Grounded (ver. 2)

Max and I have moved around quite a bit the past several years, but we have now lived in our current house and neighborhood for about a year. We’ve walked along the streets at least 350 times. Max has sniffed and gone to the bathroom on countless square feet of the land that makes up this little area in which we live.

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I think it took Max a while to understand this was our home. He’s traveled enough to know that sometimes we go places for only a little while. But after a couple of months, he seemed to be a little more comfortable here. He knew the routes we could walk and the smells he might smell. And now, after a year, we are both pretty grounded in this neighborhood.

While Max has taught me the importance of going on adventures and seeing new sights, he has also taught me the importance of being rooted in a community. Max seems to delight in knowing the people and places around him and he seems to appreciate the growing connection with those people and places. That delight may stem from the fact that he occasionally gets a treat from someone who knows him, but I think it also includes the joy that comes from a sense of belonging.

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Because we have moved around a lot, Max and I have had to practice planting our roots quickly so that we can be connected to the neighborhood. And Max has taught me how to best approach quick and meaningful groundedness.

Max is open to all people and eager to get out and connect with them. He greets strangers as warmly as he greets me when I come home at the end of the day.

Max is also unapologetically authentic. He is his curious, eager self in every situation. While I sometimes worry about his unabashed approach to new people (and animals), he doesn’t worry about it, and because he is naturally authentic it seems always to work out well.

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Max’s openness and authenticity continually remind me that being grounded involves connections and vulnerability. His eagerness and curiosity have taught me that being rooted means stretching out but also stopping when something is interesting and life giving. Max has taught me to be myself and to be open to all around me so that I can be more a part of where I live.

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And Max is content with the roads we walk everyday. He takes them just as they are and doesn’t expect anything spectacular. He is happy to be here and teaches me to practice my own happiness by exercising contentment. Sure, he likes to see new things and to go new places, but he has taught me the importance of finding a healthy rhythm both of going out of my comfort zone to experience new things and of connecting more deeply with a particular neighborhood. It is a rhythm we are still working out, but Max has shown me the value of practicing it.

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Ultimately, Max has taught me the importance of investing in where we live and really knowing what is going on so that we might be a vital part of it. Max’s groundedness has brought greater joy to his life and (I think) greater value to the neighborhood.

So thank you Max for teaching me to be grounded in our neighborhood. Thank you for teaching me to be open to this community and eagerly to set roots in it.

Sometimes You Just Gotta Try

Max is not afraid to “ask” for things. In fact, this morning he has begged to go outside, then back inside, then back outside, then back inside, and so on and so on.

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Max begs for attention from anyone who is nearby and just as that person has finished attending to Max, he goes to someone else. Max asks for food and treats, especially if it seems I am taking too long to offer it. And, though he doesn’t ask for them, he often just takes toys, especially if they belong to another dog.

He does not overthink trying to get things. It seems that he truly lives by the motto, you don’t know until you try.

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I, on the other hand, am overly cautious. I try to think of every possible outcome before I ask for or try anything. And it can be a little paralyzing. Sometimes the moment of opportunity passes while I am just thinking and sometimes I pass by the opportunity because I am still not quite sure where it will take me.

I think part of my hesitancy is that I’m never sure if an option is ideal. I want to make sure it is the best possible thing to do before doing it. In addition, I am sometimes afraid to fail. I am afraid that if I ask for something, it won’t be offered and that if I try something it will crash and burn. And so I look and wait for the perfect opportunity.

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Such a disposition toward trying would not be bad if there was an overabundance of perfect opportunities. But that does not seem to be the case. And so Max is teaching me the value of asking or trying. There are many times that Max does not get what he wanted, and he deals with it. But many more times he does succeed because he is persistent and he takes as many shots as are offered to him.

Max has taught me that while there is not an overabundance of perfect opportunities, there is an abundance of opportunities. And he has taught me to be more aware of those opportunities and to jump in when they are presented.

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But there are also many times that Max does not try to do something which he is very capable of doing. Often I open the door for him to go outside and he doesn’t budge. But then when I go outside too, he is quick to jump on the opportunity. There are also times where I throw a toy to him, but he does nothing with it until I join him on the floor to play.

Max does not try to do things when he knows that it will leave me behind. Max values our relationship enough that maintaining it is more important than the opportunity itself.

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And so Max has taught me that sometimes I shouldn’t ask or try, especially when I know it will not benefit the people around me. He has taught me to allow what I believe is most valuable to guide what options I take. This helps me push past looking only for the perfect options, but also to be guided by more than mere thrill or self-interest. Moreover, Max has taught me that opportunities are best understood as means to connect with the people around me. While there are many times I should jump in and try, sometimes I gotta hold back so that I follow paths that are not just self-serving, but rather those that enhance community and connections with those around me.

So thank you Max for teaching me that sometimes I just gotta try. Thank you for teaching me to jump in when I am unreasonably cautious, but also to make sure I am guided by seeking ways to connect with others.

Sturdy

Max is very difficult to trip.

Not that I have tired too often…but when we are playing or he is running by, sometimes I just stick out my leg to see if I can trip him. And it never works.

His four legs are just too sturdy and too good at keeping him upright.

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The benefit of his four legs is made especially clear when we try to walk up hills. He ascends with no problems while my two legs struggle between balance and the force needed to push my body higher.

I’ve only seen him trip and fall a couple of times. Once he got really exciting about going outside and ran down the stairs a little too fast. He tripped about halfway and slid down the rest of the stairs. He didn’t get his feet under him until he was at the doorframe.

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The other time was on the ice when he tried to dart off after seeing something interesting and did not realize he had no traction. But he was still sturdier that I was on the ice as I fell much more frequently and harder.

Max’s general sturdiness got me thinking about why he is so hard to trip. Clearly it is the fact that he has four legs. There is something about that wealth of support that is central to having a sturdy foundation.

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And I realize that this fact is true not only for physical features like legs, but also for interpersonal relations.

The times in my life where I have felt most sturdy and most well supported were the times when I was surrounded by a strong, trusting community. I am lucky to have had such a community throughout most of my life.

For I could be as individually strong as possible, but still be knocked down if I don’t have multiple sources of support. Even evolution has proved that one-leggedness is not a strong trait (except apparently in weird mollusks). One strong leg has nothing on two weak ones.

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Max’s example has taught me that a community is all too important in providing the emotional, psychological, and even physical support needed. Whether I am being blown around by the strong winds of change, flooded by sadness and despair, slipping across the icy surprises in my life, or misplacing my steps from a rush of excitement, a community is there to support and guide me.

And the strength of such community is not only evident in preventing me from being knocked down. Max’s multitude of legs also helps him get up quickly when he is knocked down. Even in community, it is still possible to be emotionally or psychologically devastated. Nevertheless, the community’s support allows for quicker healing.

Just as Max’s sturdiness comes from many supportive legs, so also my sturdiness comes from the many people who provide loving support in my life. I am very, very thankful for these people and I hope I provide similar support for them.

Thank you Max for teaching me to trust those who make up my own supportive community. Thank you for teaching me that I can jump higher, fall softer, and get up more quickly with such a community surrounding me. And thank you for being an important part of that community.

Spring Shedding

As the weather (sort of) gets warmer, Max is going through a transformation.

Since he has a double coat, he sheds his undercoat in the summer. And since I am usually bad about brushing or bathing him, large clumps of fluffy white hair pop up all over his back.

This is fur that kept him nice and warm in the winter as he gallivanted across the snow and ice. It served a very important purpose for a certain time. Yet, now it is not only unnecessary, it is even detrimental to Max’s overall health. It makes him too hot and so it has to go.

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In observing this process, I have realized that there are things in my own life that I need to shed. There are physical items that I need to get rid of, like all the cardboard boxes I keep just in case I need them for a project or to ship something to someone or to wrap a gift. And there are all the holey socks that I keep because…nope, there is no good reason for that.

These things were once useful, but now are just crowding my life unnecessarily.

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And then there are the habits I need to lose such as spending an inordinate amount of time on facebook or not getting to know my neighbors. And the simplistic, one-dimensional treatment of politics and religion and science that may have been an important starting point but really only holds me back from fully understanding what’s going on. And the desire to do things as they’ve always been done that too often just adds layer upon layer of hair to an already bogged down, overheated system.

I do not mean that everything has to go, though. The process of shedding and grooming is an intentional, careful one. I’ve heard that if I were to shave Max’s overcoat off, it might mess up his whole fur coat balance.

Max has taught me that in my own grooming, I must also be careful – especially in the non-physical things. I need to talk with others who have the experience of shedding and know what parts can go.

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Even in Max’s unconscious process of shedding, there is a level of help that is needed. He cannot get the excess hair all the way off his body. He rolls around and leaves plenty of hair on the furniture and my clothing, but there is still so much that needs to be brushed or picked off by someone else.

And that difficulty has taught me that often I need help in letting go of things. It is hard when I consciously hold onto an idea or thing I don’t need or when I am deeply ingrained in some sort of habit or practice. And too often I am not even aware of the need to shed something in my life.

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But that also means it can be very beneficial when someone comes into my life in order to lovingly brush out all the things no longer needed.

Plants need pruning, animals need shedding, and I need some sort of similar transformation that allows me to grow and run and live in a healthier way.

So thank you Max for teaching me that shedding can be beneficial. Thank you for teaching me to examine all parts of my life to see what is helpful and what needs to go, and for teaching me to seek help in brushing it all out.

Friends Are Jewels

The past several months, Max and I have gone on occasional outings to see friends. We don’t get out much together, so I’ve been trying to make more time for little adventures and for him to meet my friends.

The first time we headed out to the Big D with plans just for him. He’d been to Dallas once, but this trip was different. I had done my research and had several dog friendly parks we could go to and even a dog friendly coffee shop.

I was excited. And once I told him and started getting things ready, so was he.

So off we went. We had an exciting time and though I think he prefers the country, he fit in pretty nicely.

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Then, plans started going awry. The park was fun, but we stayed a little too long with consequences.  The dog-friendly coffee shop I was so excited to try wound up closing earlier than I expected and we got there just in time to watch them start to close down. 

My planning continued to fail me and I couldn’t come up with another inside, dog friendly place at which to grab some food and drink. 

I started stressing out, and still being a new dog owner at this time began worrying about what to do with Max.  Then I finally really paid attention to him.

Sitting in the cold with plans in shambles didn’t really rock him at all.  He was still having the time of his life – seeing new sights, smelling new smells, and above all spending time with new friends.

In that moment, he taught me something valuable.  As important as plans are to making an outing run smoothly, the plans themselves don’t make anything fantastic. Only the people one is with and the shared experiences can do that.

We did not make many specific plans the next major trip we took to see friends. We went and played lots of games outside and enjoyed the company of good people.  And it was wonderful.

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Max would have been as happy spending all day in a plain room with loving friends as he would traveling through any of the most well constructed dog parks in the world. Because what really matters is the loving community with which one is surrounded.

So thank you Max, for teaching me that friends are jewels, and much more precious than the setting in which they are cast.  Thank you for teaching me that despite our good or bad plans, we can always enjoy the company that surrounds us.

Inviting

Max is always excited and ready for whatever comes next. He bolts down and up the stairs, eagerly anticipating going out or coming in – especially if he perceives we are going to do something special, like go for a ride in the car or eat dinner.

But lately I have noticed something else he consistently does when rushing to the next exciting thing. He stops and looks back at me.  I notice this most as we come back in from a walk. He runs up the stairs but then almost always stops on the last step and looks back, making sure I am coming along too.

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Even if it only lasts a split second

Even if it only lasts a split second

I interpret this action to mean that he really wants to share with me whatever experience is awaiting us at the top of the stairs.  I guess it could also be that he realizes he cannot get his own food, but I like to think he’s just being a good friend.

I know dogs are social by nature, so this is not unique to Max, but I have still learned a significant lesson from Max’s behavior.  Max has taught me to turn around and invite others to join me.

I enjoy doing things alone, and being in large social settings exhausts me. But with Max’s reminder I see the value in community, the value in inviting others to join me in fun adventures or meaningful work.

Such an inviting attitude makes the activity much more enjoyable and meaningful by means of creating new memories that many can share. But it also changes me for the better. It makes me more welcoming and caring, more attentive to others around me.  It breaks me out of self-absorption and attunes my eyes and heart to the others with whom I share my life.

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Yes, there are times when I need to go lay out on the balcony alone, but when an opportunity arises to invite other along in my life, Max has taught me that I need not pass that by.

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Not only does Max exhibit an attitude of excitement, but he also proves that such excitement is heightened when others are invited along.  He is not merely ready for whatever comes next, he is ready for others to join him in whatever comes next.

So thank you Max, for inviting me to join you in your life’s adventure. And thank you for teaching me to cultivate an inviting attitude and welcoming presence in my own life.