About two and a half years ago we began to consider getting a dog. "For the kids," we said. Neither my husband nor I had ever had a dog before. We knew it would be a lot of work and make traveling more complicated. But we also believed it would help teach our kids responsibility and be a source of support, comfort and friendship. It took a few months of discussion, but the "pros" eventually outweighed the "cons" and we were as ready as we were going to be to take a leap of faith.
One Saturday, two years ago, I left the house early to attend an all-day, silent retreat, and my phone was turned off until the retreat concluded at 4pm. I was feeling calm and grounded when I hit the "power on" button. And then the phone blows up; calls and messages come pouring in. My husband is not the type of guy who calls and messages a lot, but I had no time to worry because the phone immediately rings, and Eric cries, "I think we found our dog!" There were some more details from there, but suffice it to say that I hopped in the car and drove straight to an adoption event near my house, where my husband and kids awaited approval with sheepish, exuberant grins.
Happy's fur was patchy, recovering from mange. He'd wagged off his tail (literally), had giardia and soon-to-be kennel cough. He wasn't the dog I'd imagined, but my family said he was the one. The adoption agency snapped a picture of Happy with his "forever" family and sent us on our way. We had no idea what to do with him.
Many bras, a few shoes, stuffed animals and plastic toys later, I just can't get over how much this dog has taught me. And how much joy he has brought us all. I am officially a crazy dog lady, and he is a splendid journey in mindfulness all his own.
A few reasons Happy is a master mindfulness teacher:
When I walk in the door, he demands (and gets) my full attention: physical touch, eye contact, voice. No multi-tasking is acceptable. He deserves a full sensory experience. And doesn't everyone? My husband and I were so inspired by our capacity to postpone putting the dry cleaning or groceries away and acknowledging our loved ones, that we facetiously began greeting each other the same way-- high pitched voices, exaggerated hugs and all. We laughed at our silliness. But we were kinder to each other too.
There is always something new and thrilling (or perhaps scary) to notice. Yes, we just walked the same path yesterday, but DID YOU SMELL THAT? Let's stop and closely examine this. Again. Like we did yesterday. And the day before that. Look up Beginner's Mind in the dictionary and there's a picture of a dog.
Happy reminds me how comforting sitting in silence together can be. Just two beings BEING together is nourishing. Whether I feel content or sad or stressed, he shows up. And that is enough.
He is not the adoring lap dog I expected, and he is definitely not well trained (no fault of his own), but I think he's stupendous just the way he is. Letting go of the "should's" affords incredible freedom to appreciate his unique qualities.
He teaches me to accept limitations. When a human's behavior (particularly a family member or close friend) disappoints me, I might ruminate for days. I'll probably throw in some middle-of-the-night insomnia for good measure. Meanwhile, each day presents a new opportunity for Happy to blatantly rebuff my adoring overtures. He'll look me in the eye and then turn away to go cuddle with my husband. But I know he loves me too. And that's enough.
I discovered a pretty awesome capacity to forgive. Quickly. Completely. Was I super mad about the third bra he ate? Indeed I was. For SEVERAL minutes. But then I get over it. I'm working on moving on just as easily from life's other daily transgressions. And while that's small stuff, the lesson isn't lost on me for more significant issues too.
Good thing we got a dog "for the kids."