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.

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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.

Posted in Odds and Ends | 1 Comment

Overanalyzing Bit Me In The @**

Pinched between teeth

A pink welt on white skin

OW! scares us both

So it turns out Whiskey can be a shithead. She cozies up when I’m eating like she expects to be baby-birded.

Whiskey staring at my dinner plate

“You gonna finish chewing that?”

Her stubborn streak is …

Whiskey stubbornly pancaking to the floor in the vet's waiting room

“Not gonna do it. You can’t make me.”

… OK, I can’t blame her here. We were at the vet’s.

Don’t get me wrong—I love her to pieces. She makes me laugh every day and she treats Rico so well. But she can be bit of a shit.

A sweet-faced Whiskey peering over the blankets

Who, me?

Especially when she bites the shit out of all of us except Rico. (I guess I did ask for the best friend for him, not me.) It’s her play style. I hate it. I guess no one taught her differently growing up. And now I have a 50 pound pit bull terrier/boxer mix who bites people. For fun.

Making matters worse, Whiskey doesn’t seem to know how to accept affection. Contact means playtime. Good luck getting out of this unscathed.

Mouthing off

Whiskey’s really good at pricking your skin between her front teeth. Even on my shin. How does she do that?

I know puppies play using their mouths. To teach them better play habits, trainers recommend saying “ouch” loud enough to startle them when they mouth you. Don’t pull away because they need to learn to stop, not be enticed into chasing you. Just ouch, whether it actually hurts or not.

But I’ve also heard that many adult dogs love squeaky toys because the sound mimics the death squeals of their prey. The sound amps them up like an Imagine Dragons song.

I wonder how Whiskey interprets my yelps.

Whiskey peeking up over the side of the bed

I feel like somebody’s watching me.

Breaking both our habits

We’ve been at this for about a month now. By “this,” I mean my internal debate on as to how to handle her playful(ly painful) biting.

While my left brain busily analyzed how I should respond, my right brain spontaneously responded to every nip. Sometimes I yelped and jerked away (then chided myself for the wrong response). Other times, I just yelped (and feared I had just inspired her to attack me with gusto).

Then I suddenly realized I’d gone through a whole week without a new bruise. I can see now that my response usually cues her onto something wrong. And she’s almost totally stopped nipping. Almost.

Whiskey plopping around on her back

“Pet play… isn’t it all the same?”

Whiskey’s been here for only a short while and she already reminded me of some valuable lessons…

  1. I’m still putting too much energy into thinking instead of doing.
  2. The best responses spring up out of love, not fear.

Thank you for stopping by. – Christie

* After writing my first haiku about Rico just as a joke, I’ve developed a love for that style of poetry. I’ve even done a few coupled with photos honoring my dogs, which I’ll share later. Because I realize most of us, including me, don’t know much about haiku, I’ll explain what I’ve learned when I do share the finished pieces.

Posted in A Mindful Life with Dogs, Mindful Dog Training Tips | 4 Comments

(Not) Knowing What We Need

Sometimes I think I have it figured out. Not life’s big mysteries, of course, but at least the simpler stuff. Like the “should or shouldn’t we get a new dog” type of stuff.

I didn’t want another after Roxy passed last July. I didn’t think Rico wanted one either.

But on our annual fall mountain vacation, it became clear—I was wrong. Rico didn’t play in the water. Walks dragged; he preferred the sofa. And though the cabin was just 570 square feet or so, he spent the first couple of days glued to my side. He seemed lonely.

Star Search

I knew this would be tricky. Our needs list:

  1. A female
  2. Someone in Rico’s age group – so 8-10 years old
  3. Someone still playful enough to roughhouse with my boyfriend
  4. But not play so rough she hurt Rico’s arthritic body
  5. Someone who walked as slow as Rico, but
  6. Had enough energy for decent walks, which Rico needed because his waistline expanded with his loneliness
  7. Roxy

That last one’s unfair but true. Roxy was irreplaceable. A truth that became more apparent every time we visited a shelter or adoption event.

One Saturday, after visiting two shelters and striking out, I prayed to Roxy for help. If she could see Rico needed a friend, could she please guide us to the perfect buddy for him?

The next morning …

Whiskey on the rocks

Her kennel card said her name was Jada and she was eight years old. I had seen her, but she was aloof and didn’t leave an impression. But the morning after praying to Roxy I couldn’t get her out of my mind. So Rico and I went back. And we kept going back because even though we never connected, I kept gravitating toward her.

Three visits later, I still didn’t have any preference, but Rico did. In his coy way. He grumbled, then wanted to trot next to her. He cried foul when she tried to sniff him, but then explored the yard next to her and snuck in little sniffs himself.

Anyone else would have thought he didn’t like her. But I knew better. He hadn’t pulled his trademark sit-with-his-back-to-you-because-you-cease-to-exist move. And when I finally signed off on the adoption, the two hopped into the car as if they’d been expecting it all along.

Whiskey (left) and Rico on their first car ride

Whiskey (left) and Rico on their first car ride

 

She didn’t respond to Jada so, after spending a few days with her, I renamed her Whiskey Lily. It’s nicer than Piss-and-Vinegar.

Checking off boxes

So, how did Roxy do?

Well, Whiskey’s not eight years old. Our vet estimated her to be five at most. That’s good news for my boyfriend. Had I known that, however, I’m not sure I would have adopted her. I wanted someone closer to Rico’s age.

Whiskey only knows “sit.” Certainly not “no, leave it, come” or any other useful words. She’s pretty rough on walks, but she inspires Rico to walk more. She’s playful but gentle with him. And there’s this …

WHiskey and Rico snuggling on their sofa

Two snuggle monsters

 

Clearly, Roxy knew better.

Two out of three of us got the dog we wanted. I’m going to have to review my advice for walking rambunctious dogs—from rooting to alignment. The post about reacting to barking dogs … that, too. And more.

I’ve been so sad, I forgot what chaos is like. And it shows. I’m learning all over again how to be at peace in the midst of chaos.

So no, I didn’t get the dog I wanted. I got the dog I needed. Please wish us luck!

Thanks for stopping by. – Christie

Posted in A Mindful Life with Dogs | 4 Comments

Why We Should All Want To Be Like Pit Bulls

Animal rescue groups across the country will be celebrating National Pit Bull Awareness Day on October 22! It’s another flattering spotlight on these misunderstood dogs.

Isn’t it funny listening to people talk about pit bulls? To one camp, pit bulls are loving, mile-wide smiling, family-oriented goofballs. To the other, they’re freakishly strong, ferocious animals who know no fear or pain.

Contradicting stereotypes … or are they? Maybe both are right.

Two stereotypes in one

If you looked at recent posts or the welcome page, you know my pit bull passed away from cancer earlier this year.

Roxy sitting in the sunlight

My beautiful, regal pit bull

She was my therapy dog. Without being trained to do so, she would throw herself across my lap, licking at my face whenever I became upset. It didn’t matter how pissed I was, how loud I screamed. She dove in and wouldn’t stop until I calmed down.

Roxy giving me a kiss

Please don’t be mad I took your seat on the sofa, Mom.

During her final decline, one of her rear legs swelled up. Standing was a struggle. She mostly stayed down. Because pit bulls are stoic, we never knew if she was in pain though she couldn’t have been comfortable.

Reality hit me as I worked at my computer and she lay nearby. I lost it.

Hearing me cry, she used her front legs to pivot to face me. With her eyes locked on me, she rocked herself forward and backward, trying to get enough momentum to hoist herself onto her back legs. She couldn’t get up fast enough, so she started to belly crawl toward me.

I fell onto the floor next to her and held her while she licked away my tears.

Two days later she was gone.

A ferocious heart

So I say it’s true what the haters think. Pit bulls don’t care about pain when it comes to pleasing their people. They don’t care what danger they may be in or what danger they are ordered to face. They epitomize the saying about love moving mountains.

A pit bull’s ferocity lives in his or her capacity to love.

It’s a kind of love most humans can’t comprehend, which is why, I believe, pit bulls are so misunderstood by otherwise good people.

Their willingness to love with reckless abandon is why I want to be like a pit bull. Imagine how much better the world would be if everyone did.

Thanks for stopping by.

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Stop, See, Breathe, Repeat

Rico sniffing weeds

 

Early morning walk

My dog wants only to be still

Breathing the dew

Can you believe I actually wrote that? I’ve been dabbling in poetry and feel especially drawn to haiku. There’s something about its simplicity. By not commentating, the poet allows the reader to visualize the image and its meaning for him- or herself.

It’s very personal. But since this is a blog, I’ll comment on it.

One morning, Rico and I visited a Civil War battlefield. A walking meditation somewhere like that inspires me to practice being aware of the beauty around me and he gets to absorb whatever he can get his nose into.

Rico literally moved from dew-covered grass blade to dew-covered grass blade. Since we weren’t going anywhere fast, I watched the sun peek over the Blue Ridge Mountain range. Its glow spread over both the hayfield and the sky toward us like a stroke of pink watercolor.

I’ve seen time-lapsed video of flowers blooming, etc., but something about watching beauty grow and change in slow-motion but in real time … there are no words.

Had my dogs not spent their lives teaching me how to slow down, I would have never witnessed it. Or been uplifted by the gratitude it instilled in me.

If your dog seems more interested in poking around than in walking, follow his lead. Stop and smell the roses. Or the morning dew. You might discover a whole new world.

Thanks for stopping by.

Posted in A Mindful Life with Dogs | 2 Comments

Is That A Fact?

One lovely morning, Rico and I poked along the wooded trail next to our neighborhood. The insects’ stringed instruments and soprano songs of birds filled our ears. The scent of God knows what filled Rico’s nose. Nature encased us in a cocoon of greenery and shimmering morning sun. It was truly magical.

Rico enjoying the wooded trail

Enjoying the beautiful morning

Until a ruckus from the nearby cul-de-sac raised my hackles.

I heard a deep, throaty bark of a huge, powerful dog and a yike-yike ankle-biter. They gave each other hell. A young girl’s voice echoed out, “Hey! Where did that dog come from?”

Uh-oh. A loose dog? And right on the other side of the woods?

I panicked. In just minutes that dog could come through the woods. We no longer have Roxy to help intimidate strangers. It’s just me and a definitely not intimidating Rico. I’ve spent thousands of dollars on vet bills this year. I can’t afford any more.

So we hustled. Or, rather, I hustled, dragging Rico back to the car. We weren’t even a quarter of the way around the trail. But we needed safety.

What really happened?

Most of it happened. It was a stunning morning and we did hear barking from the nearby street. And the girl’s question.

Then it gets hairy.

I couldn’t verify the loose dog. Only that two were barking. I couldn’t prove they were fighting. The way the girl phrased her question and her lack of urgency probably should have been clues it wasn’t as bad as I feared.

And the notion the loose dog would jump out like the boogeyman? Embarrassing.

One clarifying question

Where I didn’t know the facts, my mind quickly filled in with fiction. Unfortunately, this is a very human trait. Our minds are wired for story. And for negativity. Scientists call it survival technique passed down from the caveman era. Our ancestors had to assume that rustling in the bushes was a predator to improve their odds of staying alive. Today, however, we get a little carried away with it.

Now when I have a negative emotional reaction, I try to pause, identify the thought process behind it, and for each sentence ask myself, “Do I know that for a fact?”

I hope admitting I don’t know if the trigger’s true will calm the waters. Or at least keep me from missing another glorious morning.

Thank you for stopping by.

Morning sun peeking through the trees

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Avoidance

Avoiding unpleasantness. I’ve done it. You’ve done it. The Dalai Lama has probably done it, so we shouldn’t feel bad.

I’ve been avoiding this blog like a doctor’s appointment. I know I need to update it. I need to allude to Roxy’s passing in the “welcome” and the “meet the family” pages. I need to change the header image. It feels like I’m editing her out of my life.

What’s worse is Rico and I have had great experiences together. He continues to teach me lovely and powerful life lessons amost every day. I want to share them.

Rico resting under trees

Captain Explorer takes a break

But I can’t shake the thought that I need to update Dog and Dojo first.

Roxy’s been gone for 61 days. I’ve flipped the days on my desk calendar and gotten rid of most of her old toys. But removing her picture and changing our story to reflect today’s reality … damn. That hurts.

Personifying doesn’t work

Avoiding something doesn’t make it go away. If someone ignored me the way I ignore unpleasantness, I would leave. I have better things to do.

But no. Not unpleasantness. It has all day and unlimited patience. Unpleasantness can sit a lifetime waiting for attention.

Ironically, my unpleasantness sits there like Roxy staring me down, a habit of hers that gave me lots of chances to practice mental focus and perseverance. Two things I really need to meet the blogging goal at hand.

Part of the legacy

Roxy owned the stare down game. Watch her work for an evening walk!

Roxy staring at me

I’m bored. Walk, please?

Me pointing at Roxy staring

Yep, I’m bored. Walk, please?

 

Me squishing Roxy's head as she stares

Funny, Mom. Walk, please?

Roxy between my "love" hand signal as she stares

Love you, too, Mom. Walk, please?

Roxy staring, framed by my OK sign

Walk, please? OK?

 

Roxy staring, framed by my "peace" sign

No peace until I walk. Please?

On that occasion I caved. We went for the walk. Who wouldn’t?

I practiced with her. I must continue to practice what she taught me without her. It’s the only real way I have to honor her life.

Epiphany: It’s all in the intention

So avoidance doesn’t help. Neither does staying focused on muscling through the pain. Because even now, the thought of actually making those changes to Dog and Dojo brings me to tears. Double damn.

Thankfully, a wonderful thought just popped in my head. I’m not editing her out of the blog. I’m editing to more accurately reflect her influence on our lives now. I’m also editing to honor Rico’s new role as my sole teacher. The (albeit unpleasant) task of editing stays the same, but a new intention feels like it dulls the pain a little.

Maybe the focus I learned from Roxy shouldn’t be directed on the task, but rather the intention. Maybe that’s the key to dealing with all of life’s unpleasantness.

I’ll let this absorb into my subconscious for a few days. If you notice a new header image with the next blog entry, you’ll know it’s helping.

Thanks for stopping by!

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Before Adopting A New Dog

Roxy passed away just over four weeks ago. So that’s four weeks and four days of agonizing over whether or not to adopt a new dog.

After lots of soul-crushing wrestling with reality — accepting that a new dog wouldn’t be the same as Roxy — I finally realized there’s really only one way to decide.

How does Rico feel about it?

I struggle with gauging if Rico feels lonely or content. It isn’t as easy as it sounds, especially with grief clouding my judgment. And especially with a dog who acts like he smokes too much weed. Roxy’s unmistakable excitement burst like popcorn at the thought of doing anything — laundry, going to work, checking the mail, whatever. Rico’s excitement, on the other hand, emerges like a turtle from his shell. Or, more accurately, like a slow drip drool.

Reading the signs

So how do you know when your dog needs a new friend? Here’s what I observed with Rico:

  1. He expresses more interest in car rides.

new dog 2

Before, it wasn’t unusual for him to stay home. Now if I tell him at night that we’re going for a ride tomorrow, he watches my every move the next morning. He doesn’t need a reminder.

2. He checks in with me on walks now. I’ve written about fixing our dysfunctional walks, with Roxy out front and Rico slumped behind. And I’ve written about slowing down and using our walks as a meditation. Now, as Rico and I meander side by side, he frequently looks up at me with tail a’ wagging.

3. He leans in more. I know some behaviorists would probably say this is dominance. But whenever I wanted to reach through my computer to strangle a colleague, Roxy would throw herself across my lap, licking my face. Rico isn’t quite as dramatic, but he quietly sits on my foot or leans against my leg with his own gentle reminder.

4. He’s friskier on outings. He explores more, even walking into water that’s — gasp! — chest-high.

new dog 4

I guess he feels more satisfied, too, because I don’t have to drag him across the parking lot to go home anymore.

5. He willingly took a bath. I walked out from my shower to find him laying on the hallway floor looking up at me. He waved with his tail once and again after I asked him if he wanted a bath. I thought for sure he’d disappear in a puff of smoke as I got his towels out, but he didn’t. He walked in and let me lift him into the tub. Who was this guy?

Before adopting another dog to fill the void in my heart, I have to admit Rico seems pretty happy right now. Love for his two-legged family fills his heart. And when I stop focusing on the gaping hole left by Roxy, I can feel his happiness filling my heart, too.

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