The Art of Discomfort (Version 1)

Half the time I catch him sleeping, Max looks incredibly uncomfortable.

img_4680

I really don’t know how he gets into some of the positions I find him in, or why he would ever maintain them.

He recently found a cushion I leave on the floor (after it being available to him the past 3+ years), and has finally started making use of it. But still, I catch him every now and then back in what I can’t imagine is a comfortable position.

img_4704

As I’ve reflected more on the many ways Max lives in discomfort, I’ve realized that he may not be the only one. Max has taught me that there is an art to discomfort and it seems to be fairly widely practiced.

I too find myself living with a lot of discomfort – whether it is in getting sick and refusing to take medicine or in knowing the unsettling realities of poverty, racism, sexism, and a whole host of societal ills and not doing all I can to address them. I know the world doesn’t quite feel right, but I find myself curling around the sharp corners as if it were the only place to lay.

img_4457

Max practices the art of discomfort through a remarkable tolerance for pain, which I discovered after the vet noticed a really nasty ear infection several years ago. The infection has been gone for a while now, but I still think about how he gave so few clues that he was in pain.

Like Max, I also often want to tolerate and soldier on past the pain in my own life and past the pain I observe all around me. I ignore it, convince myself it doesn’t matter, or lead myself to believe it could be worse. While these all are very successful adaptive behaviors to live in a broken world, they are far from helpful in actually relieving the discomfort that I or others face.

img_4709

I’ve also noticed that Max tends to move from one uncomfortable position to another. When the one spot becomes too much to handle, he finds a new one, even if the new spot is equally uncomfortable. And I too, when overwhelmed by one uncomfortable situation, find myself drifting away from it to superficial involvement in a different uncomfortable situation. By moving around so much, I only get a taste of the discomfort before moving on to something else, and I don’t really have to address the deeper problems causing the discomfort.

img_4534

Max has taught me that it is far easier to dance around the discomfort than to face it and see that something needs to change. He has taught me that it is easier to get used to discomfort than to do what it takes to make the world a more comfortable place. And Max has taught me that by practicing these expressions of the art of discomfort, I really only perpetuate harmful causes or consequences.

So thank you Max for teaching me that it is far easier learn to live with uncomfortable things, rather than fix them. And thank you for awakening me to the importance of directly facing discomfort so that I don’t grow callous to or avoid the real problems around me.

Advertisements

Toughness

Max acts like he is a tough dog. And he often is. He takes slips on the stairs or ice and people stepping on his paws or tail like a champ.

But sometimes his toughness is a façade, masking a deeper pain.

IMG_2344

Earlier this week, when I was out of the house, Max ate a lot of the sweet goodies people had given me for the holidays. Unfortunately, many of these treats were covered with chocolate. When I came home, Max greeted me as normal and I did not know anything was wrong until I saw the empty plate and shredded wrappings around the kitchen.

I paid close attention to Max over the next hour or so, trying to figure out how sick he was. I could tell he was a little lethargic, but we went on a walk and he behaved mostly normally. Since he had not vomited and did not seem like he was in pain, I decided to wait it out.

But, as he continued to lie around I got more worried. He wasn’t showing symptoms of pain, but I could tell he wasn’t quite a hundred percent either.

IMG_2317

As I sat with him, I remembered back to the summer when I found out he had an ear infection. I had no clue that he was in pain until I took him to the vet for a regular check up. Perhaps it was mostly me not knowing what signs to look for, but Max is an expert at not showing pain and generally remains as happy as he can be.

So, with memories of how Max masks his discomfort, I decided to act. After rushing to the store and getting some chemicals, I took him outside and made him throw up a lot of chocolate.

He was clearly better after that purge and by the next day he had regained his normal energy, sort of.

IMG_2362

Yet, reflecting on the ordeal made me realize how dangerous it is to hide such pain, in whatever forms it is manifest. And I further realized that Max and I are far too similar on this matter – we are both experts at pushing through things and acting like all is good.

IMG_2360

Max taught me that this hiding of pain is harmful. Even if it is meant to ease the worry of others around us, such masking really only prolongs the pain and provides a way not to deal with it.

And Max taught me that it is often in moments of deepest vulnerability that we put up our most resilient masks of independence.

IMG_2359

Perhaps the tougher thing to do is to let down the guard and let someone else know what is really going on inside. Perhaps the tougher thing to do is to admit the illusion of independence and be open to the loving care of others. Perhaps the tougher thing to do is open up the wounds so that they can fully heal.

So thank you Max for teaching me that putting on a mask of toughness is neither the tough thing to do, nor the most beneficial. Thank you for teaching me to be more open and vulnerable, willing to depend on others so that we may all grow and heal together.

P.S. Max, I’d sure rather know the next time you need serious help. 🙂

Walking with no shoes

Max does not wear shoes. I think it is because he wants to show off his awesome toe hair, but he tries to act humble about it.

IMG_2282

Max’s lack of shoes has come to my attention in several ways the past couple weeks, particularly during our walks. Since it has been so rainy here this week, Max’s bare pawedness has led to some wet, muddy feet tracking in a mess to the apartment.

IMG_2250

But even more interestingly, Max has to stop every now and then because of something he has stepped on. He’s a tough dog, so he doesn’t act hurt when he steps on sticks or rocks or thorns, but he does stop, sit down, and dig around to find what is irritating him.

Since Max does not wear shoes, this reaction comes immediately.

IMG_2286

I, on the other hand, do wear shoes. And I also often get rocks or other painful things in my shoes. However, my guarded feet do not always experience the pain immediately. And because it would be such a task to stop and take off my shoes when I start to feel the discomfort, I most often continue walking while ignoring the growing pain in my feet.

I force myself to live with whatever small thing is causing me pain for no reason other than I have convinced myself that it would be too much trouble to deal with it. And it only grows more and more painful until it impedes my ability to continue on.

IMG_0106

Max understands something I do not. And his response to these small pains in life seems much more reasonable.

Max walks without any insecurities or defense mechanisms and thus can immediately feel the pains of the journey. But that also means he immediately deals with them and does not try to carry on ignoring the pain.

IMG_0855

He has taught me that such a response of immediately addressing the uncomfortable realities of life helps him to get on with the journey in a much more wholesome way. He is not content to carry those thorns with him.

He has taught me not to ignore those discomforts and pains, expecting them just to go away, and he has taught me to let down my psychological guards that really just keep those pains in my heart, unresolved.

So thank you Max for teaching me to walk without shoes. Thank you for teaching me to own up to and deal with the discomforts and pains in my life that are so easy to ignore and to continue walking with.