Canine Lessons

When I get home from work, all three of them are there, staring at me with tails wagging. “I’ll be right back,” I tell them. Since the pandemic began, I still take off my clothes in the garage and shower before saying hello. After ducking into the bathroom and cleansing myself, I am ready to greet everyone. It’s usually the furry members of the household that welcome me first, and I become the recipient of an abundance of dog kisses and snuggles. There is also the rhythmic rapping from their tails striking the walls and chairs as an expression of their exuberant joy. I’ve begun to refer to this as the “happiness noise.” Being greeted by Rocky, Buddy and Bailey when I return home from work is a wonderful feeling that I look forward to after every shift. Mind you, this exuberant display of affection doesn’t only occur after being gone for the entire day. Even after running a quick errand, I am welcomed home in the same way.

            Yes, dogs easily become true members of our families. Moreover, not only are they part of our family, in many ways they have also become my teachers. I have learned that it is important to live in the present. Although my dogs were not the first to demonstrate this to me, they emphasize its importance each day. Unlike humans, they do not appear to dwell on things that have already happened nor to be concerned about future events. They are always right here, in the moment. If they do something naughty, such as stealing someone’s dinner, they enjoy their bonus treat and seem to be done with it. By the same token, when they are reprimanded for an act of bad behavior, they hold no grudges. A moment later, they are back to their usual playful selves. Several years ago, we had taken home some burritos for dinner. The memory is still so clear. One of the meals was sitting on the counter and my attention had been diverted. As I turned my head, I saw Rocky slowly climb the chair, gently and quietly grab the burrito, and then slowly jump down. Even though someone’s dinner was at stake, it was comical nonetheless. We managed to salvage some of the meal, but Rocky did end up getting a share, after which he went on with his day as if nothing happened.

            As I alluded to, dogs treasure their families, provide abundant amounts of love, and seek the same in return. Even as I type these words, I hear light scratching on the door. Not recognizing the “Do Not Disturb” sign, Buddy wants to be here with me. It isn’t long before Rocky and Bailey follow, their tails gently wagging.

They consistently maintain their positive outlook. There have been times when they are sick or injured. When these unfortunate incidents occur, they don’t sulk. They may be a bit more calm than usual, but they will wag their tails, lick us, and still radiate happiness. As long as they have kind people in their lives, happiness is their dominant emotion.

I have learned a lot from my furry friends. If I could sum up the wisdom they have bestowed upon me in one sentence, it would be the following: Live joyfully in the moment and always be affectionate to those you care about.

The Empty Space

From above of unrecognizable female holding book with blank pages while sitting near stone stairs

Everything we do in life is a choice. From what we eat, to checking our email, to making coffee for our spouse in the morning. Our choices are manifested as words and actions (or inactions). If we wish to explore the idea of choices further, we can contemplate the fact that our choices arise from our thoughts and emotions. A thought or feeling will lead to the next decision we make. Thinking about a looming deadline may prompt us to begin working on a project. Happiness may lead us to hug our spouse. Anger may lead us to shout expletives at the driver that just cut us off on the highway.

Over the years, I have learned some rather interesting truths about these concepts of thoughts, emotions, and choices. These teachings came through people much more insightful on this topic than me. It was through their words in books as well as in person mentorship that I  came to reflect on the idea that I might be ignorant of something critical.

What was I missing? The empty space. I was missing the small segment of time that exists between thought or emotion and choice leading to eventual action. That space is there, and, with practice, we all have the ability to recognize and utilize it. In circumstances of heightened negative emotions, such as anger, instead of just reacting, this space will give us the power to respond with thoughtful consideration.

I have experienced this many times over the years. A few weeks ago, I was out running with my two larger dogs, Rocky and Bailey. It happened that they both decided to do their business (#2) at the same time and about ten feet apart. I was stretched out between the two of them, wondering who was going to finish first. When they were done and I was cleaning up, their leashes became entangled, and I became a bit flustered trying to separate them. Almost as soon as we got going again, Bailey decided to misbehave. He was biting on his leash and pulling. I became impatient and angry. I was about to react and loudly scold him. I then became aware of the empty space. It was seconds, but it gave me the opportunity to respond rather than react. I calmly regained his attention, he stopped pulling, and the crisis was over.

Practicing awareness of this space has helped me a lot over the years. Of course, I am a fallible human and there are still many times when I react rather than respond. However, I strive to be better every day. It’s amazing how a few empty seconds can have such an impact.