What’s the Rush?

Max has become a big ol’ lazy bones. Most mornings and nights he is in no rush to do anything. There are still occasional moments when he is rearing to play or anxious for attention. And when he knows food or something new and exciting is at stake, relaxed Max goes out the window and the frantic rush takes over.

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But those frantic times are increasingly the exception. Maybe it is the reality of Max entering middle age, or maybe he just has a more laid back view of life.

Either way, it bothers me quite a bit, especially when I am in a rush. Most often, such frustration hits me on walks. I enjoy walking Max, but often I am fitting it in between getting home from work and going to another meeting or getting dinner ready or whatever else fills my evening time. The worst is when it is raining in the mornings and Max will not go out on his own, but I know he needs to go to the bathroom. On those mornings (and they are always the ones for which I am already running late), Max seems to take an extra long time deciding which identical spot of ground to pee on; in the rain; while I’m getting later and later.

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Max is simply not in a rush.

As frustrating as it sometimes can be, Max has taught me to reconsider whether that rushing around is really worth it.

Sure, there are things I can’t help but hurry to do, but perhaps I have given in a little too much to a rushed lifestyle.

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Recently, I spent half a year reading the James Joyce novel, Ulysses. Some of that was due to an overly busy schedule leaving little time for reading, but also the book itself is written in such a convoluted way that it forced me to slow way down. And that frustrated me. I have so many other books I want to read and that pace was not acceptable.

But now that I’ve finished, I see some of the same wisdom I have learned from Max – what was the rush? It is a fantastic read unlike anything I have read before, and in the moment I just wanted to get it done. But that wasn’t the point, and thankfully the writing itself forced me to slow down a bit.

Max, in his counter-cultural approach to life, has taught me to be more aware of how rushed I allow myself to get. As I busy around the house frantically doing stuff, I see him out of the corner of my eye, enjoying the beautiful sunny day or sprawled out on the nice, cool floor.

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To be fair, he has the luxury of no responsibilities, and I have the privilege of living a life in which I can afford taking breaks and slowing down a bit. But Max is teaching me a value of life that I see ignored and trampled upon around me, and which I myself am tempted to see as lazy or weak or trifling.

To slow down certainly means giving something up – a sense of efficiency or productivity, maybe even a bit of reputation or pride. But in observing Max closely, I see that his lack of rush is not all laziness or weakness. By not rushing, Max is much more present. He sees things going on that I wouldn’t see. He can much more easily adapt to anything new happening that either requires his attention or is merely something fun. And he certainly has less stress and worry.

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I know I will still be busy and that there will be plenty of times I have to rush around, and sometimes it might lead to something good. But Max has taught me that there is a difference between being busy and rushing around. Even the busyness can be approached in a more intentional and less rushed manner. In order to best navigate those busy (or still) times, he has taught me to question consistently, “What’s the rush?” And in doing so, he has taught me to seek the values of presence, appreciation, adaptation, and peace over only looking to the next thing, productivity, schedules, and non-stop-ness, so that maybe I can define not only my day, but also myself in a healthier, more wholesome way.

So thank you Max for being an easy-going presence in my life. Thank you for helping me question why I expect such a rushed life and showing me the true strength and value of a slower, more intentional approach.

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Dog Days of Summer (Part 2)

Max has certainly taught me how to boldly face the uncomfortable heat of these dog days of summer, as I shared last week. But he has also taught me that moving and keeping busy is not the only (and not always the healthiest) way of dealing with the heat.

Max most truly embodies the image of the dog days of summer as he spends much of the day plopped down on the cool tile of the kitchen or bathroom. And there is a beauty and art to Max’s flopping down on the nice cool tile floor in the middle of the hot afternoon. It’s not the slobber pattern he leaves on the ground, however abstract expressionist it may be, but rather the intentional way he takes a break.

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Such rest is important, not only in these dog days of summer, but at every time. And as important and life giving as that rest is, both Max and I are not great at it.

Max is so eager to get attention and be in the middle of the action that he easily wears himself out without even thinking about it. Several years ago we took a day hike around a nature trail on a really hot mid-Spring day. After a long time, we finally turned around to go back to the car, and for most of that trek Max was eager to keep up and take everything in. Yet, even with plenty of water stops, he finally got so tired he had to stop and rest. He just plopped down right in the middle of the trail.

I think it is the only time I’ve seen him stop in the middle of an activity – and it was clear we had both pushed ourselves too far by that point.

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Even on our walks around the neighborhood, I can tell when he is overly tired from the heat, but still pushes himself to keep going. And Max has taught me to look into myself and recognize the same pattern.

Max has taught me that I too have a hard time taking a break. I don’t like to sit still for long, even when I am tired. I don’t like naps, because why would you when you can just drink more delicious coffee?

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And yet, Max has also taught me the danger of not taking breaks. During that day hike when he just stopped, Max scared me. It was so weird to see him lay down in the middle of a walk and it was immediately clear that we had pushed it too hard.

The beauty and art of his plopping down, then on the trail and now on the kitchen tile, is the way it is a window into the reality and danger of fatigue, which is only emphasized by the oppressive heat. In that one motion he is able to convey so clearly the state of things and how consuming exhaustion can be.

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But the beauty and art of his plopping down also extends to showing the deep value of rest. Max has taught me that those moments of rest are not just lazy or selfish or weak. They are signs of being deeply in tune with needs and they are a way to embrace life-giving restoration that will positively impact me and all the other people I come in contact with. Such rest helps me recover and find peace and even prepares me for those other times when I do have to go out and boldly face the heat.

In the midst of Max’s restorative, dog days of summer embracing, peaceful way of life, he has helped me learn the value and importance of rest. When I push myself to constantly be doing things, Max reminds me to be. When I am over-busy, Max teaches me to chill.

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And often, in the middle of the heat of these dog days, the most helpful and healthy thing to do is to chill.

So thank you Max, for teaching me the honest truth that I am often bad at resting. And thank you for reminding me of the important, restorative purposes of plopping down and taking a break. It is a lesson I know I will need to be taught again, but it is a lesson I know you are happy to teach.

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.

Interruption

Max tends to be a bit of an interruption in my life.

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For instance, when I sit down in the evening to watch TV or read, he often starts pleading to go outside and I have to pause what I am doing to open the door for him. Or, when I lay on the couch for a few minutes after a busy day, he quickly comes to try to play (for some reason he is never content just to join me). Even as I write this entry, he is letting me know he wants to go outside and then come back inside and then receive some attention.

As frustrating as these little interruptions are, I really can’t blame Max for them, because he doesn’t understand what I am doing, and if I were him, I’d probably do the same.

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But Max provides an even bigger, more consistent level of interruption in my life. I have to be sure to structure my day around feeding and walking him at appropriate times. Such structure means that I cannot stay at work or stay out with friends super late without having taken care of Max.

If I do have a lot of plans all day, I have to interrupt those plans at least for a little while to make sure Max is cared for. I have to interrupt the flow of my (often over-busy) life to do the simple work of feeding, walking, and spending time with Max.

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Sometimes, this interrupted living is very hard. I can get immersed in what I am doing, or exciting opportunities can pop up unexpectedly. But then I have to be mindful of how long I will be gone and sometimes have to turn things down.

But, the more I live a life interrupted by Max, the more I see the value in it. Interruptions are not inherently bad, especially interruptions of love and care.

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Max has taught me, through his interruptions, that life is more than being consumed by a busy schedule. Life is more than going from one exciting thing to the next. Life is also about having that busyness interrupted for moments of sharing love and caring for another being.

Don’t get me wrong, I still have an incredibly busy life. And I even find quite a bit of value in all the things I rush around doing. But Max has taught me that the interruptions are valuable too. He has taught me to pay closer attention to the people and things that derail me and cause me to invest my attention in a different way. He has taught me to be more intentional about being present in those interruptions and allowing them to be moments when I really connect with others.

Max has taught me to view interruptions not as detractors from full life, but rather as meaningful additions to full life.

So, thank you Max for interrupting me (though I am not always thankful in the moment). Thank you for helping me experience the value of interrupting my busy day to share quality time with those whom I can love and for whom I can care.

 

P.S. This is one of those lessons I have learned in various ways from various people the past couple of weeks. So, I also give credit to my boss and coworkers and all the people in my life who interrupt me in helpful ways and teach me the value of attending to interruptions.

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.

Check Up

Max went to the vet today for his yearly check up. He seemed to be a mix of excited to go somewhere and see new people, but also anxious to be in a fairly unfamiliar place. And then relieved to find a very cool floor in the middle of a very hot day.

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But he had nothing to worry about. Everything looked good and he had even lost 4 lbs since last year. I was a little worried about his ears because last year he had a bad infection, but even those were perfect. He is a healthy dog!

Through this process of check up, Max taught me how important regular care is. The vet is a wonderful thing to have, but the vet’s job is to fix problems (and to a degree prevent them). The more important thing is daily working toward health so that, like this visit, the doctor does not have to fix anything that is wrong.

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This ongoing, daily work is hard and I am not always good at it. Whether it is my car or plants or animals or myself, I often don’t work on things until it is too late. I’ll be honest that this week leading up to the check up, I made sure Max got a little more exercise than normal and that we actually used the ear cleaner we should be using every week.

We live busy lives and it is easy to forget about or put off every little thing we can do to be healthier every day. It is easy to forget how each daily action impacts our lives in subtle, but important ways.

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Max taught me that every little walk, bath, and administering of medicine is important, even if it seems mundane at the time. The check up could have been very different if we neglected some regular healthy activities. And it could have been different if we spent even more time exercising (the doctor still wants him to lose a few more pounds).

These daily actions add up to a lifelong process that not only prevents illness (baring any accidents), but more importantly, makes us better and healthier. We have an option each day to grow one direction or another. The yearly check up is great and helpful, but it cannot propel us toward better forms of living – only daily effort can do that.

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Max taught me that perhaps it is our daily practice of good living that makes the biggest impact on ourselves and others. We could spend a full day or week doing good, healthy things, and it would make a difference. But true change in our lives and world comes from regular attention and the continual work toward something better.

So, thank you Max for living a good, healthy life with me. And thank you for teaching me that every little thing matters as we work daily to become healthier and better creatures.

P.S. Also good, but quite explicit at the end:

Sometimes you just gotta sit and stare (version 2)

Often, Max just sits and stares.

I’ve noticed it more lately because we have both been stuck at home more often with all the snow and ice.

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The first version of this observation had to do with a response to the overwhelming amount of tragic events occurring in the world. That is unfortunately still very true, but I see another element to Max’s sitting and staring now.

When I join Max, I find the practice to be quite peaceful and healing. When we sit and stare we let our minds wander and rest, something that happens far too infrequently in my busy life.

I am often coming and going rapidly for work or personal matters and it never seems to stop. There is never a reprieve or a perfect time to get away from it all.

Don’t get me wrong, I like my job and I like to be busy, and I even get restless very very easily. But staying on the move is tiresome especially when event bleeds into event and there is no time for a breather in between.

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Then, the snow and ice fell and I was stuck in the apartment for several days the past two weeks. I still had plenty to do, but I also had a little more time to observe Max and see the benefits of a life at rest.

And I joined him in his sitting and staring and let my mind relax. In fact, I’ve been able to intentionally set some time aside everyday to push aside responsibilities and duties and just sit and stare and be.

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Max has taught me that sometimes I just have to sit and stare. Sometimes my mind needs a break. Sometimes my mind needs the freedom to explore things in new ways. And most of the time that does not naturally happen.

Max has taught me that I need to allow myself the time to wander through thoughts and experience the peacefulness of the moment.

Sometimes I have to buckle down and get things done, but that is surprisingly much easier than taking time to sit and not worry about things. Sometimes I need to sit back and know that things will be ok and that I am not defined by all the things I get done.

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And sometimes I need just to be present, resting with my friend.

So thank you Max for sitting and staring with me. Thank you for teaching me the importance of resting my mind and wandering through peacefulness.