard.

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He had all kinds of stuff making his stomach turn that he normally doesn’t – other dog’s food, lots of bones, and even probably some people food. I expected it to be rough for him, but I did not expect to be woken up in the middle of the night. And on multiple occasions.

Max disturbed my peace.

And I have realized he disturbs my peace quite often, even when not in the middle of the night. I often work from home when I have things to do that require more focus than I am afforded at my job. And most days, while I am trying to get a lot done at my computer, Max comes up to me desiring some attention. Whether he is wielding a toy or just forcing his cute head onto my lap, it is clear that Max is on a mission to disturb my peace.

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While I understand the behavior, I usually get annoyed and let him outside. But the thing about having my peace disturbed is that there is another byproduct that I am beginning to notice. The community I help lead has been digging into the notion that when peace is disturbed, often inner thoughts are more fully revealed.

Max has been teaching and reinforcing that lesson as well. He has revealed that I have many assumptions and default motivations that rest just under the surface and which I often don’t really notice. And Max has taught me that I need a little disruption in order to bring those thoughts more fully into the light.

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When Max disturbs the peace I construct around myself in order to get more work done, he reveals that I don’t take enough time to slow down and really be present to what’s going on around me or especially to the people and dogs in my life. Max has taught me that my actions show that I value productivity over meaningful time spent with others and that my inner thoughts are focused far more on accomplishing tasks than on compassionately and lovingly attending to those around me.

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But Max has also taught me that there is some hope. In disrupting my peaceful sleep so much this week, Max has also revealed some more positive inner thoughts. Max has revealed that I care deeply for him, because I am convinced that a sure test of what people most value is what we will wake up for in the middle of the night. And Max has taught me that if I am willing to forego sleep to care for him, perhaps that level of care and compassion can influence all of my life, even when my inner thoughts seem locked in the little world I create.

So thank you Max for disturbing my peace, and in so doing revealing some of my inner thoughts. And thank you for helping me direct those inner thoughts in a more caring, compassionate manner.

But, I’d also be grateful if you didn’t disturb my peaceful sleep anymore…

Passersby

Max never ignores anyone he passes. It can be frustrating at times, but he goes up to every new person he comes into contact with, whether they be visitors to the house or strangers we pass on walks.

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I noticed this behavior most on walks over the past several years, especially when I began to hope that we would not pass by many people so that we could get through the walk in a reasonable time. Max is too willing to interrupt his routine to meet new people and is unwilling to pass anyone by without extending a chance to get to know them.

I think he is good at approaching people in part because he is very cute and who in their right mind could turn down that face?

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But also, he is intentional about it, and consistent. He sees every moment as an opportunity to meet someone and does not see any value in ignoring them.

I have a lot to learn from Max in this regard. I am a pretty reserved person and there are many times I am in public and I try not to make eye contact with the people around me. Especially on walks, I have often found myself not even looking at the people Max was eagerly meeting. And there was no good reason for that. Even on very busy days, those encounters only take a couple of seconds to exchange smiles and greetings.

Max has taught me that it is always worthwhile to pay attention to the people around me. Whether that encounter remains merely a kind greeting or develops into something more meaningful, it is an important use of my time.

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But Max has also taught me that such a disposition and action requires intentionality. I can’t just expect it to happen, rather I have to warmly greet those whose paths I cross. It seems that dogs and little kids are both very good at this, especially when they come across one another. I have been stopped many times on walks by little kids who want to pet Max. They are intentional and unashamed to extend kind attention to Max and me.

I don’t know that I was ever that outgoing as a kid, but I am aware that I have taken on layers of unhelpful distancing from people around me, especially those I don’t know. And Max has taught me that I have to let go of some of that attitude to be more open to other people.

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Max has also taught me that being a more welcoming passerby helps to develop a non-judging attitude. As we continually attend to all people, I learn more and more that they all have value, they are all important, and they all have a spark of something profound in them. Through practicing extending such attention to everyone I meet, I am slowly growing in my ability to encounter others non-judgmentally.

And Max has taught me how to give someone my attention gracefully, because there are many people who are set on their way and are not receptive to his greeting. When that happens, he is not obnoxious (at least on walks, at home is a slightly different story) and he is not disheartened by lack of receptivity, but rather he carries on to extend openness to the next encounter.

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Ultimately, Max has helped me see the value of not just passing by, but rather being kind, open, and attentive to others as we cross paths. In this sense, Max has taught me to cross paths rather than pass by, so that my life and the lives of those around me are all truly affected by one another. Crossing paths may be slower and more complicated than merely passing by, but it is much more worthwhile.

So thank you Max for teaching me how to better extend my attention and openness to all whom I pass. And thank you for teaching me to actively value others instead of ignoring them so that we can more meaningfully cross paths.

Balcony Life

Max loves sitting or laying out on our balcony. At our previous apartment, the balcony was so tiny that he could barely fit out there by himself, but he still tried to get out as often as he could. Now, at our current place, he as plenty of room to stretch out and enjoy, and he makes even more effort to constantly be out there.

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Since we are in that little window of time when the temperature outside is actually pleasant, I have been leaving the door to the balcony open whenever I am home. That means Max can go in and out to his heart’s delight. And when I forget to open it, or I close it because it is too noisy, Max notices. He gets a little upset and bothers me until I open it again.

I don’t know why he likes it so much. Perhaps he enjoys seeing all the things going on around the apartment (though the view is not really that great). Maybe the concrete floor and the breeze blowing by make a nice, cool environment. Or maybe there is just something about being outside that soothes him.

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I don’t often accompany Max out there. I usually have too much to do between cooking, eating, working, and watching TV. I like the idea of going out there and sitting with him, but it just does not happen very often.

But when I do follow Max’s lead, I learn again how important it is to go outside and sit and listen.

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Max has taught me that I need those breaks from all that I am doing (especially breaks from sitting in front of a computer or TV screen). And he has taught me that sitting outside and listening is far from a waste of time.

He has taught me to pay closer attention to the beauty of the sounds of life – whether that is birds singing, squirrels rustling in trees, wasps buzzing around, or even the distant drone of cars on the road. All those sounds remind me of the beauty of this world. And as I rest and turn my attention to those sounds, I experience that soothing feeling that Max must experience too.

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Max can be a very hyper, active dog, but in these moments he teaches me how to be still and restful. He teaches me how to better attune my senses to the world around me so that I can better appreciate all that is going on. He teaches me a practice of peace that I desperately need in my sometimes chaotic life.

So, thank you Max for reminding me of the need for rest. Thank you for leading me to be better attuned to the beauty of this world and for sitting with me out on our balcony.