Noisy

Max is a rather noisy individual. But it is a particular kind of noisy.

He does not bark much, especially compared to a lot of the other dogs in our neighborhood. He has a stoic, monk-like, demeanor as he watches things happen out the window and even when he is being barked at by other dogs.

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But he is still really noisy. He makes sure I know he is around.

Sometimes that noisiness comes out in his whining. He whines in the evening when he wants to play, he whines in the early morning hours when he wants some food or wants to go outside. He whines when he wants to come back inside.

He also is a pretty noisy sleeper. He must dream a lot, or whatever dogs do in their sleep that makes them move around and growl. It’s funny to watch during the day, a little less funny when he gets going late at night and wakes me up.

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And recently, I’ve noticed some of his other noises. The other day I let Max in from the backyard and then got ready to meditate. Max left me alone, but he decided to lay down right behind me. I did not notice, but he had brought in some leaves or sticks or something from the yard with him. In order to pass the time (or test my patience) he started to munch on those crunchy leaves. And they must have either been really delicious or really chewy or he really didn’t have anything better to do, because he kept munching and crunching the whole time.

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I consider myself a patient person, but that kind of noise cuts through whatever patience I can muster. It’s like a sharp wind that sneaks through however many layers I put on. Needless to say, Max’s noises, especially that munching right behind me, irritated me.

And Max is not the only noisy one, especially this time of year. It’s hard to find a place in which there is not a lot of sniffling and coughing and other noises. And I am to blame as much as anyone with my own sniffles that just keep coming no matter how much I blow my nose.

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It is not lost on me that I became very aware of Max’s noisiness while I was meditating. At first, it was especially frustrating – meditation is supposed to be quiet time! But because of the nature of that kind of work, I was forced to sit with my gut response to the noisiness.

I could either get frustrated by it and let it ruin my meditation or I could use the opportunity to consider the noise in a new way.

So, I took a moment to turn around and look at Max, with the debris hanging out of his mouth. Then I turned back and allowed myself to laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. The moment I desired the most stillness was the moment Max decided to be especially noisy.

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And Max taught me in that moment that there is another way to see his noisiness. He is a dog that eats weird stuff and has no way of understanding a desire for stillness or meditation. But even more significant than that is that his noise is a beautiful expression of life.

Max’s noise means he’s really there with me, and that we are sharing this messy, noisy life together.

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I’ll be real – his noisiness still bothers me. Any intrusive sound bothers me as much as it does anyone else. I have no secret to enjoying the sniffles and coughs that cut through my patience. But Max has taught me that in the messy mix of irritation there is still something beautiful – the opportunity I have to share my life with others, and especially to have some around me who are close enough that I can hear those noises.

Max has taught me to take one more second in that moment of irritation to consider how others are no noisier than I am and that our noisy living is worth it. The noises aren’t going anywhere, and if I can laugh at them and incorporate them into my rhythm, then we will all make more harmonious music.

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I still don’t think I will ever naturally like the noise of whining, sniffling, or leaf munching, but I try my best to look at it as if we are all wind chimes and that our clanging together has the potential to make some beautiful music.

So thank you Max for teaching me that however irritating it is, your noisiness is also a beautiful expression of life. And thank you for bumping into me, hopefully some good noise will come from that.

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Celebrate

Hi, I’m Max and I like to party.

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Max is always ready to celebrate. We had people over at several times this past holiday season and each time Max came to life. He would be half asleep on his bed, not expecting anything special to happen. Then the door would open and in came people he has seldom or never seen before, and he popped up and was immediately a whole new dog.

It could be that Max just loves human attention…well, that’s definitely a primary reason. But I am still inspired by Max’s ability to always be ready to celebrate something.

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In a lot of ways, this past year has not been one of celebration. The news cycle has worn me and many others down and I have felt more disheartened and anxious about so many things.

And yet, each day I get home and Max is ready to party, ready to celebrate.

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On one hand, he has taught me that it is easy to celebrate when you are ignorant of all the sad things going on in the world. But he has also taught me that the escapist lifestyle is not a good path to follow.

So, I’ve been searching for some other lesson related to Max’s celebratory demeanor. And I have found that Max has also taught me that there is good in the world in the loving presence we share. That is worth celebrating. That is worth offering to others.

Max has taught me that things are never going to be perfect, but that in whatever is going on, there are people (and dogs) to love and share life with.

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While this kind of celebrating does come from a privileged place, I don’t think it is sugar coating otherwise crappy realities. Max has certainly taught me to mourn when things are sad and he has even been there for me in the downs of life. But Max has also helped me cultivate an underlying joy that guides me to celebrate the love I experience in my life even when it can be hard to find reasons to by happy.

Max has taught me that celebrating love and shared life does not always have to come with tail wagging. Max is certainly exuberant every now and then, but also I know Max celebrates in the more mundane things, like mornings laying by my feet as I get ready and evenings as we all watch TV.

And I have noticed that he is celebratory even before he receives anything. He is happy just because we are around each other. I think Max celebrates being able to show me attention as much as he is happy to receive it. Max has taught me the joy that comes with both receiving and giving loving attention and presence.

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As I look back on the past year, I am grateful to remember all the times Max celebrated our time together – the ways he shared love just because we could be present with one another. And as I look forward to a new year, I hope to celebrate more of that presence and love with Max. I certainly hope it is a year that brings more joy and light in the darkened places of the world, but regardless, Max has taught me that there is a love worth celebrating and highlighting in this world over and against any darkness.

So, thank you Max for celebrating with me. And thank you for teaching me to look for and celebrate the love I can give to and receive from others this year and every year.

Settling

When max came into my life about two and a half years ago it was a startling thing. One day I lived by myself and didn’t know this dog, the next day we were spending most our time living together. Now, after two and a half years, I don’t even think about how weird it is that a dog lives with me. In fact, I was pretty much used to it after a couple of months.

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I find it interesting how quickly I can settle into things. Max has taught me that there is something innate in my being that tends toward settling. If I remember anything from middle school biology it is that organisms strive for homeostasis – some balance in life. And as much as I sometimes hate to admit it, I naturally seek such balance, such settling.

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And Max has revealed to me all the things I am capable of getting used to. Some of them are good – like Max’s general presence or going on several walks every day or being more in tune with the needs of another being.

But he has also taught me that some of the things I have gotten used to are not so good – like dog hair in my cereal, a pretty rank smell in my apartment, the constant mess of dog toys, and on my worse days, ignoring the needs of another.

This tendency to settle and get used to things, both good and bad, extends to every corner of my life. It can be good to settle into a rhythm of life in harmony with another being, but also I get used to some pretty terrible things in the world.

Max has illumined this reality of settling, and in doing so, he has reminded me to consider what I am actually getting used to. What am I settling with and for? What am I content to live with?

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In what ways am I getting used to a life that is wasteful, exploitative, self-centered, or closed-minded? When am I allowing the dead hair of a past I thought I shed to get tangled up in the nourishment that is propelling my present life? To what extent am I ignoring the stench of injustice to the point of training myself to think of it as normal life? When am I just avoiding the strewn about mess of forgotten problems instead of picking them up and dealing with them? To what extent am I allowing myself to live with being ignorantly removed from the deep needs of those around me?

Max can offer some stinging teaching moments sometimes.

But he has also led me to question more positively: When have I settled into a truly meaningful conversation or enjoyed the presence of loved ones? In what ways have I exercised my freedom for adventure, creativity, and discovery and settled into the excitement of those moments? In what ways have I gotten used to bending the path of my life in order to walk along with others in need? And how can I do more of this kind of settling?

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Max has taught me that I am a person who settles, who gets used to certain ways of life. And he has taught me that both sets of questions are crucial to ask myself over and over in order to make sure I am getting used to the right kinds of things.

Ultimately, Max has taught me that I can be someone who settles into love, compassion, and justice, as long as I am settling intentionally.

So thank you Max for teaching me that it really matters in what ways I am settling. Thank you for teaching me the dangers of getting used to a life of self-centered wastefulness and for helping me to consider how to settle in more loving ways.

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.

Sometimes You Just Gotta Jump in a Lake

This weekend I took Max out to my grandma’s lake cabin. I wondered in many ways how he would act, since I planned on letting him off the leash a lot. He would have all day to run around like he’s always dreamed of doing.

One thing I did not expect was to see him jumping in the actual lake. Yes, he is a Golden Retriever and should jump in water just about any chance he can get, but he’s also a weird dog. I have seen him get in only one other source of water and that was after a long hike on a hot day. Otherwise, he always tries to avoid water. He will not get in the fun water feature areas in dog parks we’ve visited and he walks as far away from yard sprinklers as possible. And, of course, he hates getting wet in the bath.

So, it was to my utter surprise that after briefly sniffing around the yard, he took off straight into the lake. It wasn’t hot and I didn’t lure him in, he just did what I’ve never seen him do before.

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And he had the time of his life! He would jump in and come back out to run around, then jump in again at another spot.

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He swam pretty far out (and it was good to find out that he does have some impressive swimming stamina for never doing it), and explored all the tall water grass.

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And I just stood in amazement as my normally overly cautious dog ran and swam around with unrestrained zest. In that moment he taught me that sometimes you just gotta jump in a lake. You gotta throw caution to the wind and have some fun. You gotta seize those moments that bring new vitality to what you do.

And as I observed (and got splattered with muddy water as he came over to me to shake off), I also learned how infectious such life-affirming activity can be. Even in just watching Max, I felt I was sharing in his unbounded joy. It refreshed my soul to see him having so much fun and being the dog he was created to be.

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Max taught me the importance of diving into opportunities that are life giving, whether that is purely having fun, helping serve or being in someone’s life, or a wonderful mix of the two. I am often too hesitant and try to think through how best to engage these opportunities so that I am most efficient. But Max demonstrated that I should jump in and immerse myself in the excitement of life.

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Granted, there is also a need for times to chill out on the porch and recuperate. Max had a healthy mix of swimming and lying out in the cool autumn air. Sometimes you gotta relax, but sometimes you just gotta jump in the lake.

So, thank you Max for spending some restful time with me at the lake. Thank you for sharing with me your zest for life and thank you for teaching me about seizing opportunities for rejuvenating joy.

Companion – a hopeful post

It’s been a rough week with too many tragedies on every level – local, national, worldwide.

And again I find it hard not to despair. I find it hard to hold on to any hope that life and peace and joy will win out in the day to day workings of the world.

Then I come home and am greeted by the embodiment of life and peace and joy. Max is with me and comforts me.

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He doesn’t say anything to me or do anything for me. He is just present, and that does more for my consolation than anything else.

I tend to prefer to be alone, especially when dealing with difficult things. In fact, it was a little over a year ago when I was especially depressed and sought the solace of solitude. While there was some healing in that solitude, I found it all too easy to be sucked back into the despair that things would never get better, that joy had been defeated.

Then, while crumpled on the ground in my room, Max came barging in. He sat with me. He probably tried to sit on me too, but at least he was near. That’s all he did and somehow it began to break my tight grip on my despair. His presence did not bring me to a joyful state, but it gave me something else to hold onto.

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Rather than my own self-loathing and confusion, I was able to take hold of another and to know that he is there with me, no matter what.

Rather than fix my problems (something he clearly couldn’t do, not because he is a dog, but rather because no one could), he gave me hope. He gave me assurance that whatever the situation, there are others who walk beside me, through the pain and into renewal.

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I wish I wasn’t reminded of this time in my life so often, but I am ever grateful for Max’s presence at that time. And I am grateful that he taught me this important way hope is manifest in our difficult lives and tragic world.

Max taught me that healing starts with cleaning the dirt out of the wound, not with stitching it up. He taught me that hope is not a realization of fullness of joy, but rather a letting go of despair.

And Max taught me to be with others. In these tragic times my soul will not be easily or quickly repaired, but by encountering the loving presence of others it will be cleansed of the filth that infects it with despondent anguish. My soul is embraced by the presence of communal love and support and thus does not fall to pieces.

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Max’s companionship gives me the strength and courage to stand and face the pain and sadness and not be pulled under by it. Max taught me that neither I nor anyone is alone in this.

So thank you Max for being a loving companion, especially in the difficult times in this life. Thank you for showing me that hope is no less than a warm, fuzzy hug.

Canine Diem

Max and I have been stuck at home more often than normal this week on account of the ice and snow. And since Max is sadly not very snuggly, we’ve had to find some other activities to occupy our time.

Thankfully, Max loves the snow. He gets so excited to get out and run around on it that he often pulls me slip-sliding along behind him.

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And because there are few other people or cars out, we are usually able to go to an open space where I let him off his leash so that he can really have fun.

In these moments Max demonstrates what it means to make the most of an opportunity. He seizes the moment and has as much fun as he possibly can. He doesn’t get let off leash much because of where we live, so he goes all out when he does get to run free.

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And in doing so, Max has taught me the importance of making the most of any opportunity, even if it is a cold, snowy, wet one. I enjoy the snow too, but it is easy to get bummed about missed opportunities of seeing friends because of things outside of my control. Then there’s Max, frolicking and having a grand time in circumstances that are literally causing a mess, and I am caught up in his joy.

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But I also realize that Max is not just seizing moments when big important things are at stake. These are everyday things of running around and enjoying his life. Granted he doesn’t get off leash much outside, but his joy and dedication to making the most of any situation is consistently evident.

Max has taught me to see each moment as an opportunity to experience life in a joyfully free manner, whether that is running crazily through snow, resting warm at home, or just breathing in the fresh air of any given day. He has taught me to seize the moment – both those big important ones that change my life, but also the little ones that impact me in a more mundane way.

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And he has shown me that in seizing each of these everyday moments I create a life of fullness in which joy and meaning are realized regularly. In sun, snow, busyness, or stillness there is a moment to be seized.

So thank you Max for teaching me to appreciate every moment and to make the most of them. And thank you for teaching me not to wait for the perfect weather or circumstances to look for and create meaning in my life.