A Year of Dog Wisdom: Reflections on what this year had in store.

wordle

Last year, I wrote an article called On Messing Up the Bed and Other Things I’ve Learnt From My Dog. Having an aging companion, we begin to reflect upon the things they add to our lives and the things we learn as our days with them become of the numbered variety. And so, on January 1st I tasked myself with a project. Seemingly simple, I was going to take one picture of my dog each day and post on Instagram. Lest I become boring or, gods forbid, that crazy dog lady, I began to add anecdotes and, as the weeks marched on, Dog Wisdom. And so began the #instagus project.

In June, I wrote a story, A Month (or so) of Dog Wisdom, reflecting on the first leg of the journey. Several weeks later, I was asked to write about the project for Pup Journal, and the result was an essay on the whys and hows of embarking (get it?) on this year-long photo essay.

Against a backdrop of fear, name-calling, hate-mongering, loss (So. Many. Untimely. Deaths.), frustration, exhaustion, disbelief, anger, resentment, uncertainty, instability (…) this year, I was determined to focus on the simple truths of what was known, the realities of what lay in front of me and the notion that I am only able to change myself, how I view the world and how I interact with it each day. Dog wisdom channels Yogic wisdom, and one wonders where each begins and ends. Perhaps dogs are, in fact, the ultimate yogis.

During the year, what emanated from the posts were pleas for introspection, for kindness, for an adherence to values. Dogs teach us that there is magic in simplicity, that a methodical butt-sniff tells us if we’re dealing with friend or foe (regardless of breed or gender or silly dog attire), that kindness exists regardless of pedigree or socioeconomic status. And in this surreal year, a year in which humans tried to teach us that we must deceive and humiliate and pimp out our values in order to win; that a book should not be read, and moreover, should be judged by its cover; that some lives are more important than others; that money trumps pretty much everything, I’ve been compelled to live by Dog Wisdom rather than emulate these human actions. If I’m frank, humans have not been good for humanity this year.

I thought it fitting to wrap up this chaotic, merciless, infamous 2016 with a some of my favourite Dog Wisdom posts and reflections on how this galumphing, snoring, sometimes smelly-headed, fart machine helped me get through this year…

While uncertainty reigns, hold fast to the values of truth, integrity, humanity, kindness; appreciate natural beauty. Satya. Ahimsa. Asteya. Bramacharya. Aparigraha.

Dogs don’t see uncertainty around them, the world is just what it is. We humans project our fears, biases and ignorance on the world we encounter each day, while dogs see (and seek) love, food, shelter and kindness. Yoga teaches us 5 Yamas — Satya (truth); Ahimsa (non-harming); Asteya (non-stealing); Bramacharya (restraint); Aparigraha (non-grasping) — I’ve found these to be powerfully simple guides to help get through the overwhelming barrage of negativity that 2016 flung at us.

Dogs help us see that happiness is a good stick, a walk in the woods on a perfectly crisp fall day, and a warm place to sleep. They teach us to cherish the little things and seek adventure (or at least the spirit of it) in the everyday routine. 2016 sucked in countless ways. But there were highlights, too. There were parties and friends coming to visit; faraway holidays and European chocolates; neighbors helping neighbors and free concerts; hiking and kayaking and swimming in the ocean and beautiful sunrises…

Set intention, allow for the unknown, and the Universe responds in interesting ways.

Ever notice that when you stop fighting and yearning for something very specific, if you really identify what it is you’d like to see realised and stop making things so complicated, that opportunities and ideas and resources make themselves available? Dogs seem to go at their days with the intention of a nice romp or a long walk or simply earning a treat. The chased squirrels and found tennis balls and random dogish interactions are part of the journey. Canines show us that it’s our job to conjure up a willingness to explore every day, and embrace a belief that there’s just a little bit of magic left in the Universe to help things work out.

Focus intently on that which is in front of you. Expect bumps because there are no perfectly smooth paths; in doing so, distractions won’t warrant that much attention when they arise.

Yoga sutra 1.30 says that there are several kinds of obstacles that can be expected (doubt, carelessness, laziness, failure to detach from want, ungroundedness, illness, etc.) that distract us and get in the way of our path. By focusing on the immediate, the real, the stuff going on in front of our eyes, we can live less mired by the “what-ifs” that usually don’t come to fruition unless we let them. By paying attention, we can get more out of what we’ve got instead of attaching expectation (or anticipation of failure) to what may never come to pass. In this way, we don’t take for granted the good, we can let go of what isn’t serving us, and most of all, we can appreciate the cosmic humour in daily life.

Dog Wisdom: 99% of car rides result in an adventure. Our minds get mired in the “what-ifs” of misadventure that detract from the possibility of great adventures ahead.

This is the important stuff: Taking time to sniff out the truth. Listening to the heart. Letting go of what keeps us small and fearful. Surrounding yourself with those who care about your imperfect self. Giving to, or doing for, those who need it more than you do. Laughing at, and learning from, your mistakes. Sharing what makes you feel strong. Spending an afternoon in the forest. Listening to the soft snoring of a woods-weary pup…


Happy 2017, my friends… here’s to a new year full of possibility and new adventures.

And to 2016: You’ve been unceremoniously unfriended. Please don’t write.

[this essay cross-posted on Medium]

The InstaGus 2017 Dog Wisdom calendar is here…

By popular demand, I’ve created a 2017 InstaGus Dog Wisdom calendar. In this calendar, you’ll get 12 months of photos and life lessons from my InstaGus series.

cover

I will be donating the proceeds to the North Shore Community Development Coalition, a non-profit I’ve been involved with for 10+ years, and on the Board of Directors for 8 or 9 of those. Among other things over these years, I’ve seen the organisation create exceptional, quality, environmentally-friendly affordable housing in the towns we serve. I’ve seen them give first-time homebuyer training, work with the community and the police to create safer open spaces for our neighborhoods, provide English as a Second Language courses, help community members get to the polls and establish a YouthBuild chapter here in our backyards, giving kids individual empowerment and a path to a diploma, professional certification and jobs within our immediate area.

If that’s not building community in all manner of speaking, I don’t know what is…and we need all the community building we can get these days!
CLICK HERE to purchase a calendar (they make great stocking stuffers!)
and if you’d like to read a bit more about the InstaGus project, here are two articles:
Please and Thank You… Happy Holidays!

Support the North Shore CDC: Buy this calendar on Lulu.

But is she a crazy dog lady?

IMG_20160522_185317A couple of weeks ago, I was approached by PupJournal to write an article for them. They had seen my pieces on Things I’ve Learnt from my Dog and a more recent follow-on piece on Dog Wisdom. And so, as much as I don’t think of myself as that crazy cat (erm, dog) lady, I do suppose I spend quite a lot of time with my canine boyfriend (“why dogs are better than men: news at 11”).
I don’t do New Year’s resolutions, but I decided on a New Year’s project for 2016: I was going to take a photo a day of Gus, my aging but wonderful girl’s best friend.

[Click Here] for the full article.

A month or so of dog wisdom

medium_logoThis, from a photo essay on Medium:

IMG_20160621_200046On January 1st of this year I began an Instagram project, chronicling the year with one photo a day of my dog. He’s just turned 12 and I feel like we’ve only got so much quality time left…[Read More]

#lessstuffmorehumanity

image

Gus is an almost 12-yr old German Shorthaired Pointer, who teaches me something every day (for the long version, read this ). This week, he’s been spreading holiday cheer by just being his doofy Gus self: hauling around sticks bigger than his head, stalking squirrels and cosying up to me on the dark chilly nights here in New England.

G-dog is oblivious to the Paris attacks, downed planes, level-4 terror threats, rampant domestic terrorism and the ugly xenophobia that is percolating and bubbling close to the surface here in the US. He’s blind to the infectious “want” that pervades at this time of year and is overjoyed equally at the prospect of an extra dog treat, a long walk in the woods or a giant smelly pile of something rancid (to roll or not to roll, that is the question).

While I’ve always been wary of the thing-filled culture that has evolved, each year I find myself more and more polarized and foreign-feeling here, on my own turf, in my own skin. There is that “I just got the greatest deal on the planet” endorphin rush that puts one in the buying (erm, holiday…) spirit. And there is that “I just made my friend some homemade herbal tea and sent it via airmail” feeling that warms much deeper and lasts longer than a quick chemical high. Each year, I gravitate more towards the things and actions that make people feel good vs. the stuff that fills an immediate want. Sometimes I’m paralysed by the options available.

It’s an anxious time, a somewhat precarious time and a wholly uneasy world to live in… and, bonus: we’re heading into what’s supposed to be a happy, carefree, joy- and wonder-filled season. I, for one, would like to hide under the bed until the dust settles. But that’s just me.

I can’t confess to a completely purchase-free season, however I make these assertions and pledge a new hashtag #lessstuffmorehumanity

  • New traditions make indelible memories; a pile of “wants” are quickly forgotten
  • Some of the best gifts are smiles, songs and handwritten notes (even better are ones hand-delivered)
  • Take photographs, create memories, leave pieces of your heart, make friends…
  • Share meals and stories with those around you
  • Find similarities in others instead of differences
  • Do what you can, from your heart, and it will be more meaningful than a giant thing which will take months to pay off
  • Even the most meager gift has intrinsically more value when it is accompanied by the story of its origin
  • Indulge in experiences, skimp on excess, hatch new plans

As I just texted a friend, “I’m trying to start a revolution, want to help?”

#lessstuffmorehumanity

Oh, and happy holidays.