Be right or be free, but not both

Like many Americans, I’ve been disturbed by kneelgate—the cultural war started over professional athletes kneeling during the national anthem. For or against, everyone seems pissed. (Full disclosure: I support every American’s right to free speech, especially when speaking out in a peaceful way against injustice. That’s kind of important to a free society.)

Well, not everyone. Rico and Whiskey couldn’t care less. That got me thinking about the complexities of the human mind, what we believe or don’t believe, what we cling to, what we think gives life meaning, how we justify all of these thoughts … all juxtaposed against a dog’s mind, which seems to only have room for food, play, and love.

Is there any hope for humans escaping from the spiral of negativity when something disagreeable churns up?

Consider this passage from a book I read recently, called “The Art of Tea: Meditations to awaken your spirit,” by Osho:

Ideas create stupidity because the more ideas are there, the more the mind is burdened. And how can a burdened mind know? The more ideas are there, the more it becomes just like dust on a mirror. How can the mirror mirror? How can the mirror reflect? Your intelligence is just covered by opinions, the dust, and everyone who is opinionated is bound to be stupid and dull. … A truly religious mind is an innocent, intelligent mind. The mirror is clear, the dust has not been gathered, and every day a continuous cleaning goes on. That’s what I call meditation.

The less thoughts you have, the more likely you are to free yourself from suffering.

So each of us has a choice. You must end your own suffering by choosing what’s more important to you — being right or being free.

Given Whiskey’s reaction to every football game, I think she made her choice.

Whiskey sleeping in an awkward position on the sofa

Anytime is a good time for naptime

 Thanks for stopping by today.

 Dog and Dojo is a blog about the wisdom gained when we apply mindfulness and meditation to relationships with our dogs. Start unlocking the wisdom of your pet with our free journal, Buried Treasures_Discovering wisdom from observing your dog, today.

Posted in A Mindful Life with Dogs, Odds and Ends | 2 Comments

5 Lessons from Failed Goals

Have you ever set what seemed like a reasonable goal, failed to meet it, beat yourself up, then realized what you did accomplish mattered more than your goal and had to undo the damage you caused yourself in the throes of disappointment? Yeah, me too.

This last weekend I attended the 2017 HippoCamp: A Conference for Creative Nonfiction Writers. It’s the lovechild of Hippocampus Magazine, so named for the area of the brain that forms long-term memories. Writers from the U.S. and abroad converged on the lovely city of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to nerd out on literary memoir, personal essay writing, and other forms of nonfiction craft.

Nighttime view of Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Downtown Lancaster, Pennsylvania

I set a goal of talking with 50 fellow writers during the three-day event.

I think I talked with 22 people total. That’s counting the front desk staff of the Marriott, two concierges, a couple members of the housekeeping team, and the employees of the two restaurants where I ate. Wait … 23! I also spoke with a gentleman sharing the elevator with me. It was his wedding day.

On top of that, with one notable exception of a lovely lady from Chicago, I mostly listened to others.

That’s a pretty clear fail. I’ve been feeling crappy for not pushing harder out of my comfort zone, being more assertive, and talking about Dog and Dojo more.

I’m not the only one to ever feel this way, so after a few days to reflect, I thought I’d offer a few lessons learned.

  1. There are many variables to consider when setting goals, but the most important one is YOU. I set my “50 people” goal in excitement over the conference — the number of days I’d be there, the different sessions I’d attend with different people, and the sheer number of people attending overall. But I took me out of the equation. I have a bit of social anxiety. I love conversation; I hate crowds. I also don’t like to be talked at by people who could literally be talking to a wall and they wouldn’t notice. Does that sound like someone who can comfortably speak with 50 strangers at a large event?
  2. Meeting goals and achieving victories may not be the same thing. So I didn’t make my goal. But going to this conference at all was a victory. So was leaving Rico and Whiskey for three days. This was the first time I’ve left Rico for more than a few hours since struggling with the decision to leave him and his sister Roxy, who had cancer at the time. Even though I had a mini panic attack the night before I left, I did it anyway. That’s a huge win.
  3. Reframing is nothing to be ashamed of. Halfway through Saturday, it became clear 50 wasn’t an achievable goal. With a splitting headache, the shakes, and a constant second-guessing of the outfits I chose, the compassionate thing to do would have been to see each individual conversation as a victory because they were. But self-compassion is another struggle.
  4. Feeling disappointed and being a disappointment are two different things. I mistook feeling disappointed for being a disappointment. Funny, because I’ve never mistook a sense of accomplishment for meaning I am accomplished. I can’t believe one without the other. It’s just not logical. So both must be false.
  5. Beating yourself up accomplishes literally nothing. At all. Falling down the rabbit hole of social media is a better use of time than beating yourself up over woulda, shoulda, coulda. I can spend this moment sad that I didn’t do better, and then spend the next moment sad that I wasted this moment being sad and not being productive. It’s a stupid, infinite cycle. Don’t fall for it.

After all is said and done, I don’t know where I stand on goal setting versus flying by the seat of your pants. I guess it’s whatever works for you. Figuring that out may be a lifelong process. Glad I have some fun-loving friends to do it with.

Rico and Whiskey sleeping between my legs

Happy their body pillow is home again

Thanks for visiting.

Dog and Dojo is a blog about the wisdom gained when we apply mindfulness and meditation to relationships with our dogs. Start unlocking the wisdom of your pet with our free journal, Buried Treasures:_Discovering wisdom from observing your dog, today.

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A Free Journal For You And Your Pet

I have a list of seven blog post ideas on my office white board. This isn’t one of them. But I wanted to get this journal I’ve been working on posted.

The cover of Buried Treasures: Discovering wisdom from observing your dog

A free journal from Dog and Dojo

It’s a free guide for anyone interested in trying to figure out what they can learn by watching their own pets (even though I focus on my dogs, it can be just about any pet).

Called “Buried Treasures: Discovering wisdom from observing your dog,” this is a little booklet of journal prompts I put together to help jumpstart your creative thinking and observational skills. It also asks you to get in touch with the “what” and “why” of your emotional reactions to things your pet does. That’s how I’ve gained so much insight from my dogs, past and present.

Of course, I’m not a medical professional, and this journal in no way constitutes any kind of counseling or medical advice. But it does guide you toward getting to know yourself and your pet a little better. If that leads you to wanting to talk to someone who can provide some form of counseling to help sort out matters, do it. Heaven knows I have many times over the years.

Most of all, I hope you have fun with this. These are trying times we live in – with disasters coming from all sides, human and natural. Take some time to look away from online media and look to the wisdom inherent in all of nature’s creatures—including the ones curled up at your feet.

Thanks for visiting us today.

Posted in Odds and Ends | 2 Comments

The Antidote For Hate Is Not What You Think

Love does not defeat hate. In fact, if anything, I believe love gives rise to hate. Inevitably, someone, some group will feel they are less loved than the others and ta-da! The seeds of jealousy sprout into a little hate plant.

Rico and Whiskey enjoying their bones

Everyone gets the same bone, or no one gets a bone

Obviously, this took root in my mind while following the events in Charlottesville, Virginia. Our own little city organized a candlelit vigil in honor of the victim murdered there. I wished I had gone, at least until I read they hugged each other and sang songs. Try to put your arms around me and I’ll probably throat punch you. It’s just not my cup of tea. And singing songs? Ugh, please. If this is what love looks like, I’d rather find a cabin in the woods to retreat from society.

There must be an answer, an antidote to hate. One that doesn’t feel so wishy-washy. To find it, I, of course, looked to my dogs. They didn’t disappoint.

Rico and Whiskey chilling on the floor

All in a day’s work.

What combats hate

It doesn’t matter where on the hate spectrum—from fear up to violence—the answer is the same…

Hate’s kryptonite is peace.

Here’s why I believe this. Twice now, a neighbor’s two Labradors have broken out of their home to run down the road after Rico to attack him. Thank God, it’s never been vicious. Mostly noise and chaos. Other neighbors tell me a dog who used to live next to them used to terrorize them through their fence. Maybe it’s mistaken identity. Regardless, I warned the family, one more time and I’m calling animal control and having the dogs taken away.

Needless to say, whenever Rico hears their barking, he goes on alert. I tried showering him with love to ease his anxiety. I’d pet him, speak softly, and stroke his back, trying to let him know it’s OK.

Love never helped. And, in fact, most experienced dog trainers say you shouldn’t show love to a dog during a fearful moment. You’re only reinforcing the fear. Turns out, it’s true during any negative moment.

Know what did help alleviate Rico’s angst? Peacefully leading him on, without positive or negative fanfare.

No anger, no self-righteous indignation, no desire to change anything. Just. Peace.

Peace as a weapon

Your own, personal sense of internal peace is your best weapon against anything. Literally. Nothing deflates a hate-filled balloon like no reaction. The hate-monger, all alone in his/ her bitterness, can’t help but see their silliness.

If I may provide another example. Many years ago, in my early 20s, I was walking our family’s miniature poodle, Rudy, in a common area of our townhouse neighborhood. I hadn’t seen anyone in that space since I was a child playing there and didn’t think to clean up after him. Yes, I was wrong.

To remind me, an irate woman stomped over to us, berating me with obscenities. I said sorry, I didn’t realize anyone still used that space and I would come back to clean it up.

She wasn’t finished. Her tirade escalated until she threatened me. I just looked at her and said, “OK, that’s enough. You need to act like an adult.”

Slicing her finger through the air for emphasis, she shouted, “You don’t want me to act like an adult.”

Maybe she realized how dumb she sounded, maybe not. Either way, she immediately pivoted and slinked away. I never saw her again.

Reality of peace

“Bad guys” are like vultures—they’re everywhere and they’re kind of gross, but they also serve a generous purpose. They can be a motivating force for the rest of us to work at finding our internal peace. If everyone held hands and sang “Kumbaya,” we’d never evolve. There would be no reason to.

So please, don’t meet force with force. That’s silly. And dangerous. Redirecting incoming force is the way of the martial artist. When faced with someone spewing hate or any negativity, use that as a reminder to get control of yourself, go inside to your inner quiet, and let them wear themselves out. Eventually, they’ll deliver their own crippling blow.

Thank you for stopping by today.

Posted in A Mindful Life with Dogs, Odds and Ends | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

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 | 2 Comments

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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