Intentions: the good, the bad, and the misunderstood

Lately I’ve felt like I have so many balls in the air, I fear an avalanche.

I just finished my first children’s book, with another started, and am working on a collection of dog-themed poems and essays. I have my second article coming out this spring in The Bark magazine (it was a little tricky because it’s about tai chi for an audience entirely new to tai chi), which makes a long-dormant book idea much more viable. There’s volunteer work for the Virginia Master Naturalists, my commitment as a committee chairperson, and the required advanced training, as well as my ongoing training in qigong and tai chi and now add energy healing. Rico requires special care as he ages. Whiskey requires special walks as she’s a ball of energy. And the house always needs cleaning.

Then there are the things that I haven’t been able to give much attention to but want to, like this blog, actually revisiting the proposal for my original book idea, and my hair. I need a cut.

Normally I’d go for a long walk. Sometimes I need to detoxify in nature, but I feel guilty leaving the dogs behind. Rico lumbers toward the door, his ears perky and eyes big and round with anticipation, even though a long walk for him is now measured in feet. Whiskey Velcros herself to the wall next to the door, head lowered, and looking at me from between her eyebrows.

I feel like a terrible person because I don’t always have the energy or enthusiasm to balance their energy. One wants to sit back and sip the day …

Rico lounging in tall grass

while the other wants to binge drink it.

Whiskey as far as the leash will let her go

Usually I stay home, miserable.

But the other day, I finally went for it. I ran for the car and squealed wheels out of the driveway before either of them could get down the stairs and headed straight for one of my favorite walking trails.

How could something so good start off feeling so bad? It wasn’t my intention to hurt the dogs. I just desperately needed some quality time outside when I didn’t have to think about what they might be eating, who’s coming toward us, what do I need to pick up, and will we make it back to the car.

I knew they saw it otherwise.

That made me think about the people who have hurt me – when I cursed so-and-so for doing or saying something so obviously hurtful. I’ve even looked at people with a lowered head, from between my eyebrows, as they continued on their stupid, thoughtless path. How could they be so oblivious?

Well, maybe their goal had nothing to do with me. (Shocking!) Maybe, like my intentions with the dogs, their goal wasn’t to hurt anyone but to be happy. Maybe the blinders that kept them focused on their own happiness and what they thought it would take to get them there kept them from seeing any negative impacts.

Mulling this over has had magical effects on me. It hasn’t justified anyone’s careless deeds or smart mouth, but it has made my old wounds seem narcissistic. And that realization has made letting go of bitterness far easier.

As for Rico and Whiskey, they never carry grudges anyway. We spent the afternoon lounging on our sunny deck like a family of walruses. Everyone was happy.

Thanks for stopping by today.

Posted in A Mindful Life with Dogs | 2 Comments

7 Tips from vacation applied to life

They worked hard all year long — fending off postal workers, keeping critters out of the yard, and holding down the sofa. So we took Rico and Whiskey on a well-deserved vacation recently. But that doesn’t mean these scruffy senseis took a break from teaching life lessons. True to form, they enjoyed their vacation to the absolute fullest. And below are their tips for how you can enjoy life to the fullest, too.

1. Stop what you’re doing and pay attention when a feeling of awe swells up inside you.

Whiskey gazing out at the river and mountains

2. That doesn’t mean you have to lose your cool over it, though. Just relax into the moment.

Rico laying by river

3. It might seem brave to dive in with everything you have …

Whiskey in river

but remember it could get messy (and you could get hosed off with cold water because the mama and the papa won’t let you in the house that way).

A muddy Whiskey

4. Opportunity might knock …

a deer grazing in the yard

but sometimes things are out of your control and you can’t answer it.

Leashed-up Rico watching the deer run

5. Accept a helping hand, or set of wheels, if you need it …

Rico and Whiskey in the golf cart

but you aren’t obligated to. Sometimes it’s just more fun to do it your own way.

Whiskey running next to the golf cart

6. Be honest with yourself. Only you know your limits.

Whiskey back in golf cart, resting on a lap

7. Take time to daydream. Listen closely. Hidden within them are the whispers of life calling us.

Rico on sofa gazing out the window

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 | 2 Comments

Feel the doodie, don’t be the doodie

doodie heads

I adore these two dookieheads

I’m walking the dogs the other day. Per the usual, Whiskey ventures out as far front as her leash will allow, and Rico lags behind at the full extent of his. I hear cars and the high-pitched squeal of arguing kids getting closer, while the wind wraps my hair around my face like a desperate octopus. There are no sidewalks in our neighborhood, so we’re on the side of the road. One thing in our favor is a wide strip of grass next to this particular drag, so I’m desperately, verbally ushering the two hooligans off to the side, but to have eyes on both of them and truly ensure they’re out of harm’s way, I whip around front to back.

That’s when I feel it.

In all the chaos of the moment, I notice a slight resistance under the heel of one foot. I freeze. I can’t see anything much less what lurks in the grass until I can reel in the dogs close enough to free up some arm length and peel the hair from my eyes.

Sure enough, I had just avoided planting my foot in a big pile of dog logs.

Words can’t express the thrill of seeing a mindfulness practice pay off in a way that is both literal and wonderfully metaphoric. I know I cannot avoid life’s caca, but I also know I won’t get stuck in it as long as I stay calm and 100-percent focused on the present moment. What a feeling.

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.


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Self-talk, the first ingredient in humble pie

I recently ate a piece of humble pie, served up by Whiskey, my pit bull mix.

Whiskey at the park

I’m glad she dished it and not anyone else, though. Having your faults exposed by your dog is harder to see – it’s not like they can tell you how you’re acting like an ass – but it does soften the blow. That’s one reason why I’ve been writing about it for the last four years so you, dear reader and fellow dog-lover, can (hopefully) learn from the kind, compassionate master curled up at your feet. You teach your dog how to roll over and she teaches you how foolish you are trying to read others’ minds.

I pretty much thought I had Whiskey figured out. Staff at the animal shelter said she had been rescued from a terribly neglectful home along with another dog and a few cats. All of them had bad health issues and bones protruding from under their sunken skin.

So when Whiskey didn’t nestle up to any of us except Rico, we weren’t shocked. Only sad that she had been starved of affection, too.

Rico and Whiskey on the sofa, Whiskey hiding her face in a blanket

Whiskey still thinks the camera will steal her soul

Of the six dogs I’ve had, none had relationship issues. This would be a first. Since I work from home, I figured it wouldn’t take long for her to get used to me, and it didn’t.

Progressing beyond tolerating me, however, is a different matter. For months, she’d come over to me but duck and run when I tried to touch her. I struggled to teach her not to bite me when playing.

Up until a few weeks ago, I felt pretty sure she didn’t think much of me beyond being a satisfactory food dispenser. I thought maybe her emotional scars ran too deep for her to make a connection. I decided to do my best, though it’s hard and lonely loving a black hole. It made me miss her predecessor, Roxy, even more.

One occasion, a song came on triggering memories of how Roxy loved tug-of-war as much as she loved hugs. I miss her trying to tempt me into playing when I need to focus on other things. I miss her riding shotgun. I miss how she would comfort me when I felt sad or angry. I cried, feeling small and alone.

Then I saw Whiskey poke her head around the corner. I greeted her, but buried my face in my hands. If she found me merely adequate at my best, I didn’t want to scare her further away by my worst.

Instead, she came over, somersaulted into my legs, and threw her feet in the air as if “raising the roof.” I reached down and rubbed her belly as she squirmed and grunted. I had to laugh. This went on for a bit. Then she got up and left like nothing happened.

It was long enough for me to feel better, though. And to realize how wrong I had been about her.

Self-talk is a tricky foe. Even when you think your thoughts make perfect sense, seem reasonable and fair, come from a place of love…they’re still thoughts and, therefore, subject to the whims of your ego. The best, most enlightened thoughts can be just as false as the temper tantrum outbursts.

The answer?

I don’t think there is an answer. There only is what is. So let reality be without interpreting it.

At least, I think so. But you know what that means.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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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