Sometimes my travels cross-pollinate and spark essays…
As I write this, I’m on a plane pointed towards South Florida, where my best college friend, and the closest thing I know to a sister, lives; her youngest daughter graduates High School this weekend. It’s a mind-bending thought that we met when we were her age, and now we’re here, sending her off to flourish, and to wreak her fabulous self on the wild and woolly world at large. As we did.
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.
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 is the 20th anniversary of my last father’s day with my dad. He died of lung cancer when I was in my late 20’s. I was trying to think of a way to remember him this year, where flowers on a tombstone fail miserably. I wrote him this letter last night:
Sunday is the 20th anniversary of our last father’s day. It marks 20 years since we looked at pictures together; 20 years since you laughed and told stories I’d never heard of our family’s history.
It marks the end of sushi dinners. And boat trips to Montauk or Nantucket. And Sunday bagels and lox with the Times spread all over the table (I still read the paper that way, you should know). And the day after Thanksgiving at Macy’s. And outrageous Christmas Eves because you didn’t want to be the center of attention on your birthday.
It marks the months before you’d not meet the man I’d eventually marry (the one you’d probably tell me wasn’t good enough. None of them ever were).
This father’s day marks the anniversary of a quiet celebration before your hospital bed would arrive, just as it marks the beginning of the hole that would remain in my heart.
It marks the beginning of the wouldn’t be there’s:
You wouldn’t be there to see me turn 30
Or to see my first underwater photos
Or to help me make a decision on which career path to follow (The first time. Or the second.)
You wouldn’t be there to listen to my stories from the trips I’d make to the jungle and other far-flung places
Or to read what I was writing and finally comfortable sharing
…to see me buy my first house in the suburbs (or to tell me it wasn’t good enough)
…to meet my dog
Or to help me through job loss and love lost and the angst of meeting 40
And you wouldn’t see me blow up and then piece back together everything in my world
You wouldn’t see me get my Master’s degree
And you wouldn’t see me doing a job that on most days fulfills both my head and my heart.
And you wouldn’t be there to see the greatest individual work of my life come to fruition, whether or not it makes the NYT bestseller list.
I would have liked to travel with you, to see some of the world as an adult with you, to go on photo walks and get ice cream and talk about books and play Spite & Malice and go window shopping in seaside towns. In not necessarily that order. I miss the New York City people-watching lunches where we’d make up stories about the characters sitting at the other tables. We did that at Trump Tower one day…do you remember?
You know what? I think I could probably beat you at scrabble today. I want to scream sometimes at that silly little thing; the knowing something so simple can simply not ever be.
There isn’t a day I don’t miss you, dad. And there isn’t a day I don’t wish I’d talked to you more, and listened better, through the years. I didn’t get enough time to ask you the things I didn’t know I needed to find out when I had the opportunity. There isn’t a day I don’t wish you’d been there to see me turn out ok. The world is a bumpy place right now, and though life’s not perfect it’s pretty good. And I think you’d be proud of me today, dad.