Tuesday, May 31, 2011

What My Dog Has to Teach Me About Inner Peace

I’m pretty sure my dog has no concept of time. Well, maybe a tiny, tiny concept of time. He doesn’t whimper as if he’ll never see me again when I leave now and he used to. So I think some sort of “She’ll come back” has emerged in his little brain, but that’s about it. For the most part, there is no linear sequence for him as there is for us.

Because of this, he is immune to the number one thing that prevents us humans from being able to live in the moment: the focus on past and future. For him there is no past and there is no future. He doesn’t worry about what happened or what will happen next. He doesn’t fear what’s coming up the pike. He doesn’t sit around thinking about how his life has gone and whether or not that meets his expectations. He doesn’t wonder what he might be like if he were a bulldog rather than a poodle. None of that exists to him.

For him, if something good is going on, it’s the best thing ever! Seriously- ever! And if something bad is going on, again, it’s the worst thing ever. But the up side of that? Guess how long he’s going to be bothered about it? For a few milli seconds.

If he gets reprimanded with a stern “No!” and a return to his pen for tearing something up or making a mess, it is, as I said, the worst thing that has ever happened- for about 2 seconds. Then something smells interesting or he spots the toy sitting over there and goes to play with it or just snuggles up on that smelly t-shirt and all is right with the world again. He doesn’t berate himself for he what he did wrong, he doesn’t conclud that he’s an idiot for making a mistake, he doesn’t even feel guilty- he just moves on with his life, free of any of the negative emotions that tend to plague us humans.

For him all that exists, all the matters, is right now. Every moment is lived to the fullest because that’s all there is. It’s all instinct and natural reactions. He can’t lie, he can’t pretend, he can’t over dramatize. It is what it is, literally.

I’m not saying he has no memory because slowly but surely he’s learning what we’re training him to do. But he certainly has no lingering emotions in reaction to what he does, he’s just not built that way. Life is life- not good or bad or anything other what it is at this particular moment in time. There’s no longing for better days or wondering where he’ll end up, there's just now.

And me, the one who does get lost in the past or future, who worries and frets and fears, who wonders what will be- I am student to this little, fluffy guru. As I sit lost in thought he comes over and reminds me “It’s play time now!” And then I am in his world- there is nothing more than excitement over fetching the ball or chewing on the stick. He reminds it’s a time for a walk and I am outside, listening to the wind in the leaves, feeling the heat of the sun on my back, remembering that the world is so much bigger than the space that I occupy. He snuggles on my lap and that’s all I need. Whatever is wrong with the world, I have my puppy and his happiness is absolute and it fixes my mood, however poor it may be.

From me he gets food and treats and toys. He learns sit and down and stay. He gets snuggles and play time and attention. But from him I get so much more. I get little tiny glimses of life right now, free of all the ways we humans like to ruin that. Dogs are freakin awesome.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Buddy in the Park

We took Buddy for a walk in Valley Forge park today. It’s something I’ve wanted to do since long before we got him, having seen countless people happily walking their dogs along the path every time I drive through there.

Buddy, as always, was crazy excited- bouncing around like a wind-up toy and sniffing everything with the fascination of a two year old. He loved the long grasses on the side of the path a little too much and we had to keep reining him in for fear of ticks and whatnot. Needless to say, we didn’t get to cover much distance.

We had just rounded a curve in the path when we heard a very loud, very deliberate screech of brakes on a bike tire- the kind of thing you hear when someone is trying to hurriedly come to a stop to avoid hitting something. We looked up to see what had happened.

A young woman was running- running over to us, removing her bike helmet as she came. She only had eyes for Buddy.

“Oh my god! He is the cutest- what kind of Dog is this? Oh my god!” she said, bent over to look at him.

We rushed to give his usual introduction: “This is Buddy, he’s a toy poodle.”

Buddy gave his usual greeting: bouncing around and making quick, short sounds with his open mouth and wildly flailing tongue- the sound that is not a bark or growl or any other distinguishable noise.

“Hi Buddy!” she cooed at him. “Can I pet him?” she asked without stopping to see if it was ok. We were fine with it anyway, we wanted to test out our training, see if he could behave appropriately when greeted by strangers.

She pet him, cooed at him, marveled at him as he jumped up and down in front of her like a spring. We just stood and watched, amazing at how excited she was. She might have been more excited than he was, actually.

The power of Buddy: stopping people dead in their tracks!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Wash it Off

Irked. Irritated. Angry. Sometimes hurt. These are all emotions that tend to rub off on me. I’m not an empath. I don’t pick up and embody every emotion that I come in contact with. But I think it’s literally impossible for any human being not to pick up on these little snippets of emotion that constantly float around the surface of a person like shedding skin cells.

If you’re a barber, you will inevitable find yourself covered with teeny tiny little lengths of hair all over and nothing but a good, thorough shower is going to wash that off. If you’re a nurse and you spend all day cleaning up all manner of bodily fluids you will inevitably be in need of a good scrub when you get home. And when you do what I do it is literally impossible not to find little pieces of someone else’s emotions lurking on the surface of you.

On good days, when you’re focused and grounded you notice the build up. You can actually feel yourself slipping into a state of dudgeon as the little bits and pieces of strong emotion build up. But on bad days, when you’re distracted or tired or just physically feel icky, you tend not to notice until you succumb to a full blown hissy fit.

And then, after the heart has slowed and the breaths deepen and you re-gain your bearings you start to wonder “what was that all about?”. And then you remember- “Oh yeah, these aren’t my emotions.”

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Sojourn in the City

You know that feeling that you get when you really, really have to pee and then do but your bladder’s been so full for so long that afterwards you still feel like you have to pee? Well that’s how I felt when I left my ashram.

I’d let go of so much while I was there, done so much personal investigation, released so much anger, shame, remorse and doubt and unloaded so much spiritual crap that even after I was ‘ready’ I still felt like I needed more time. I was advised that this was a common feeling and that the real work, the real change would come day by day as I practiced what I’d learned ‘in real life’. I trusted my teachers and advisors enough not to question this, so I dove back into ‘real life’ with all the trepidation that would come.

I figured I couldn’t get anymore ‘real life’ than New York city. With so many people so involved in their own worlds and so much energy bouncing around I figured it’d be like placing myself in the core of a nuclear reactor and trying to remain still. Best to test my mettle when I was still fresh from the retreat and hone my abilities for real world application. At least, that was my thought.

I did pretty well in the beginning, in spite of everything. I sat in my tiny studio apartment with the sounds of the sirens blaring and the abusive father next door screaming at his kids and the constantly broken radiator clunking away and I focused on controlling my breath and calming my mind.

I sat on the crowded subway being jostled and shoved and stepped on and I imagined waves of loving kindness radiating out from me and touching everyone. I practiced my Metta and imagined myself as the stone that drops in the water that sends the ripples through the surface.

I even walked down the crowded street and practiced my Karuṇā, imagining myself sinking in and becoming one with the flow of the crowd and passing on my state to all those walking the same path. I was the food coloring in the bowl of water that changes the color of the mass and my color was completely free from ill will.

But, the city was strong and I was new at this whole transcendence thing. It was a natural erosion, an inevitable weathering in the storm. And day by day, little by little, I felt my peace wear away.

It was so subtle that, had I not been mediating so much, I wouldn’t have noticed. But it builds gradually- the slight, split-second of annoyance turns into a minute of anger. The weariness of the day turns into exhaustion. The abundant flow of energy begins to run dry.

And so, I made a decision with all the intentions of acceptance I could muster. I bought a pair of ear plugs. And I have to say, although spiritual peace may be nirvana, man-made silence is pretty damned nice, too.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The House on Hubert St.

Jacob was pissed. He was beyond pissed. He was so angry that he could have burned down the old brown house with dingy white shutters and perpetually broken gutters on Hubert St. using nothing but the anger in his own mind, except that he wasn’t telepathic. But if he had been, he would have totally done it.

Because then he wouldn’t have to stay there for a week while his mom abandoned him to go nurse his stupid aunt back to health who nearly burned up in the fire she caused by passing out with a lit cigarette in her mouth for the third time in as many years and who was so perpetually helpless that there wasn’t a single week that went by without a panicked phone call about whatever man in her life had screwed her over this time or what mysterious new physical ailment she’d developed because she was forever cursed by the barrage of crap that life insisted upon raining down on her.

Jacob saw the pointlessness of it and he was only 13. Why his mother insisted on continuously running to the rescue of this woman who kept her constantly on edge he couldn’t tell you. And as if inviting him along was any consolation for having to constantly deal with this. Really? Like he would purposely choose to go deal with that?

So he was left to decide his punishment and he had to choose to spend the week at the awful house on Hubert street. The one that smelled like rotten beets and was always stifling hot because its owner didn’t believe in air conditioning. The one with more cobwebs on the high bookshelves and the corners of the walls than any haunted house advertised at Halloween time. The one with so many old newspapers stacked up against the walls that hallways were near impassable in some areas. The one where the only person angrier than him lived.

As he stared out the window at the increasingly rural landscape he found himself sending out waves of hatred to everything. He wasn’t discriminatory in his rage, he hated it all. He hated that broken fence lining the horse farm where he’d never once seen a horse running in the field. He hated the fog sprawling out across the sky and he hated the sky for picking today to start dumping rain on everything in sight. He hated that pothole that made his mom curse every single time she ran over it and which had been there for as many years as he could remember. He hated his mom more for not remembering that it was there.

And when they finally pulled up to the house he hated it more than he’d ever hated it before. He hated the dead brown leaves under the maple tree which were slowly deteriorating into mush. He hated the wheel-less garbage can in the driveway which his mom would make him drag back to its spot next to the garage. He hated the creepy one-eyed cat who looked at him as if it were plotting new and more devious ways to end his life whenever it glanced at him. And he really hated the old man standing in the doorway with bushy sideburns, an abnormally large mustache and spittle perpetually resting in the corners of his mouth.

“Hey dad,” his mom said as she stepped up the creaky wooden steps carrying his bag, “I’m sorry I have to drop him and run but-“

“No, no- I know how it is. Your sister’s in distress, don’t worry about me- it’s not like I’m doing you a favor by feeding and caring for your son. I don’t need you to pretend to visit before you jet off.”

“Dad, I-“

“No- don’t apologize. You have to go, you have to go- I understand. Jacob and I will just sit down and wait for you to return. We’ll sit right here on this porch watching for your car to pull back up like a dog who’s sole purpose in existence is to please his master, that’s what we’ll do.”

Jacob made it a point to roll his eyes using his whole body so as to make the gesture impossible for anyone to miss. His mom just smiled at her father, gave him a gentle kiss on the cheek and whispered something Jacob couldn’t hear in his ear. For his part, grandpa made a gruff “humph” sound with his exhale.

“I will be back as soon as I can,” his mom said, leaning to bestow a kiss on his cheek. Jacob shied away from her, looking out over the porch. She ignored this gesture and grabbed him for a hug. Jacob stood there, arms limp at his sides, body stiff and unrelenting. His mom just squeezed harder, whispered an “I love you” into his ear, pecked him on the cheek and let go, dashing for the car with a wave back at them.

Jacob and his grandfather stood there on the porch, watching her wave as she drove off, looking very much like the dejected dogs his grandfather had compared them to. And mixed in with the hatred Jacob felt a ping of something else, something he wouldn’t understand until much later in life.

“Well, lets not stand here gathering moss,” his grandfather said turning to open the door inside. “Let’s feed you something, you must be starving after the drive. I made you your favorite hot dogs.”

Jacob went in through the proffered opening, mumbling under his breath. His grandfather somehow managed to make the soggiest, most pathetic and grandfatherly hot dogs on the planet but Jacob had given up on telling him this as every time he’d attempted to tell his grandfather that hotdogs hadn’t been his favorite food since he was five the old man’s memory had failed him.

The old man watched his grandson walking down the hallway, shrugging his huge book bag further up on his back and mumbling and smiled.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Buddy Vs. The Front Step

Buddy is a toy poodle. For those of you who don't know the breed, they are very small. The place you seem most likely to see them nowadays is in the oversized purse of a young fashionista. As I am not aware of fashion I don't carry Buddy around in a purse, I take him for walks.

There is one big obstacle to this: the front step to our house. It’s about- a foot, maybe? Maybe even 14 inches? Not that tall for humans- but very, very tall to tiny little dogs like Buddy. At first he couldn’t even get up on his own- he would sit on the ground and whimper to be lifted up over this giant obstacle. We, being concerned dog parents, eagerly complied.

Over time, however, Buddy has grown. He has gotten bigger, taller, and more capable of getting up this step. So we started to suspect that the whimpering wasn’t so much for assistance as for attention. Not wanting to coddle him more than we already do we didn’t lift him but simply gave him a boost with our foot. Then eventually we didn’t do anything, but simply called him. He would jump, pull himself up, and mount that terribly tall step all by himself.

It took about one repetition of this for Buddy to get confident. Instead of carefully stepping down from or jumping back up the front step he started taking flying leaps off of it and flying leaps up. It’s quite a site to see- Buddy doing a miniature superman pose off the step.

There’s only one problem: Buddy is a giant klutz. The dog can lose his footing hoping over a sock let a lone a 14 inch step. So immediately upon starting the flying leaps, he started the giant crashes. He would get a running start towards the step, jump, and land face first against the step. You know those cartoons where the character will run head-on into a wall and land with their arms and legs splayed out? Yeah, he looks like that.

Just about every day there’s a new scene for us to behold as he makes his leap. He’ll land half way up the step, flail and fall backwards. He’ll land sideways on the step and flop over on his side. The best one I’ve seen yet: he took a running leap off the step, turned in mid air- and landed directly on his back! I have no idea how he managed that particular feat, but I know the laughter nearly killed me.

I know eventually he’ll get over the novelty of the step and just step down like it’s nothing. But for now it’s about the funniest damned thing I’ve ever seen.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Buddy Goes for a Walk

When buddy first got home he was without any of the defenses one needs in order to go out into the big, bad world. So there were a couple of months where all of our walks were just in our backyard. Needless to say, when his vaccination series was finished and we took him out on his first walk we were pretty excited- but you should have seen him!

Oh the smells, the sights, the other dogs! His world suddenly got a whole a lot bigger. And we got verification that the insanity we’d experienced over just how damned adorable he is was not reserved to us.

We were on the street corner, Buddy sniffing and me standing, when I heard a woman’s voice exclaim “Oh my God!”

I turned to see a middle aged woman in business casual leaning over to the passengers side of her car with the window open. She was sitting with the car in idle, in the middle of the road.

“What kind of dog is that”? she asked excitedly. (This question, by the way, has become the trademark question for Buddy. I guess people need a way to categorize his cuteness.)

“He’s a toy poodle,” I said proudly, walking over so she could get a better look at him.

Buddy, as if on cue, started jumping and barking and going crazy like the attention whore he is. The lady’s jaw dropped open.

“Oh my god! That is- that’s the cutest dog I’ve ever seen!” she said, smiling widely. “What’s his name?”

“Buddy,” I said, feeling a little smug. This was the first time I’d seen anyone outside our little family melt so much over him. It wouldn’t be the last.

“Oh, Buddy!” she cooed. And sat there for a little while longer, the sheer force of Buddy’s adorableness pulling her into him like gravity. And then another car pulled onto the road behind her and stopped, someone stepping out to get his mail.

She didn’t seem to see them, just kept staring at Buddy. I looked over at the car behind her, trying to indicate that she might need to move. She looked back and saw them too, then reluctantly took her foot off the break.

“Oh, well- he is- he is just the cutest!” she said as she started to pull away.

“Say ‘thanks,’ Buddy,” I said, and waved at her.

The power of Buddy: holding up traffic.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Signed

It was stupid. He knew it was stupid. But he couldn't not do it. He just couldn't.

He knew that he could have stayed home, filled everything out, shoved it in the envelope and gone to bed to watch Letterman. Then he would have gotten up the next morning and drove into work as if it had been just another Monday.

But he couldn't not do something. You don't end a chapter of your life that significant without marking the occasion. Even if it is a terrible occasion and you're marking it in a uselessly destructive way.

Perhaps, he thought, if he knew of a better way to handle it wouldn't be happening in the first place. Perhaps if he was smarter he'd still be living in a nice house in the suburbs rather than his crappy apartment where the hallway always reeked of Indian food and the elevator was always broken. Perhaps if he was calmer he’d be able to keep company with more than just his cat who always seemed like he was judging him, though in a decidedly feline way. Perhaps if he’d taken the time to seriously think about it before committing to something legally, rather than trusting his heart and chocking the whole thing up to emotional logic, he’d be a different man now.

But he didn’t and he wasn’t and now he had no choice but to pay the price. Now he would have this mark on his permanent life record, a sign that no matter what else he did, no matter what he might eventually accomplish, he started out with a truly juvenile mistake. Now, right now, he was sitting in this bar, and this Monday night, with this pen in his hand and this paper in front of him. It felt like it whole life had been boiled down to some legal jargon that he couldn’t really understand, although his lawyer had explained it to him.

He looked around the bar, at the other patrons sipping their beer and watching the game. He wondered how many of them had done what he was about to do. He was happy that the Yankees were playing, he could at least pretend that’s why he was there. But he imagined his true reasoning was evident when the rest of the bar jumped up in an excited wave cursing at the pitcher or yelling at the player who got out and he just looked up with a perplexed expression. No, he wasn’t fooling anyone. Then again, no one really cared, anyway.

He looked back down at the paper. It remained as unsigned as it had been for the past hour. He looked at the clock. It was getting late. He should be home by now, asleep with this behind him, consoling himself that life would go on and there’d be chances for new beginnings and growth and all that crap.

But he sat there, pen in hand, paralyzed. It felt like a physical block in his hand as if some insect had crept up on him, quietly and mildly, and injected some neurotoxin into his system. Like this poison had come from some outside source and struck him down in his youth, making him incapable to performing one simple act.

But he knew that wasn’t the case, this was his paralysis, he inflicted it upon himself. He’d jumped in feet first without checking to see if there rocks on the bottom and now he was stuck on the shore with night falling and his ca parked way up the hill. It would be a long climb with broken limbs and that scared him enough that he wasn’t willing to admit that he was there.

He down the last of his beer and slammed the mug down on the table. This was bullshit, he wasn’t this weak. It was just a simple signature, a movement of the hand in an automatic way. It would be done in a split second and he’d walk of the bar and move on with his life.

“Just. Sign. It.” He told himself.

And he moved his hand above the paper, fixed his wrist and touched his pen down. Nothing happened. He took a deep breath, tried again. His hand gripped tighter and the pen slipped right out of his grasp. He bent down under the table to get and banged his head hard on the way back up.

“Damn it!” he cursed. No one bothered to look his way, all busy in their own curses at the outfielder who’d just dropped the ball and fumbled what should have been the last out of the inning.

“This is what happens you feel sorry for yourself, asshole” he chastised himself. He stretched his fingers, straightened his back, and picked the pen back up. “Just sign it.”

He placed the pen on the paper, straightened his wrist, closed his eyes, and moved his hand. And that was it. He opened his eyes and looked down at the paper. It was so simple, so insignificant, just more paperwork to be filed. There was nothing of the life they’d had together, the memories they would never make, the people they’d become now that this was over. It was just another signature on a simple piece of paper. And now he like every other asshole around, was divorced.

He slid the paper into the envelop and sealed it, paid his tab and walked out to his car. He didn’t let himself think anymore, let the automatic pilot take over and steer him home. He sang along to the radio without any connection to the words and thought about what his cat might be doing when he got home. And just for a second, he began to think that it wasn’t so bad. But then he glanced at the envelop on the passengers seat and choked. No, it was going to be a while before he was ok.

Monday, May 9, 2011

True Black

Dark shapes swam, spun and swirled through the darkness around the faint light of her candle.  She knew what was hunting her without seeing and she knew it was after more than her death.  The screams of her companions had died out long before and she felt crushed under the weight of her title: the last one left alive.  It wouldn’t be long before her weak flame flickered out and she would be consumed.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

My New Office

It’s amazing how huge of an impact simple, insignificant things can have on you. For example, my new office has a window. Well, it’s not technically a window, it’s one of those glass sliding doors. To “open the window” I slide the door open. I can get a really strong breeze going through here when I open that door.

My last office didn’t have a window. In fact, my last office wasn’t even my office because my desk was crammed in there with two other people. I was almost never alone. The office before that (which seems like longer ago than it was) also did not have a window.

In the past, sans window, I tried to convince myself that it wasn’t a big deal. I’d tell myself “you’ll get more done this way.” I’d think that I really didn’t want a window anyway- afterall, if it was raining I didn’t want to see that. And if it was sunny, I’d be depressed that I was stuck inside. I’d make up reasons as to why it just didn’t matter enough for it to bug me. But underneath that all, it bugged me. And over time, it started to really, really bug me.

My new office, as I said, has a window. A really big one that lets in a lot of air. And right now, sitting here at my desk, I can look outside. I can see the sun shining down on the big, green tree. I can hear the leaves rustling in the wind and birds chirping in the bushes. I can see the sky darken and lighten as clouds pass overhead. I notice the sun changing its position in the sky as the day wears on.

And you know those horrible, buzzing overhead lights? I can leave them off because my window lets in enough light that I don’t need them. It pours in and bounces off the lite yellow walls. I’m normally not a fan of yellow but this color seems like it was specifically designed to reflect the sunlight. Sunlight and wind, pouring into my office, reminding how close the outside world is.

Forget about the actual job and how much more comfortable I am with this work. Forget about my co-workers who are competent, seem to have a good work ethic and (gasp) whom I actually want to eat lunch with. Forget about the software which, unlike my last job, actually works the way it’s supposed to. Forget about the absence of stress, the presence of supervision and training and the ease with which I am figuring out how to perform my job duties. Forget about all the other positive differences there are.

The office- in and of itself- is bringing about such an amazing change of mood that I’m now realizing how deeply it affected me to be stuck where I was before. Thank god for windows.