My dog showed me the way Part 1
My dog showed me the way
My job has always been the center of my life. My work is in many ways, a direct extension of my education, and it is normal among my colleagues to work many hours under constant stress and deadlines. In exchange, I was able to devote my efforts to a goal that I am passionate about, and had some success from my efforts. Then, the program I worked in fell apart. It did not happen suddenly, and the decline was a predictable result of deliberate actions. I don’t know what was more demoralizing about these events, that they were preventable, had tragic outcomes, or that there was nothing I could do to stop them. The results changed my whole life. This is not surprising, since my work was my whole life.
It may not have been so bad, but I loved that life.
I was lost for many months. I still go to work every day in the same job, but the goals seem to be no longer within my grasp, and the people I once worked happily beside were angry and even hostile about the changes. I questioned everything, even wonder now if the path ever led where I expected. How can I get up in the morning, with nothing much to look forward to but the struggle to find resources, and listening to other people squabbling? I realized that I had the luxury for many years, my whole adult life really, of not needing this kind of discipline. I had to find a new center. To find some perspective to allow me to move forward, not just spend my time reacting to negative events.
I adopted a dog, and he showed me a way.
My dog is a retired racing greyhound. He spent his life being trained for, and participating in races. He was pretty successful, too. Now, he has retired from the life of a professional athlete at the age of 4 years. I can’t picture his life before he came to my house. I do know it was very predictable, and completely focused. I’m sure the transition to living in my small house was challenging for him. If he could change the center of his life from work to relaxation, then why can’t I?
It was not a difficult transition for me, and the credit for this goes mostly to him. He has dedicated his life to a small set of activities:
Sleeping. He sleeps a lot. Sitting is difficult for him, so he is either moving or lying down. In fact, gravity seems to have a greater effect on him than it does me. As a scientist, I understand that this violates the laws of physics.
Stretching. When he wakes up, he stretches. First he stretches lying down, then standing up. Mostly, he performs the yoga poses with dog names. At the end of the yoga, he shakes so vigorously, that his feet come off the floor. I have added this activity to my own yoga practice. I call the pose “wet dog.” More recently, he has started doing the wet dog shake while lying down. This also violates the law of physics, but he is a talented dog.
Snacking. He is always looking for food. I am told that this is normal for dogs. In the wild, they are always foraging for food. He is very good at this. He is also large, agile and strong. He can detect and reach food anywhere in the kitchen, which I discovered coming home from work one day and finding the dishes from the sink on his bed, completely clean. He is the first roommate I have had who was happy to do the dishes. This inspires me daily to load the dishwasher and clear off the counters after every meal.
Snuggling. If my dog ran the world, he would be petted at all times. He will snuggle his face first rather than his body, in his soft blankets no matter how cold it is. He brushes his face against grasses and flowers on our walks. He would love nothing more than having people (anyone, really) pet him constantly while he sleeps. When you stop petting him, he nestles himself closer, so you can reach more of him. He even sneaks extra pets by placing his head between my hand and leg when we are walking together. I have learned not to carry anything to drink on his side during walks.
Sniffing. He experiences the world with all of his senses. If he gets his nose close to food, he licks the air to taste it, too. He experiences the world with no hesitation or discrimination. Butts and car bumpers are his favorite. He wants to get to know us all.
My dog showed me that making room in your activities that are welcoming to other people is worth the effort. Focusing my energy on a small number of things, and letting go of others leads to a simpler, happier life.
What activities would make your life better if you spent more time on them?
Photo Credit: A. Lillie, 2012