Disturbing the Peace

This past week, Max woke me up in the middle of the night twice on Monday and once Tuesday. And by middle of the night I mean right in the dead center of what would have otherwise been some really peaceful sleep.

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He usually does not wake up in the middle of the night, but he had spent all weekend with some other dogs and had partied a little too hard.

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He had all kinds of stuff making his stomach turn that he normally doesn’t – other dog’s food, lots of bones, and even probably some people food. I expected it to be rough for him, but I did not expect to be woken up in the middle of the night. And on multiple occasions.

Max disturbed my peace.

And I have realized he disturbs my peace quite often, even when not in the middle of the night. I often work from home when I have things to do that require more focus than I am afforded at my job. And most days, while I am trying to get a lot done at my computer, Max comes up to me desiring some attention. Whether he is wielding a toy or just forcing his cute head onto my lap, it is clear that Max is on a mission to disturb my peace.

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While I understand the behavior, I usually get annoyed and let him outside. But the thing about having my peace disturbed is that there is another byproduct that I am beginning to notice. The community I help lead has been digging into the notion that when peace is disturbed, often inner thoughts are more fully revealed.

Max has been teaching and reinforcing that lesson as well. He has revealed that I have many assumptions and default motivations that rest just under the surface and which I often don’t really notice. And Max has taught me that I need a little disruption in order to bring those thoughts more fully into the light.

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When Max disturbs the peace I construct around myself in order to get more work done, he reveals that I don’t take enough time to slow down and really be present to what’s going on around me or especially to the people and dogs in my life. Max has taught me that my actions show that I value productivity over meaningful time spent with others and that my inner thoughts are focused far more on accomplishing tasks than on compassionately and lovingly attending to those around me.

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But Max has also taught me that there is some hope. In disrupting my peaceful sleep so much this week, Max has also revealed some more positive inner thoughts. Max has revealed that I care deeply for him, because I am convinced that a sure test of what people most value is what we will wake up for in the middle of the night. And Max has taught me that if I am willing to forego sleep to care for him, perhaps that level of care and compassion can influence all of my life, even when my inner thoughts seem locked in the little world I create.

So thank you Max for disturbing my peace, and in so doing revealing some of my inner thoughts. And thank you for helping me direct those inner thoughts in a more caring, compassionate manner.

But, I’d also be grateful if you didn’t disturb my peaceful sleep anymore…

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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.

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.

Living (with)

Max and I have lived in the same apartment now for a little over a year. He was actually a rather good roommate from the beginning, as he already knew to go to the bathroom outside and learned quickly what furniture he could get on.

Sure, he has woken me up at unfavorable times and doesn’t clean up after himself, but he is not the first roommate of mine to do that.

And I’m still waiting for the day when he cooks me breakfast…

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Having lived in the same place as Max for a year now, I have gained some insight into the dynamics of sharing space and life with another being. Granted, such lessons come in various ways with any human or non-human roommate, but certain aspects have really hit home with Max.

Ultimately, Max has taught me the difference between living in the same place as someone and living with that person/animal.

Sadly, this lesson has revealed that I far too often display the attitude and actions that prove I am merely living in the same place as Max. We often go about our business with a passing acknowledgement of each other’s existence.

Such behavior is especially prevalent when I get busy with work and life. There are days when I run in after work, take Max out, feed him, and then dash back out to my next activity only to return late and tired enough to zombily take Max out again before crashing. These days I am most definitely living in the same place as Max, and not much else.

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Of course there are many better days when I am truly living with Max – the days when we have a good long morning walk during which I am not preoccupied with the things I have to do that day but rather discover the world anew with Max, the days when I really play with him and show him honest affection (not with the end goal of getting him to stop bothering me), the days when we fully appreciate each other’s presence and realize how our lives are being made better through that company.

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These are not merely the days I am less busy or at home most the day. There have been many weekends that I am consumed in a book or TV show and do not truly live with Max, even if I am around him all day.

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The important difference Max has taught me is that living with someone involves sharing life and participating together in something greater than the two of us – joy or love or sadness or anger that we experience in solidarity. It means focusing on the other rather than myself.

Moreover, Max has taught me that this act of living with, rather than living in the same place, is what makes a house into a home. It is what makes a space welcoming and full of life.

 

 

So thank you Max for living with me. Thank you for teaching me the important difference of living with and living in the same place and for challenging me to be more fully present in living with you. And thank you for helping me make our little apartment into an expansive home.

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Sometimes you just gotta lick

Max licks a lot of things. The carpet, bushes, grass, himself, me. And he licks me a lot.

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Last night he went to town. I had spent all day outside and upon my skin were layers of sunscreen and sweat and who knows what else. And Max acted like he was a kid who stumbled into Willy Wonka’s factory – he couldn’t get enough.

But Max also licks when there is no accumulation of dirt and grime on me. Growing up, I internalized a belief that dogs lick in the same way humans kiss. It is a sign of outward affection. This comforted me a great deal especially when our dachshund would smother me in “doggy kisses”. It meant I knew for a fact that he liked me as much as I liked him.

After some research, I realized this is not far from the truth. Though dog licking is multifaceted, often it is a sort of sign of affection. Or at least a way to urge the sharing of affectionate attention.

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Then, as I thought about all of this more, I realized that I don’t depend on Max’s licking for proof of his affection. And I don’t think he depends on my head or belly scratches either.

There are more subtle ways we relate to each other that convey those things too. The way we respect each other, spend time with each other, eat with each other, look longingly into each others’ eyes… (ok, maybe not so much that last one, but definitely a lot of non verbal communication conveying appreciation and support).

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Max has taught me that sometimes you just gotta lick. Sometimes you have to let other people know in a very obvious way how much you like them. And sometimes you just have to spend time together and embody a spirit of love and care for others that will bleed out in all you do.

So thank you Max for the licks. And thank you for your caring presence. And thank you for teaching me that there are many ways to convey love and that sometimes you gotta be very obvious with it.

Sick

Max has been a little sick the past couple of days. This morning I awoke to quite the mess around my apartment, though I’ll leave the nasty details out.

As I mentioned in the last post he also has an ear infection and I imagine the two are somehow connected. Nevertheless, the poor guy can’t seem to catch a break right now.

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I wish I knew better what was wrong so that I could do more than just clean up after him. I want to fix his problems and make him healthy. I keep thinking, if I only knew more about dog biology I could examine him and fix what is broken.

Sure, there is the internet with all its vast wisdom and I’ve definitely checked to see what others have done when their pets exhibit the same symptoms. But I still feel inadequate. Despite all that advice I cannot simply fix him.

Through this process with Max, I have been forced to realize this is the same way I approach similar situations with other people. I want to examine, know and fix. Whether it is a physical problem, a psychological one, or an emotional or spiritual one, my first reaction is to provide an answer or a cure. Even if that is not what is most needed or expected.

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And Max, as far as I can tell, does not blame me. He does not expect me to fix him. And that gives me both comfort and the realization that my role is not to fix him. My role is to be there for him through the mess and sick.

I’ve learned this role not only through these moments of Max’s sickness, but also in my own sickness. I have been ill several times since owning Max and even fairly recently. During my sickness Max could in no way provide a cure. In fact, he was often less than helpful in tugging my weak body around on walks. But at the end of the day, he was there for me. His presence gave me peace even as the sickness raged inside me.

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Max has taught me that in these moments of sickness, presence and love are what matter most. Too often I rush for a cure (and often before I really know the problem) rather than focusing on being a comforting presence. True, finding a cure is important and necessary, but it is not the only thing that needs to be provided. There are appropriate avenues for finding cures and often that does not include me directly. While that frustrates me, I have learned through Max that everyone can offer loving care in those moments of sickness.

So thank you Max for caring for me and teaching me that I can be a caring presence for you and others even if I don’t have all the answers or cures.  Thank you for teaching me that I don’t always need to fix, but that I can always show love.

Listening

Max is a decent listener. Especially when he is not doing anything bad. As soon as he wanders off where he’s not supposed to go, he suddenly can’t hear anything.  But besides that, he listens to a lot of my rambling, complaining, distressing, confusion, joy, realizations, and whatever other craziness goes through my head.

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And in doing so, he has taught me the importance of listening. Listening alone can heal the soul. And even if he’s not listening well, his presence does the trick.

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There have been way too many times when something has been weighing on my heart terribly.  I usually keep that stuff in and deal or journal about it, but every now and then I just can’t contain it and it bubbles out.  And Max is there to listen – just to be and listen.

And that is consoling in a very significant way. True, I sometimes need someone to talk with, who will give me advice, embrace me, or tell me how silly I am being.  But at the base of all that care is a listening ear.

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So thank you, Max, for listening.  I have needed it more than you know.  And thank you for teaching me the importance of listening so that I may return that favor to some degree to others I meet.