Greedy

Max often comes across as greedy. I think it is mostly because he is terrible at waiting when he knows there’s something else he can snatch up.

For instance, when we go visit other houses with dogs, Max immediately goes to eat whatever other dog food is lying around. He waits for no one, especially whoever is telling him “no” or the other dog looking confusedly and helplessly at the sight. The same goes for any toys that are lying around – Max will greedily claim them as his.

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His greediness with food and toys can be frustrating and embarrassing, but I’ve also noticed a different kind of greediness – Max craves a lot of attention and love.

I imagine that right now, that is partly due to him still adjusting to the new baby in the house and wanting to be in the middle of things when we are playing with her. And so I do try to carve out time in the day where I show him direct attention and he gets to be close by when we play with the baby.

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But it never seems to be enough. Max wants more and more love and attention, whether it is from us on a typical day, or from friends who come by for an evening. Max tends not to leave people alone as long as they have an empty hand to pet him.

And that has made me wonder – is there ever a time that it is good to be greedy? Could it be good to be greedy for love?

Love is certainly a good thing and experiencing it is a need of living beings, but I’ve always been taught that greediness is inherently bad – it’s one of the seven deadly sins after all. But then again when Max craves more loving attention, it just doesn’t seem bad, even if it interrupts whatever I am doing.

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I think it is complicated because love is a different kind of commodity than food or toys or other tangible items. Love is not just something that is received (at least not at its best), rather it is something that is mutually shared. As much as Max is greedy to receive loving attention from me, he is also eager to show me that he loves and cares for me.

That means the “greediness” is not purely consumption – it is not just Max taking and taking selfishly, which seems to be the evil root of greed. Rather, Max’s greediness is as much a giving as it is a taking, and he teaches me that perhaps if I was more “greedy” to give love to all those around me, the world might be a better place and our connections might be strengthened.

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Moreover, when I think about what Max is doing, I see that he is teaching about the importance of assertiveness. Max is asserting his real need for receiving more loving attention and giving more loyal companionship. That kind of assertiveness is important to maintain a healthy, mutual connection of love where he feels needed.

Max has taught me the value of being more assertive in need for love, and the value of really paying attention to the expression of that need. He has taught me that it is not so much a matter of greediness, but really a matter of sharing more abundantly in the loving connection we have.

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And ultimately, he has taught me that greediness can be good when it is not just about taking or consuming. When love is in the mix, greediness can help us experience the goodness of boldly giving of ourselves more and more.

So thank you Max for being a little greedy for loving attention and for teaching me the value of assertiveness and abundance when it comes to love.

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Pupternity Training

Max and I have spent the last 6 weeks at home on paternity/pupternity leave with the newest human addition to the family. I’ll be honest that I was very nervous about caring for a baby all day – it is not something I have much experience with. Max, on the other hand, was very excited to have friends at home with him, and was not nervous about the baby at all.

And the more time we all spent together, the more I realized how much Max had already taught me that prepared me well for caring for an infant. I know I still have much more to learn, and I am sure Max has much more to teach me about being a dad, but here are a few lessons I learned before graduating from this round of pupternity training.

Com-mutt-ucation or Non-English 101

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Max has yet to master the English language, which can be frustrating when I want him to really understand something I am saying. But in this case, his non-verbal skills have helped me, the now only and out-numbered English speaker in the house during the day. By honing my ability to pick up on all different kinds of communication, Max has helped me make at least a little more sense of the baby’s crying and babbling.

Too Drool for School or Biolo-gross

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I always thought Max was too slobbery, until the baby began sucking on arms or shirts or her own hands or whatever she could get her mouth on. I still don’t like slobber – human or canine – and I still do all I can to avoid or get rid of it, but Max at least prepared me with the assurance it can be washed away before it returns again and again and again.

Hungry, Hungry Hound-os or Lunchtime

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I have written here often about how Max loves eating. I promise I feed him enough (according to the vet), but he has always been one of those Golden Retrievers who devours whatever food or treats he is given. Little did I know that dealing with his ravenous hunger would prepare me for an equally ravenous little human. Max has taught me how to be quick on the draw with food, which I’m sure the baby has already thanked him for and is colluding with him for some future joint food heist.

Let Sleeping Babes Lie or Naptime

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In addition to wanting to eat all the time, both Max and the baby are very prone to sleeping all the time. Max sleeps in the most random places at the most random times, and while the baby is less free to find her own napping spot, she certainly finds plenty of random time to sleep throughout the day. Max prepared me for how best to tiptoe around the house in order to avoid waking up any dozers. And Max has been oh so nice as to wake me up in the early morning hours occasionally over the past several years to get me ready for the baby waking up at any random hour. (To be fair, my lovely spouse does so much more of the middle of the night stuff than I do, so I thank Max on her behalf too.)

A Little Ruff Housing or Physical Educanine

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Max has incessantly taught me how important and fun playtime is. He is always ready to go on a walk or run around or wrestle and will not let me forget even when I am tired. His eagerness for playtime has prepared me to make sure the baby also gets a lot of playtime, and he has taught me that in both of their cases, that free play is where the real discovery takes place…even if it is discovering ways they can plot against me (I can see it in their eyes)!

Time Trots On By or History Unleashed

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It is hard to believe Max and I have lived together for 5 years, just as it is hard to believe that I have already finished 6 weeks with the baby. Each day, and sometimes each week, has felt rather long, but Max has prepared me for how overall it flies by quickly. I know I don’t even know the beginning of how quickly that history will zoom by with the baby, but at least Max has taught me to live as presently as possible and enjoy the time.

Poopy Puppies or Can I Get a Hallpass?

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And possibly the top way Max has prepared me for this baby stuff is by giving me opportunities every single day to pick up poop. Max has allowed me so much close contact with poop that handling it has become a fact of life. I don’t love that about my life, and I still don’t love dirty diapers, but Max has taught me that dealing with others’ poop is not so undignified and that a swift, direct approach is the best. He has also taught me that no matter how much poop I deal with, more will always come.

So thank you Max for preparing me for this new adventure with another human in my life. Thank you for being good and patient these 6 weeks at home together and for teaching me at least a some of what it means to care for another hungry, slobbery, sleepy, sometimes confusing being. And I look forward to what you will teach the baby about how best to live with me.

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…

Matted

Max’s hair often gets matted, especially just under his ears. It’s hard to see, but once I start petting him and scratching around his ears, I often get a big handful of clumped up hair.

Sadly, there is not much Max can do about this and I am pretty bad at both preventing the mats and getting rid of them when they emerge. Since he very rarely shows any sign of being hurt, I quickly forget it is a problem. The mats grow on unseen until they are really too big to ignore.

And Max has taught me that while I don’t experience matted hair like he does, there are many dirty, useless things that clump up in my own life too. Whether it is nagging doubt, failures, hateful thoughts, or apathy, my heart seems to experience a similar state of matted material at times.

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After some quick research, I learned that Max’s mats are probably caused by a mixture of movement (scratching his head/ears), old hair loosening but not falling out, and external dirt sticking it all together. As the old hair is pressed together with dirt and clings to the hair still growing, it clumps together in a tangled mess.

Similarly, I recognize that when I just can’t let go of something that is wearing me down, when the stresses of the world press upon me, and when external concerns cling to me, my heart gets matted and tangled. If I don’t fully let the self-doubt and bitterness fall away from me, it gets tangled up in the new directions I am trying to move and is all pressed together by hatefulness that is still too apparent in the world.

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I have also learned that mats are bad not only because they impede the growth of new hair, but also because they inhibit oxygen getting to the skin and begin to pull on the skin so that it is weakened. On top of that they become potential breeding grounds for parasites that can cause even more damage.

The mats of the heart seem to create similar problems. They keep me tangled up in unhelpful issues and make new growth harder. These mats make it harder for my soul to breathe the fresh air of forgiveness and easier for other forms of carelessness and selfishness to emerge.

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The good news in all this is that mats can be removed. But, Max has taught me that they must be removed carefully and that often it takes the help of others. Since mats are formed close to the skin, which is thin and fragile, most mats need to be worked out by hand. I have had to cut out some of Max’s mats, but that too must be done slowly and carefully so as not to cause more harm. And usually I have to have my spouse’s help so that one of us can comfort and distract Max while the other works out the mats.

I’m the kind of person that has about the same amount of patience as Max when trying to work out the problematic parts of my life. And when doing something as personal as working out the mats of my heart, I do not want to open up to others. But Max has taught me it is crucial to take time and allow others to help, because my impatient scratching at these mats only tends to make them worse. He has taught me that it is important to really try to get at the root of the mat, but that sometimes I have to work away one tangled problem at a time. I have to identify and deal with each strand so that I can really let it go.

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The other good news is that the hair itself is not the problem. The heart itself is not bad. And the work of getting mats out reaffirms the importance and goodness of what had gotten tangled. Max has taught me that in no way is the hair or the heart problematic or awry. They just need care and maintenance.

Max has also taught me that even after getting rid of the mats, they tend to return quickly. There’s something about that spot that lends itself to matted hair. Which makes it even more important to regularly brush out the old hair and care for the new. He has taught me the importance of letting go of harmful things and cultivating the ways I can grow in love and compassion, and to do that over and over again.

So thank you Max for teaching me how to identify and carefully remove mats, whether they be literal in hair or more symbolic in heart. Thank you for being patient with me (and teaching me to be more patient with myself) as I learn better how to address these mats.

To Be Seen

Whenever I walk in my front door, Max patiently waits until I acknowledge him. Sometimes, this takes a while, because I enjoy making as few trips from my car as possible (two trips is too many), so I tend to load myself down and have something hanging from every appendage. He will often sit right in front of the door, leaving just enough room for me to come in, but positioned to where I have to notice him. Then, he just turns his head around as I put everything where it belongs and waits for me to come back to greet him.

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At first, I thought he did this as a way of guilting me for being gone so much. (That probably says more about me than him). Maybe he is a little sad to have been left alone all day, but I think there is something even more fundamentally important that he is conveying.

I think all Max really wants is to be seen, to be noticed.

Max experiences something that I think so many of us also experience – the desire to be seen. We all long to know that our often dreary lives have value and that others see that value. We find profound hope in not being overlooked or ignored.

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Being seen is often quite literal, especially for Max. He thrives on the attention I can give him and once I give him some of that attention, he is overjoyed. In that moment of being seen, Max knows he is cared for and loved. He knows that he is important and valued.

Max has taught me that being seen in this way is a powerful expression of loving care. He has taught me that so many people also long to be seen in this way. He has taught me there is power in really looking into another person’s eyes, giving them our attention, and, in doing so, assuring them that they are important and valuable.

Max has taught me that to really see others in this way is a wonderful, free gift we can always give. And it is a gift we can give to stranger and friend alike.

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That moment of greeting after coming into my house after work does not tend to last long. Granted, there are years of love and care that are the foundation of that moment between Max and me, but it really only takes about a minute. I get down on Max’s level, look right at him, and greet him with kind words and a head scratch. And then Max’s desire to be seen is fulfilled.

And I really don’t think I have to change much when I interact with humans in this way (except maybe losing the head scratch).

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Max has also taught me that the desire to be seen is insatiable. He craves it everyday. And I reckon we all have a consistent desire to be seen and valued. I don’t know why – maybe it’s the self-doubt that plagues our minds, maybe it’s because we are social creatures and this is the best starting point for connection to others, maybe it’s because in so many other ways we hear messages that we are not valued, or maybe it’s because it is nice and we know deep in our being that to see others and to be seen is just a better way to live.

Whatever the reason, it is clear that seeing and being seen is something that must be nurtured consistently. Max has taught me that it is something I should practice daily.

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And because it must be done over and over, it is easy to forget, or to think that I have checked that off my to do list. And so, Max has taught me to be a little more diligent in seeing him and others. I can be bad at that because I easily get lost in my own little world, but I hope on my good days, I can offer Max and all others I cross paths with this simple expression of care and value.

(as close as I could get to the original Hendrix version)

So thank you Max for teaching me the importance of being seen and valued. Thank you for teaching me to be more attentive, especially to those who feel overlooked. And of course, thank you for paying attention to me and showing that you too see and care for me.

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.

Birthday

Max’s birthday was this week. He turned four years old on November 8.

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And for the second year in a row, I completely forgot until several days later. This year I even thought about it the week before and double-checked the day, but when Sunday got here, I did not remember at all. And it shouldn’t ever be a difficult day for me to remember because it is the day before my sister’s birthday.

You can see how sad he is that I forgot.

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Actually, if he was disappointed, it was probably just because Sundays are very busy for me and I don’t get to spend much time with him on those days. I’m sure if he understood or cared about his birthday, he would let me know. Either way, he seems to be fine with a little extra attention and treats whenever they come his way.

But Max did teach me how bad I am at remembering important things like birthdays. While I don’t care much for celebrating my own birthday, I do like celebrating with others. I never intentionally put those things out of my mind; I just have a terrible time remembering them.

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So, Max taught me that since I can’t remember these things on my own, I should show I care by doing whatever I need to remind myself of these special days. I can be more intentional about putting them on my calendar and taking time every now and then to think forward and backward in time to see what I recently missed or what is coming up.

Max has taught me that such effort is a form of caring for those important people in my life and it leads to powerful ways of expressing that care.

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He taught me that remembering what is going on in people’s lives does take some extra time and thought, but that it is worth it to show the people in my life that they are important.

He taught me that celebrating others, like any form of expressing love, requires some effort. And the effort does not detract from the authenticity of the celebrating, but rather adds to the expression of care.

So, thank you Max for teaching me to put in a little more effort to remembering the important people in my life and the significant things about them. And I am very thankful that you have been on this world for four years and in my life for most of that! Happy Birthday!