Adventures

Lately, Max has been very eager to go on new adventures. I have to be careful when opening the back door, because he has developed a habit of sneaking out past me, sprinting to the car, and then sitting behind the car expecting to go somewhere with me.

Even when I am on my way somewhere else, he will persistently sit behind the car so that I cannot get out of the driveway. He seems committed to keeping me home or going with me. (It’s cute until he lays down and literally has to be dragged back in the house…)

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While Max has always liked going new places, he has not always like the car. It still takes me by surprise when he is ready to jump in the back even before I open the door. Moreover, many of the trips he actually gets to take are not that rewarding, often ending either at the vet or with a bath.

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And yet last week Max got a true adventure. We loaded up and went out to a fun 3k walk with dogs and humans on the other side of town. Max was thrilled to step out of the car onto new ground, to walk across sidewalks with new smells, and to gaze out at the city from a new angle.

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The adventure was hot and an unnecessary hassle, but Max taught me how exciting and important it is to get out of our little corner of the world and experience something new. Where we live now, it is easy to walk just about anywhere we need to go. Such proximity is wonderful and I love the sense of groundedness I feel being so physically close to the neighborhood. But the major downside to this arrangement is that we can get more secluded from all that is going on just a couple miles away.

And so Max has taught me to wait eagerly for opportunities and to take the initiative to experience a different corner of the world. Even when it is not convenient, Max has taught me the value of interacting with people I normally wouldn’t in a neighborhood I sometimes forget is close by.

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Max has reminded me of the importance of stretching out to new neighborhoods with an attitude of openness and excitement to learn something new from them. It is easy to get into a trap of only going to new places in order to find a quick spectacle to cherish. And yet, I don’t think that is what Max is doing. Max gets excited about such adventures because of the natural beauty of diversity. He has taught me to go into these adventures intentionally breathing in the fullness of the place and allowing it to impact me for the better. It’s a skill to develop, but one we are starting to practice more.

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Max has taught me the value of breaking routine and breaking through unintentional boundaries to get a fresh perspective on myself and the world around me. He has taught me that while the fenced-in backyard is safe and provides its own sense of value, it doesn’t fulfill that part of us that needs connection with other places and people.

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And ultimately Max has taught me that such new adventures require running out the door with hopeful excitement, interrupting the normal flow of my life, and being open to taking in all the new things I can learn from being in a new place.

So, thank you Max for being so eager to go on new adventures. Thank you for pulling me out of the routine of my life and teaching me to be open to all the new experiences around us. I hope that our adventures allow us to authentically grow and connect with the world and with one another, and that there is no shortage of them.

Change

Max and I just moved to a new apartment. It has been a stressful process, but also an exciting one. And I learned that in many ways, Max does not deal well with change.

Max’s uneasiness was amplified because the moving process drug out over a couple of weeks. I slowly packed things up until there was one tiny maze through my apartment to get anywhere. Max could tell something was going on but he didn’t know what.

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I could see the anticipation turn quickly into anxiety as Max continued to live in an unresolved state. He did not know what was happening and was not getting any answers.

Max taught me that my own stress was centered in trying to live in that unresolved state. I wanted to move and get everything situated so that I could get on with things, but since my life couldn’t pause for that transition, I had to plow ahead bit by bit and deal with the piles of boxes.

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Max’s uncertainty persisted even when we finally made the move over. When I came back home from work the first day in the new place, he stuck to me like glue for most of the evening. The poor guy just couldn’t figure it all out and was trapped in a state of uncertainty and unfamiliarity.

But eventually he calmed down and he taught me several very important things about dealing with change and uncertainty.

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First, Max taught me that it is normal to feel uncomfortable with change. The stress and worry are natural because even the little changes can make a big impact. However, he also taught me that I need not stay in a perpetual state of stress. Change is exciting and can bring growth when it is encountered in certain ways.

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So, Max also taught me that the best way to move past the stress and worry is to find solace by seeking comfort in a friend. Max depended on my presence much more than normal to assure himself that things were going to be all right.

This lesson struck me because I think I often seek solace in trying to cling to whatever familiarity I had before a change. The times I’ve moved I have looked back from where I came and tried to be comforted by those memories rather than depending on a loved one to help me be more comfortable in the place I am now. But Max has taught me that the best way to deal with change is to face the unfamiliar head on accompanied by a friend on whom you can depend.

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FInally, Max taught me again to look at new opportunities as adventures to be explored. I know I have a heart set on adventure and exploration, as does Max, but we both were a little timid that first day after the move. It is scary going into a new place and being the stranger. But after the first day here, we decided to embrace the unknown with an attitude ready to learn more about it rather than fear it.

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While Max taught me that it is normal to be worried by change, he also taught me how to deal with it in a more hopeful and meaningful way.

So thank you Max for making this move with me and for teaching me how to deal with change. Thank you for being my companion and helping relieve some of my stress. And thank you for already embarking on an exciting new adventure with me.

The Unknown

A couple of weeks ago, when Max and I were walking through the snow, we came across something new to Max. Two snowmen sat happily right by the sidewalk. Max had no clue what to make of them. First he backed away a little while intently staring at them, then he stood in eager expectation. Eventually, he crept close to them, sniffing in overdrive.

He stood there sniffing the tree branch arm for a while before I started to pull him away. Yet, even as he was being dragged off, I could tell he was still very curious. He had not yet figured out what that new creation was and wanted to investigate more.

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During the rest of our walks that week, Max continued to slow down and stare at the snowmen whenever we passed by. He still did not know what to make of them, but he had a determined, cautious curiosity.

Max has acted the same way before when we walked close by some cows. One day the cows had come right next to the fence and Max could see and probably smell them. New sights and smells captured his attention and he paused, waiting to gain some better understanding of what the thing was.

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So, I began to notice a pattern in how Max approaches the unknown. He slows down, but I don’t think it is because he is scared. Rather, he gives it solemn attention and tries to glean as much as he can about that unknown thing. Then he slowly approaches, cautiously finding out more and more about it.

This approach is quite different from what is often my reaction. Granted the unknowns I face are a little different from snowmen and cows. The unknowns in my life are far more often the next step in the future of my career or personal life, the uncertainty of whether something I’ve planned will succeed, or a new development that I haven’t had to work through before.

I am the opposite of reckless, so sometimes when I am faced with these unknowns I freeze. Not Max’s attentive pause in which he tries to figure out the situation, but a full on freeze where I either try to ignore the new thing or become immediately overwhelmed with not knowing where to begin.

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Whenever I finally get unfrozen, I don’t approach the unknown until I have it all figured out. I don’t have Max’s courage to ease into it, and since I can’t figure it all out if I don’t approach, I sometimes stay stuck.

Whereas Max stays calm and approaches with a healthy curiosity, I sometimes get anxious and treat the unknown as some opposing force or task to be conquered or overcome. Rather than treating it as an opportunity for me to grow and learn, I treat it as a test of my worth or an obstacle to full living.

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But Max has taught me to approach the unknown things in my life in a healthier way. He has shown me the value of treating these situations cautiously, but also eagerly. He has taught me to embrace the unknown as an opportunity to learn and grow rather than become anxious and fearful.

Max has taught me that even when I have no clue what to make of something, I should neither run away from it nor be overwhelmed by it. Rather, I should take the little steps necessary for getting to know it so that I may enhance my understanding by embracing another part of this complex, interesting, sometimes weird, sometimes cool, sometimes hard, sometimes awe-inspiring life.

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So thank you Max for teaching me how better to approach the unknowns in my life. Thank you for your cautious courage and eager curiosity that inspire and challenge me.

Bath Time

Max got a bath yesterday, and it was long overdue. He was very smelly and my hands would get dirty after petting his fur.

Max does not like baths. In fact, he does not like water much at all. He’s just weird that way.

So, it was a struggle to get him in the bath. We’ve done it just enough that he knew it was coming and refused to come into the bathroom. Then, when I came over to him he went limp. I’ll at least give him credit for being smart enough to know how to make the process the most difficult.

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But once I finally carried him into the tub, he gave in and was very compliant. Granted he wanted to be done about halfway through and I had to bar his escape, but he seemed to know there was no use fighting anymore.

In all this Max taught me that it is much easier to let ourselves live with our filth than to find ways to cleanse ourselves from it.

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This filth is a mixture of the things I’ve done wrong and the extensive wrong in the world which effects me everyday. Just as Max’s dirtiness comes from his own decision to roll around in the dirt and from the rain that falls on him or the dirt that is kicked up when he walks, so I experience dirt that is both within and beyond my control.

And sometimes I even go to great lengths to hold onto that filth. I convince myself that that filth is a true part of me and that my life is incomplete without it. Or I think that it is mine to bear – that I brought it into the world and it is my responsibility to take care of it.

But I still know it is filth and that it can be harmful to my own health and others’.

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While Max helped me realize that it is much easier to hold onto this filth than to be cleaned, he also taught me a couple of important things about getting clean.

First, it involves paying attention to friends and people around you who see the filth and destruction and tell you (hopefully lovingly) that you need to do something.

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Next, it involves a letting go. If Max had kept jumping out of the tub, I wouldn’t have been able to do anything – he had to let go and accept that he could be cleaned. He had to turn toward the good and healthy things that would replace the dirty unhealthiness.

He also taught me that baths are needed regularly. I don’t think he or I really want to get dirty, but it happens and therefore we have to let go and turn toward cleanliness again and again.

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Finally, when Max was done with the bath he was full of life and energy. That energy showed me that there is something about shedding the dirtiness that makes me feel more whole and rejuvenated. There is freedom in letting go of the destructive habits, the negative thoughts about self and others, the evil and hate from the world that seeps in and begins to direct thinking and action, the things we are ashamed of that paralyze us against acting in better ways.

So thank you Max for finally giving in to the bath. And thank you for teaching me more about my reluctance to be cleaned and the rejuvenating newness that comes from letting go of the dirt that builds up in my life.

Routine

Max and I have a pretty established daily routine at this point.  Everyday is a similar rhythm of walking, feeding, playing, walking, feeding, playing…

And yet, Max seems to be endlessly excited about it. It is as if each time we are discovering or experiencing something truly new. Maybe he absolutely loves the routine or maybe he is able to look past the structure of the day and discover something new within the activities.

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I, on the other hand, often get bogged down by routine. Whether it is the routine of living with Max (which does take out a lot of spontaneity from my life since I have to come back and take care of him at certain times of the day) or the routine of work, it seems my life is smothered by endlessly repeating cycles of activities.

Granted, my work is often not routine, and even this week has been refreshingly chaotic, but through most of the year it tends to settle into a structured progression of tasks. While this is often for the best since I have to plan regularly scheduled weekly events and the routine of tasks throughout the week allows me to plan efficiently, it can begin to feel rather mundane.

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But I am still struck by how Max, who has an even stricter routine than my own, can not only refrain from being bored in it, but can even find joy.

Max has taught me that even in going to similar places at similar times to do similar things for similar reasons every day, he can still experience an exciting newness.

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And I think it is because Max is attuned to the details of dirt where exciting little things happen behind a thin veil of brown, boring mundaneness.

Max takes the time to really explore the nuances of his surroundings no matter how routinely he experiences them. And so Max is immersed in the exciting newness of the world – a newness that breaks into all structures.

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Max walks the same paths each day but seeks new ways to walk them, new smells to smell, new sights to see. He eats the same food everyday but, through what I believe is a high level of gratitude, encounters it with renewed appreciation and a joy for the life and satisfaction it brings him. And he plays in the same place with the same person each day, but finds new adventure in those moments and new ways to share and experience love.

So thank you Max for teaching me how to find newness in routine. Thank you for teaching me to be attuned to the details of dirt so that I might begin to transform my perception of the mundane to discover the exciting little bits of newness all around me.