How to meditate through the unpleasant

A meditation class at a Buddhist monastery has me thinking about dog poop.

Hmmm, let me try that again.

A meditation class at a Buddhist monastery has me thinking about picking up dog poop in our yard again.

Nope, not any better.

Let’s start with the “again” part, because thinking about dog poop in the first place is admittedly strange. A couple of years ago the parallels between cleaning the yard and cleaning the dojo after class struck me—the goal for full focus on the task at hand, the love that goes into cleaning both because both are sacred ground, the metaphor of cleaning up sweat or poop for washing away old judgments.

Then I attended a meditation class at this lovely Buddhist monastery nestled in the heart of one of Virginia’s hidden valleys. The instructor, a senior student of the resident rinpoche (Tibetan title for a highly respected religious teacher), challenged us to sit with our eyes lowered to a single spot on the floor —something I’m not used to. Even though we meditate, she explained, that doesn’t mean we shut out the rest of the world. She instructed us to remain aware of our peripheral surroundings, but direct our attention on each exhale.

It was really hard. Whenever we caught ourselves thinking, she said to acknowledge “OK, this is thinking” and move back to the breath. Too often, she explained, we jump at each thought without stopping to assess the thought. For example, we think, “I need chapstick” and suddenly we’re walking away from a blog post we need to finish.

Acknowledging thoughts and coming back to the breath instead of acting on those thoughts gives us strength to wrestle back control over ourselves.

Sound like a bunch of doo-doo?

Well, consider how many times you ate an entire bag of cookies without realizing it until it was too late. Or you weren’t able to finish a project because other things kept tugging at your mind. (Ahem, guilty.) See the value now?

But not everyone has time to sit for 20 minutes or more a day. There are other opportunities to practice, though. Enter dog poop.

Cleaning up the yard after the dogs is like sitting in meditation. Instead of sitting, you’re walking. And instead of focusing on the breath, you focus on the ground. The punishment for a wandering mind is a tiny, stinky dollop smashed into your shoe. Or it’s watching one of your dogs eat the leftovers. (Ugh!) Better keep your mind on that single task, right?

When you look at it this way, anything can (and probably should) become a meditation practice. Maybe that’s one meaning behind the famous saying, “After enlightenment, the laundry.”

Give it a try. Pick one task today and every time an unrelated thought arises, acknowledge it, and decide to stay with what you’re working on anyway. I’d love to hear how it goes, so tell me about it in the comments section.

Good luck! And thanks for stopping by today.

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“One is not sleeping, does not mean they are awake.” – wisdom from a fortune cookie

Close-up of Whiskey curled up sleeping

Trust me, she would be wide awake at the first crunch of a cheese wrapper.

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Getting The Control Freak Under Control

“Control freak” sounds harsh. “Keeping things under control so I feel safe and secure” sounds better. Please tell me you’ve also thought maintaining control makes things predictable, certain, more manageable. Regardless of the fact that’s almost never true.

If you have a pet in the family, one on whom you didn’t invest in obedience training, then you know wanting control won’t go well. Especially if one of those pets is a spunky, young pit bull mix full of piss and vinegar and a love for somersaulting into a back scratch in the most inappropriate places.

Whiskey on her back in the middle of the road

“This feels goood!”

So far we’ve been lucky—no cars have come by. I like to believe I could move her quickly if that were to happen, though. I think.

The force is strong in this one, though, and Whiskey tests my controlling tendencies daily. Sometimes I want to go forward; she goes backward. Sometimes I let her win. (It was my choice, so I’m still in control, I tell myself.) Other times, with several minutes, a ton of patience, and the highest pitched voice I can muster, I win.

 One day we both won, though it didn’t seem so in the moment. We had been wrestling the entire walk, arguing over whether or not she could eat the unidentifiable globs of whatever alongside the road. During a disagreement on direction, Rico and I went forward while Whiskey decided to hunker down and step backward right out of her harness, which came snapping back to me on the end of her extender leash like a fish out of water. Several houses stood between us and home. Behind the houses on one side of our road are woods—thick, wild, and smelling like heaven.

 Now, I’ve written about conquering off-leash fears before, but that was intended for a conscious decision to remove the leash, not an escape from one. Part of me freaked out seeing Whiskey all naked by the roadside, but I also had Rico to protect and wasn’t about to endanger him trying to catch her. That dog has had too many medical crises. Plus I’d had it with Whiskey’s stubbornness. So I clinched my jaw, said a prayer for her safety, and let go of controlling the situation.

 “She’ll either make it home or she won’t,” I told him. He looked up at me with the equivalent of a doggie shrug and we shuffled toward home.

To my surprise, she stuck with us. Granted, she didn’t come when called, but she never strayed far. She sniffed and bounced around, running back and forth alongside us, never crossing the road (thank you, Lord). When we were just two doors away, I told her to get on home. She took off sprinting. And she waited for us on the porch.

Whiskey waiting for us on the porch

“I’ve been right here, waiting all along.”

Trying to control things we have almost no control over, if any at all, is a trait we all share. It’s human. I don’t recommend tossing your pets out the front door and surrendering control to see what happens. But I do think looking for small-stakes situations where we can take a deep breath and let fate take the wheel could be beneficial. I’m going to try. How about you?

 Thanks for stopping by today.

Posted in A Mindful Life with Dogs | 1 Comment

The BarkCam App

BarkCam is a free app with a wide variety of sounds that automatically snaps your dog’s picture at the height of their curiosity. Simply point the phone, choose one of 12 unique noises, press the button and the sound plays. With maybe a second delay – long enough for your dog to say, “Do what?” – the picture is automatically taken.

With dreams of adorable portrait shots of Rico and Whiskey with ears all perky, eyes bright and inquisitive, I decided to test it.

First up, the cat’s meow …

Whiskey looking very unimpressed

OK, well, not the most enthusiastic response. Maybe rattling keys?

Whiskey still looking unimpressed

Um, all right. A cow’s moo is sure to get a reaction.

Whiskey falling asleep

No? How about what I can only describe as a fart?

Whiskey asleep

Wow. Might as well keep trying. Here are her reactions to a horn, howl, mouse squeak, quacking, roaring, burping, and opening of a bag …

Whiskey asleep

And, finally, the doorbell ringing …

Whiskey blurry from running away

Not really the stuff dreams are made of. I guess it depends on the dog. For us, the word “walk” is still the best way to get a reaction from them.

Whiskey very alert and paying attention

Thanks for stopping by today!

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A handy medical tool…from tennis

I don’t know what we would have done without a Wilson’s tennis wrist band. It made the perfect bandage for Rico’s injured dew claw.

Close-up of Rico's foot with Wilson wrist wrap on it

Rico could be a foot model

I think every dog parent should have one.

A few weeks ago, Rico superman slid down a few steps. He was trying to get ahead of my ham-carrying boyfriend. See, when Rico takes a medicated bath for his itchy, dry skin, he has to stand there for several minutes for the shampoo to work. We pass the time eating. This time we had leftovers, but that’s not a concept Rico’s familiar with or apparently approves of.

So he went all in to get around my boyfriend  on the stairs and ended up superman sliding down the last few. The edge caught one of his front dew claws. It hurt. A lot. And bled. A lot.

The emergency clinic didn’t think it needed to be removed, so they club-wrapped it for a few days.

Rico lounging on the sunny deck with a big bandage on his paw

How does he make everything look sophisticated?

We did good for a week, but then it became infected. You would have thought Rico bled peanut butter the way he was licking at it, poor fella. Boy, did he get good at getting underneath layers of bandages to pull out gauze.

Rico with a second bandage on his paw

An unusually calmer moment

We fought with the e-collar cone of shame.

Rico's sad face in the e-collar

This is just a “no.”

We wrestled all night for a few nights. It was getting ugly.

Then I tried the tennis wrist band. Wal-mart had just one. I would have thrown elbows at kids to get my hands on it. (Luckily I didn’t need to.)

Maybe it was just the right amount of pressure to make it comfortable. Maybe it was just thick enough he couldn’t flip it up to get under it. Whatever it was, he wore it like a champ. Like a model.

Rico posing with his Wilson wrist band

Rico showing off his athletic wear

Our regular vet removed the bad toenail and prescribed antibiotics. The wrist band helped him feel more comfortable. And we’re all happy again.

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Dog Play — It’s Good For Us, Too

 

“Play is the highest form of research.” – Albert Einstein

If the guy synonymous with genius says it, who am I to disagree? Not that I would anyway. You can learn a lot by watching dogs play. And no one will think you’re creepy, unlike watching the other masters of play—kids.

What can a human learn from watching dogs play?

Any old, ordinary thing has the potential to bring us joy if we’re open-minded.

Rico playing with a plastic bottle

 You’ll rediscover fun things about yourself …

 Rico splashing in the river

 … and discover new things about others.

Rico and Whiskey playing in the river

 You’ll experience the wonderful release of energy …

 Whiskey running in yard

 … leading to deeper, more restful sleep.

Whiskey passed out under blankets

 You’ll learn your limits …

Rico lounging on the sunny deck with a big bandage on his paw

…and when you can go beyond them. (Or not.)

 Rico with a second bandage on his paw

 Looking for a few ideas for playing with your pups inside? Check out how to build an indoor obstacle course for about $20.

 Thanks for stopping by today. Now get out there and play!

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5 truths when dealing with confrontational people, according to dogs

A confrontational computer repairman breathes today thanks to my dogs. At least, I’m pretty sure of it. Because the thought occurred to me to crack him good. He seemed to feel the same. Like, from hello.

But woofy wisdom prevailed.

Whiskey at computer desk

We got a new computer! (What’s a computer?)

So did I. Here’s what happened and what I observed.

First, the confrontation

Transferring files from my crashed laptop to my rather old Apple Macbook (which I have Photoshop on, so I use it regularly) sounds routine for a computer repair shop. But after I got the Apple back, it didn’t have enough RAM to work. So I called them back to see if the new, large files ate up too much space.

Mr. Charming — the shop’s owner as I learned from a friend because heaven forbid he actually introduce himself — flipped out. “You mean to tell me you can use that machine for anything?” he stormed. “I just can’t believe it. I am shocked and amazed.”

After several minutes implying I’m a liar, he finally grumbled I could bring it back in.

I went back the next day with a jump drive of proof the Apple had worked. In the middle of nicely talking with an IT guy, a stranger, who I figured out was Mr. Charming because he failed to introduce himself again, came storming in. I called him out on being rude and unprofessional, but he didn’t back down, apologize, or even refute he accused me of lying. Of the 20 or so minutes there, 15 was wasted on Mr. Charming’s temper tantrum.

Those 5 truths for dealing with people who suck

I’ll be honest — I wanted to drive my elbow through his face. But the mindfulness training I’ve been doing with my dogs, as chronicled here on Dog and Dojo, paid off.

So here are our five tips for dealing with confrontational people:

  1. Mr. Charming acted like a bully from the start. And, as I experienced when I bullied one of my dogs with a vibrating collar, bullying comes from personal weakness. His behavior served as a spotlight on his vulnerable underbelly. I won’t pretend I felt compassion, but I did feel responsible for safely getting us to the other side of this conflict.

 

  1. Like anyone else, I look back and wish I had said this or that. But everything I did say, I said with conviction from my gut. Speaking with this energy carries power. It’s how I verbally correct my dogs; usually, that’s all it takes.

 

  1. Your intention will get you through anything unpleasant. Never lose touch with it. I didn’t go there intending to fight. I intended to fix my computer. Keeping my eye on that goal made it easier to redirect Mr. Charming’s negativity.

 

  1. Speaking of redirecting, I once wrote about redirecting a dog’s energy when he’s jumping on you. Ditto for someone spewing hate. How? Root yourself in your intention so your words clearly represent it. Then redirect negative statements by restating them. For example, Mr. Charming said I accused them of rigging my computer, to which I replied, “Did you not hear me when I asked if it had something to do with the size of the files? That has nothing to do with you.”

 

  1. Accept what you cannot change. I mean, if Rico accepts he cannot eat a duck at the park, I can accept that Mr. Charming was a textbook bully. Not my job to fix him or calm him down. His self-expression is his choice, completely independent of me.

Getting satisfaction

None of this means I didn’t vent. I still wished things had gone better. I also dreamt of backslapping him.

But I also feel true to myself and a bit closer to spiritual maturity. I feel bigger, even stronger than I did before. I feel more like a warrior. And no one got a police record.

I also got a new computer, which I apparently will be sharing with Whiskey …

 

Whiskey sleeping at the new computer

Successfully dealing with confrontational people deserves a nap.

I could come up with more truths for handling rude people. I bet you can, too. Please feel free to share any nuggets of wisdom your furry bestie has bestowed upon you.

Thanks for stopping by today!

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Practice Makes Something Other Than Perfect

Sometimes I know better, but I fail to do better. I’m probably not alone.

Whiskey highlights this. I swear she wants to bring out the worst in me.

Whiskey peeking over sofa back

Who, me?

This morning, she lit into me while I talked on the phone. I closed the door, so she barked while swiping at it. No problem figuring out the message—she was bored and restless. There just wasn’t anything I could do at that time. Except swallow my frustration.

And then there’s her love of digging, especially in the garden.

Whiskey running through garden

Now it’s a party!

There’s nothing planted in it. Yet.

Whiskey jumping out of garden

And she’s off …

Soon, this will have to stop.

If I’ve learned only one thing sharing my life with dogs it’s this—yelling is a surefire way to get the opposite response you want. Yell at them to come to you and they run. Yell at them to stop barking and they do it even more. Yell at them to get out of the garden and …

WHISkey hopping from one raised garden to another

So many gardens to dig in, so little time.

Responding from a place of compassion for their needs, not my own desires, gets a better response. Even though I know this, I still forget to practice it sometimes.

Whiskey flying through the air, burning energy

Clearly she needed to burn some energy

Doesn’t practice lead to perfect?

In his book, A Zen Wave: Basho’s Haiku and Zen, Robert Aitken offers this insight:

“Compassion takes practice, like any other kind of fulfillment. I am often told that compassion should flow naturally. This is true. Also, Mozart should flow naturally from your fingers when you sit at the piano. It is important and essential to understand that Zen is not simply a matter of spontaneity. It is also practice. By practicing zazen, you do zazen. By sitting with a half-smile, you practice enjoyment. By smiling at your friends, you practice the great compassionate heart. The act is the practice. The practice is the act. Sitting when you do not feel like it—that is zazen, that is the rare udumbara flower of Buddhahood. Smiling at your friends when you do not feel like it—that is compassion, annihilating greed, hatred, and folly, and giving life to the healing spirit of Kanzeon.

I have been told that practice of compassion is dishonest when one does not feel compassionate. This argument makes my blood boil. To what are you being honest? Nothing but a whim!”

Reading this makes me feel better.

Aitken was a lay-resident at a Zen monastery in Japan before being named a Zen roshi (master). He’s one of the first Americans to receive that honor—four years before he wrote this.

I’m no Zen master. And certainly no Mozart. I’m just a doggie momma.

If his blood boils over a debate about compassion, I can spit out a few choice words when Whiskey bites me. (Yeah, I thought we had licked that, but she forgets to make better choices sometimes, too.)

So maybe practice doesn’t make perfect, but it does make things better for me and those around me. I’m grateful Whiskey gives me plenty of practice. Well, a little less now …

The newly fenced garden

Just helping her make better choices

Thanks for stopping by today.

Posted in A Mindful Life with Dogs | 8 Comments

The Power Of Choice

Lately Rico has been meandering even more on our walks. So much so, hopeful buzzards keep an eye on us.

Rico taking a break during a walk

 

Yesterday something hit me that probably explained his slowing speed; I forgot Rico’s birthday last month. Ok, not that, but the fact he turned nine. Or nine-ish. Rescued dogs’ ages are only good guesses. Whiskey, for example, is also nine years-old according to her adoption contract. Four according to the vet. So birthdays are more about celebrating another year of happiness for us.

 

We didn’t celebrate Rico, though. Instead, I’ve been aggravated at his putzing along. I’ve dreaded walks. Avoided them, even.

 

One day in the too-near future, however, Rico won’t be lagging behind us like a prisoner of war and I’ll regret being vexed. If I ever get over the heartbreak, I mean. 

 Rico and I on an outing

 

I try so hard to stay present with all of my pets. It isn’t enough, however, to counteract the pain, uncertainty, and desperation associated with a beloved’s death, be it in the past or future. Hell, anymore, being present isn’t even enough to counterbalance the angst of watching the news or reading certain things on social media.

 

What’s the answer?

 

I doubt there’s only one, but here’s mine:

 

I reflected on my pets’ lives and deaths. For me, one of the most important duties as a pet parent is doing my best to help my fur babies pass from this world cocooned in love, peace, and comfort. It’s never easy. But their emotional state at that vital time means everything.

 

What about my death? I want to pass from this world floating on love and peace, too. Hard truth is I (everyone) can pass away in the blink of an eye at any moment.

 

So when I’m feeling any shade of negativity, I now ask myself this one question:

 

If I died right now, is this the energy I want to experience for eternity?

 

Because that’s what I believe happens. Think about it. We’re all made up of energy that we absorb and transform using our bodies and minds. When we die, it stands to reason we can no longer change our state using our bodily functions or justify it with our minds. We can’t think, “I’m mad because of my boss.” We just exist as mad energy without context. This is the point where God’s role in the afterlife could come into play, but that’s a different blog. For now, let’s say we stay in the last state we experienced unless another force changes it for us. That’s just science.

 

I once wrote that practicing staying present is the greatest gift our pets teach us. But now I think that’s just one part of it. Maybe the other part is understanding the power of choice as it relates to our energy and how it determines our fate during our most vulnerable moment.

 

During life’s smaller miserable moments, like a frustrating walk with two crazeballs, I can practice being fully present and choose to change my energy from anger to peace. I just have to ask myself, “If death came right now, would I want to feel this forever?”  Then maybe I’ll have practiced enough to be aware and choose peace at my worst moments, too.   

 

And to think all of that because I missed Rico’s birthday and felt guilty about our walks. God bless animals. Without them, I, for one, would be a lost cause.

 

Oh, and yes, I’ll be out there with these two chuckleheads walking, meandering, and fighting to keep my shoulders in their sockets …

Whiskey and Rico waiting for a walk

… And taking deep breaths.

Thank you for stopping by today.

 

Posted in A Mindful Life with Dogs | 6 Comments

How To Live With Vultures

from the same ridge/a sweeping view of the valley/ and vultures

There’s something about being at the top of the mountain, literally and metaphorically. Who doesn’t want to feel on top of everything?

Even Rico likes the bird’s-eye view of the valley—the river’s stillness, the rolling greenery, the gliding vultures.

Rico looking down over the valley

Yes, vultures. I’m almost never lucky enough to spot a hawk or an eagle, but I can bet on seeing a vulture. They’re everywhere.

I thought about this as we admired the scene that day, practicing what Rico teaches me about slowing down and seeing the world around me.

Want to enjoy a magnificent view? Better get comfortable seeing vultures.

Want to move up in a career? Better accept the presence of human vultures. You know, wicked folks who feed off of other’s misfortunes or missteps so they can get ahead. Like it or not, they’re everywhere, too.

I started to wonder if I could find things to appreciate about buzzards of the feathered variety. Maybe that could lead to appreciating human kinds, too?

Well, in eating the dead, vultures do us a huge service. They protect us from disease. They also protect us from the unsightly view of dead animals. They basically bat clean-up. And, well, they are pretty cool to watch soaring on the wind. Rico seems to agree.

I watched Rico’s eyes and head follow the giant birds, his own furry ears spread out like tiny wings. When it was time to go he got up and we left. Simple. I guess his practice with accepting he can’t eat ducks has paid off to some extent.

I decided that’s probably the best way to deal with human vultures, too. It’s so tempting to pass judgment and plot revenge. But my new fur baby, Whiskey, has already taught me what happens when I over-think.

Besides, it’d be my luck that, while focusing on vultures I’d miss the one time an eagle perches nearby.

Eagle perched in a tree

Or the praying mantis camouflaged to blend in with dead grass on the pavement. (I didn’t know they could do that!)

2 pictures of a praying mantis that is the color of hay

Or the lady-slippers with righteous comb overs.

yellow lady-slipper flowers with dried leaves that look like hair

So I can embrace vultures as another part of life. They do provide an invaluable service to us.

And human vultures? Well, at least they model the kind of person I don’t want to be. There’s value in that, too.

It’s not easy, but by observing the view (and life) without commentary, I can join Rico, and now Whiskey, too, in enjoying it whether it’s from a mountain ridge or the valley floor.

Thanks for stopping by today.

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