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

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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]

Fish out of water: 5 ways to harness daily wonder (courtesy of a diver on dry land)

eel1As I was walking my dog on a dreary, rainy, cold early December morning, I noticed some haphazard shoots growing out from under the rickety wooden steps of a multi-family house. I pass this house daily, sometimes multiple times a day, on my walks. It’s an unimpressive front lawn, arbitrarily sprouting ornaments in the form of random trash or the occasional creepy garden gnome. Shoots noted, I walked on.

The thought occurred to me then, that if it were an underwater common-as-anything porch (coral outcropping, if you will) sprouting tendrils from a dark place, not only would I have stopped, but I would have circled back, pulled out my camera and strobe and stuck head (and/or hand) into the unknown, full of hopeful wonder.

I’ve been a scuba diver for two decades. In the deep blue, magic lurks in the crevices, sea life sparkling and undulating with the current. Above water, magic barely splutters, remaining hopeful like un-popped corn, that it might get a chance to fly before the heat is switched off.*

What diving has taught me is patience and observation and wonder and marvel… it has taught me to notice small things that look just a hair out of place. It has taught me to appreciate the fragility of our ecosystem. Diving has taught me the subtleties of breath and to believe that there is subtle magic in what we encounter every day, depending how we look at things.

Sure, it would be peculiar here on dry land, poking around under strangers’ porches, rooting around in their garden beds, standing uninvited in backyards looking for critters… But let’s take Poseidon’s teachings to dry land and see if they work.

1. Pay attention to the natural world.

Look and listen. What is it trying to say? What is unique about today? Are we missing everyday beauty by walking too quickly, looking down at our phones, avoiding eye contact with strangers?

2. Observe one exceptional thing every day.

Think about its place in the Universe…contemplate yours. I saw a pileated woodpecker in the woods last weekend, watched as it flitted tree-to-tree. I spent ten minutes watching this amazing creature. It wasn’t the first one I’d ever seen, but each time I do brings out a swell of wonder that is hard to quantify.

3. Breathe.

Divers know that underwater we never hold our breath. We know that slow, deep and steady breathing helps conserve air. We know that small inhalations and exhalations manage buoyancy. We know that bubbles are our friends.

On land, observing our breath helps us be present — it helps us relax and evaluate the cacophonous chaos unfurling around us. Breathing consciously and not always just mechanically makes a world of difference. Nature sometimes makes us hold our breath, awaiting the cool thing that comes next… on dry land, seek that feeling out. Underwater, we learn to breathe in harmony with our surroundings.

4. Anticipate…don’t just wait.

There is a sense of entitlement in the act of waiting. I am a firm believer that we are not entitled to anything, and that we must appreciate each day, each sunrise, each kind person that enters our lives, each small treasure and each creature comfort. As we walk (drive, ride, run, jog, swim…) through our very fortunate Western lives, we plan well into the future, we think about the next thing to consume, we save for the unexpected, focusing on ourselves and taking for granted today. Instead of simply waiting and wanting more, let’s relish the anticipation, appreciate and delight in what’s to come, find joy in the planning, all without neglecting the small wonders of the sometimes unremarkable Now.

5. Believe in magic.

Not hocus-pocus trickery, but the marvel and the spectacular that is inherent in everyday life. Someone shares a secret; the silly thing a pet does to make you smile when you’re sad; a child’s discovery that made you grin from ear to ear; the blooming flowers where you least expect them; a call from an old friend out of the blue just when you’re thinking about them; pieces of a plan, like synchronicity, falling into place; the shoot growing, just peeking out from underneath a porch…

With daily headlines that border on the absurd, the darkness of winter closing its ranks, the chaos of the holidays bearing down on us, I invite non-divers to share in the spirit of Poseidon, Neptune, Varuna, Njord or the myriad other sea deities and borrow ocean wisdom from a diver on dry land.


*Alternate wisdom on the decline of magic, courtesy ChrisGoja: Above water, magic has become scarce, faltering like embers about to die, merely winking at us at times, as if to attract that one morsel that might nurture it back to life… 💜

(cross-posted from 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.

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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.

Hometown exploring: adventures in Dogtown

There is a magical place in Gloucester, which is said to house the spirits of witches, the ghosts of its working class and vagrant denizens from the 17th and 18th Centuries, and the memories of a band of dogs who became feral as their owners died off or abandoned them amongst the rocks and boulders; dumped in a place formed by glaciers’ terminus. Dogtown, Massachusetts. Anita Diamant wrote an exceptional historical novel set here, The Last Days of Dogtown.

This is a place I go to get lost and find myself healed by nature, its rocky, windy, rooted trails wending their way through the woods. And, it’s a place I’ve been lost more times than possibly any other. Take one wrong turn (or, like today, let the dog choose the trail) and you’ve arrived squarely in what I call “land of the giant boulders,” a wooded, natural obstacle course whose gauntlet requires keen attention and preferably Vibram soles to survive. It’s a tame version of the Fire Swamp, devoid of ROUSs, lightning sand (tho during the wetter months, its mud pits quite rival) or fire spurts.

During the Great Depression, Roger Babson commissioned the carving of inspirational sayings on 30+ boulders strewn throughout the woods. One end of the trail starts with Truth. The other end is Work. On the trail, we’re reminded to Be On Time. And of the importance of Integrity. Intelligence. Courage. Loyalty. Initiative. Kindness. Ideas. Study. Ideals. Spiritual Power (this is emblazoned on rock that towers 5 or 6 metres high; coincidence?). Scattered elsewhere in the woods (most of which I’ve found; many after being lost over the years): Prosperity Follows Service. If Work Stops Values Decay. Be True. Help Mother. Get A Job. Keep Out Of Debt. Use Your Head. Never Try Never Win.

2016-10-08-13-21-25-1So today, I started with Truth. Found Courage and Loyalty along the way; Kindness, Ideas… stopped for some bouldering on Spiritual Power. Got lost somewhere after Work; a wrong trail taken and a bridge crossed that I haven’t seen in eons. Got found before I reached Never Try Never Win.

Sometimes I let Gus choose which trail to take, and sometimes he gets us lost. Part of the fun in exploring, even in a place you’ve been countless times before, is finding your way back after taking the wrong trail. So, on a day that began with a yoga class focused on the energies of living as an intentioned, breathing, thinking, doing being, a hike in the woods amongst these reminders (Truth = Satya; Kindness = Ahimsa; Ideas = Iccha; Spiritual Power = Samadhi) was perfect.

2016-10-08-15-03-15Today was most certainly a win!

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]