Expertish

Max is not an expert in many things. I’d put the following on his expertise list: sleeping, eating whatever is in front of him, and looking cute.

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He definitely does not have expertise in obeying me, in tracking smells, in chasing down smaller animals, or even in playing in the dog park.

Of course, maybe expertise in the dog park should not be defined by playing with other dogs. Maybe he is an expert of looking super cool and caj, like that guy at the gym who is no expert in actually building muscle or lifting weights, but is definitely an expert at looking impressive and drawing attention to himself.

So, first Max has taught me that expertise is somewhat arbitrary. In some situations, what actually qualifies as the expert expression of something may not be objective.

But Max has taught me many other things about expertise.

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He has also taught me that having a natural inclination to something does not make one an expert. Max clearly has a natural inclination to chasing rabbits. But I don’t let him, so he has no idea how to actually do that with effective results.

And he has taught me that having all the tools or resources necessary does not make one an expert. Max has an acute sense of smell, much better than mine. Though he thinks he can find vague trails where other animals have gone, he is in no way an expert sniffer. I would not trust him to actually retrieve any animal from a hunt, and he does not even come close to having the skills of a drug dog. He simply hasn’t been trained to use the tools he has, and even if he was, there’s no guarantee he’d be an expert just because he has a dog’s nose.

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But, perhaps the most significant lesson Max has taught me about expertise is that it is not nearly as valuable as being expertish.

Max has taught me that life is much more interesting, meaningful, mysterious, and exciting when one approaches it through an expertish perspective rather than thinking one has expertise. Expertise limits, it makes me think I have it all figured out and that I know all there is to know about my field. It leads to mild or intense arrogance and pride and does not leave room for continual learning and exploration.

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Don’t get me wrong, I love knowing a lot about my profession and interests. But I recognize that when I think of my understanding as expertise, I put myself against or over other people who have not spent as much time studying whatever it is. And then I have a much harder time learning the valuable lessons they can teach me from their unique perspective. For instance, over the past three years I have worked with middle and high school students. I think it is safe to say I know more than them – I have a certain level of expertise that they do not. But at my best, I think of my own knowledge as expertish and then I learn incredible things from them.

I am also aware that if I went in for major surgery, I would want an accomplished, expert surgeon. But, I think even there I would want a surgeon with expertish rather than expertise, someone who would be open to what a nurse or assistant could see that the surgeon could not.

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Max has taught me the value of embodying expertish rather than expertise. He has taught me the value of being humble and realizing there is always more I can learn, and there is especially much I can learn from people very different from me. He has taught me that in being expertish, I will position myself to encounter the mystery and wonder of this world more fully, rather than trying to make sure I have it all figured out. Max has taught me that being expertish is not a position of weakness or less adequacy, but rather a position of full potential that is powerful in its openness, flexibility, and creativity.

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Because Max is not an expert at many things, but he has a certain expertish that profoundly connects him to the mystery and wonder of this world.

So, thank you Max for teaching me the value of expertish. Thank you for teaching me the limits of thinking I have it all figured out in expertise, and showing me how to engage the mystery of the world through the openness of expertish.

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Max is not a Wizard

Max cannot read minds. He is not a wizard. He does not have access to that kind of dark side of the force power (please, no one put him in contact with Kylo – also, thank you for indulging me, Star Wars references are done…for now).

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But too often I act like he should. I expect Max to know exactly what I mean when I tell him to do something. What’s even crazier is that, even when I do nothing to express myself to him, I am frustrated when he does not do something I want him to do, or does something I do not want him to do.

And on the flip side, I cannot read his mind. First, he is a dog and I literally cannot know how a dog thinks, because I do not have access to internal dog brain functioning. But I also don’t even understand fellow human minds much of the time.

So, why do I expect Max to perfectly understand my every desire? Why do I expect Max to behave exactly how I think he should behave when he often does not even know what I want him to do?

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Now, I do think Max comprehends a lot of what goes on and can be quite compassionate. I believe that (most) dogs are very smart and intuitive. And I also think it is good to train dogs and teach them ways to behave.

What I am questioning is my expectation that Max behave exactly how I think he should and my frustration when he does not.

I question that expectation, because I realize that I project the same thing onto other people. Too often I expect other people to act or think exactly how I think they should. Too often I get frustrated when people don’t do something I expect or do something I don’t desire; and far too often this happens without me communicating anything beforehand.

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Max has taught me what a silly paradox that kind of thinking is. He has taught me that other dogs and people (as far as I know) cannot read my mind. He has taught me that it makes no sense to get mad at people when they don’t behave the way I think they should.

He has taught me that instead of worrying myself over the way others are not following my grand vision of the way the world should work, I should try my best to see things from their perspective. I should try to walk in their shoes and display compassionate acceptance rather than frustrated judgment. That doesn’t mean I condone everything that happens around me, but it does mean that I don’t get frustrated when the traffic does not work perfectly in my favor. It means that I understand people may just not see things the way I do and that they definitely don’t know what I’m thinking without me saying something.

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And Max has taught me that ultimately I need to communicate more so that I can better convey what is important to me and so that I can better understand what others are doing and why.

So, thank you Max for trying very hard to read my mind, but ultimately teaching me that you cannot. Thank you for helping me curb my expectation of how people around me should act. And thank you for helping me see the value of communicating the things that are important to me.

In the Way

Max always seems to find the one place where he will be most in the way. He especially employs this practice when I am cooking. My kitchen is pretty small so laying anywhere in there is more or less in the way, but he seems to find the exact spot where I need to stand.

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Similarly, Max often lays down right in front of the sink of my bathroom so that I either have to shoo him away or lean way over him when I need to brush my teeth.

And even when I am trying to let him out on my balcony, he just doesn’t seem to understand that I actually have to get past him to open the door. Instead of letting me through, he shuffles around always stepping right in front of me.

His getting in the way is frustrating and sometimes even dangerous. Yesterday I accidentally kicked him in the head because I did not know he had lain down behind me while I was cooking.

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But he’s not the only one to get in my way. I drive around a lot and there are countless drivers who get in my way. There are people who write things and do things that seem to me to be getting in the way of more important things.

It’s a busy world and everybody is just getting in each other’s way.

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But Max has taught me to take a step back from myself and try to better understand why others are in my way.

In doing so, I realize that Max has some decent reasons for laying and walking where he does. The kitchen and the bathroom both have cool tile, and he gets hot very easily. And I know that he is just very excited to go out and can’t understand the mechanics of opening the door. So, I can’t blame him for finding a cool place to lay or for being excited.

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Max has taught me to be more humble and to put myself in his and other people’s shoes (or paws). He has taught me that my plan and way of understanding the world is not the only one, nor probably the best or most comprehensible one.

He has taught me that maybe others aren’t just out to frustrate and annoy me. Maybe they have a good reason for thinking and acting as they do. And maybe I’m stumbling around in their way unknowingly too.

Max has taught me that sharing this world with others will involved some clashing and some getting in each other’s ways, but that instead of crashing together like two determined, unswerving drivers we can instead clang together like wind chimes, making more harmonious noises.

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I will probably still be frustrated when Max lays right in my way or when drivers keep me from making that turn I need to take, but Max has taught me to take a step out of my own limited perspective and try to understand how others are not necessarily intentionally in my way.

So, thank you Max for opening my eyes to consider why other people seem to be in my way, and for helping me learn that there are often good reasons. Thank you for trying my patience so that I may eventually grow to have a little more. And thank you for keeping me humble and open to the perspectives of others.

Perspective

A couple weeks ago Max and I went for an afternoon walk. I noticed the dark clouds gathering in the distance, but thought if we went immediately we could make it. As we walked I noticed more and more the rain and lightening in the distance. I grew worried and picked up the pace.

Meanwhile, Max was just dallying along doing his normal thing. He was smelling all the grass and trying to spend as much time outside as he could. He couldn’t see what I could and therefore had no threat of danger.

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Granted, it wouldn’t hurt either of us to get wet, but I’d rather not be walking a dog in a thunderstorm.

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Several weeks before that rainy day we were walking after the sun had set. I couldn’t see much of anything but suddenly Max stopped and became very alert. He had heard or smelled or in some way spotted a rabbit. He perceived what I could not.

Actually that has happened several times since, even in the daylight. I never notice the rabbits until he points them out to me. Similarly, we were walking rather late a couple of nights when he became alert after spotting a coyote not far away that I would not have noticed and toward which we were walking.

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Max perceives many smells and sounds that I would not notice if he were not with me.  And I spot things he would not otherwise. I do not always hear other dogs or people walking up near us and Max helps me get out of the way in time. Max never really pays attention to cars when we cross streets and depends on my sight and knowledge of the cars to get around safely.

Thus, Max has taught me the importance of differing perspectives. He has taught me that I am unaware of much of the world around me merely because of my situation in life. Yet, if I attend to others who have different perspectives from my own, my eyes and ears are opened to the incredibly complex, comprehensive beauty and needs of the world.

So thank you Max for teaching me about my limited perspective and for providing me with a fresh point of view. Thank you for being eyes and ears and a nose where mine do not extend. And thank you for teaching me to attend more to the other perspectives all around me.

Annoyance

Max does many little things that annoy me.  He often noses in to get attention when I’m busy with something else (including eating).  He incessantly begs for attention.  When on walks he often stops to smell things at every step, preventing us from getting anywhere quickly.

And as these things pile up throughout the day, they really get under my skin.  By supper time I’m ready to let him outside and have some peaceful time to myself.

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This was all put into perspective last week when he was gone. In his absence, I was surprised in many ways by what it felt like to live without him.

I was especially surprised that I did not even think about all those annoyances that usually fill and cloud my mind when he is around.  I did not remember how annoyed I often get when he bothers me for attention. Or how annoyed I am when I have to take him out at night after I’m already tired.

Instead I actually missed giving him attention and taking him out.

I think this was more than experiencing the maxim “absence makes the heart grow fonder” though.  It was a realization that the little things that can pile up and annoy me don’t have to. The problem is not Max being an annoying being, but rather me letting those little things get under my skin.

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By seeing our shared life from a new perspective, I realized that what really matters are all the ordinary things that increase the great bonds of affection between Max and me.  I shouldn’t let his unique doggy traits get in the way of that.

Rather, I must see and love Max for who he is, including all his eccentricities. All those things he does that annoy me are just him being his dog self. He does not intend to annoy me in doing them, nor does he hurt me – those would be separate matters entirely.

In this case, I can embrace those things he does unintentionally as expressions of himself or strain against them as perceived annoyances.  Only one of those options will help our relationship.  Only one of those options will bring either one of us peace.

And I think Shrek learns that lesson the hard way.  I just hope I learn it the easier way with Max’s kind tutelage.

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So thank you Max, for teaching me that we all have eccentricities and that while it is often tough to live with another person’s (or dog’s) quirks, I can choose to see those from the perspective of love and grace rather than annoyance.