Untethered Dog

You Never Know Where He Will Go

First Impressions

“At Eternity’s Gate” • Vincent Van Gogh (1890)


The exercise was to look at the painting and observe your impressions. Despair is the first word that comes to mind. Even without knowing the title, you initially think of a man nearing the end of his life. Maybe he has regret. Maybe he suffers from dementia. Maybe he misses his beloved, who died too soon.

But because you cannot see what is outside this tight frame, you might consider another possibility: this man may be frickin’ hilarious. Possibly he just told his grandchildren, or his best buddy he’s know since grade school, when that sat next to each other in class can caused call kinds of mischief for that poor teacher, a whopper of a funny story. Remember that time? Possibly the room is full and it’s roaring. Possibly the man is about to summon tears, all right, tears of joy.

Of course, when you learn the name of the painting, and it’s creator, and see when it was fashioned from that creator’s expansive yet tortured soul, not long before he volunteered to immediately meet his maker, the impression of a jovial scene becomes harder to fathom.

Yet even with the fire … the hunch … the tightfisted hands over hidden eyes … you still don’t know … not for certain … no.

Just Be

Close your eyes. Listen to the birds chirp. The dog bark in the distance. There is a woodpecker on the top of that telephone pole. Hear him whack away. There is a ladybug crawling along the walkway beneath you. The silent bug spreads her wings then closes them again and heads for the grass and slips between two brown blades. There is nothing you need to think about, worry about, do, right now. Just close your eyes and listen to the creation of which you are a part.

Time

Do not lament what opportunities are closed but embrace the ones before you.

And give a bear hug to the beautiful ones all around you.

There are moments when the experience of Time feels palpable.

Snapshots from an emotional day:

Your dog squinting into the wind, his sniffer vibrating — an old man soaking in the sun, as you hold him up, head-high, to check him over, the clouds passing through the forever blue above you.

A few minutes before. Your dog sauntering in an old haunt, that unmistakable jaunt, his tail dialed to 12 and 2, 2 and 12, 12 and 2, back and forth with each step, the canine metronome, as he sips the world through his senses, absorbed and free.

Why Are We Here?

No matter what you think of that dude flexing in the mirror at your gym, or the beauty on the red carpet, compared to the physical prowess of the other species, the human body is not especially impressive.

An eagle can see more keenly.

A dog can smell better.

An elephant is stronger.

A giraffe is taller.

A cheetah can run faster.

A dolphin can jump higher.

A kangaroo bounds further.

We can’t fly. We must be taught to swim. We can only run so far. We do not have night vision. We do require much rest.

About the only physical attribute a human has over every other earthly species is this: we can throw pretty good. (Anthony Fauci excepted.)

Throwing is great for game-playing and maybe hunting big game but otherwise not a skill that makes one slap one’s head and say, “oh yes, that is why we are here!”

What humans bring foremost to the terrestrial smorgasbord are the products of our internal organs: thought (reason) and feeling (love).

Using the flawed Western dualism for short: we are more mind than body.

Of course, other animals have powers in these areas — we know animals think and feel, love and connect — but none in the known world have the same level of depth of connection and inspiration and communication and deduction as that of we two-legged up-righters.

This understanding should help focus your aims in two regards:

1. To frame your physical as an important support of your mental/emotional. It is a means not an end.

2. To remember the mental/emotional is what the greater whole needs from you. Bring your A game. And help others do the same.

Dumb Phone

One way to look at your level of happiness is in inverse proportion to the amount of time spent on your phone.

Observe

It is important to name things correctly. It is easy to infer, hard to know. Do not state that you know something to be true if you are not certain. Certainty is seldom found in this world. Even if you think you know what you just saw.

We see so much in our age! Everything, it seems, is captured on video. In a matter of moments you can view a painting on your wall, footage from a crime scene miles away, a scene from a sitcom from your youth, and the sun streaming between the branches of the red maple in your backyard. As you take in these images your eyes do what eyes do. You do not have to ask your eyes to collect images; they just do. You do not, in fact, have to think at all about what you are seeing but it is advised that you do so. For our eyes are at once both miracles and also conduits to a complex system human wiring that unwittingly trains us to insert interpretations at rapid speed. Never forget that these automatic interpretations are not necessarily accurate or appropriate.

Our first impressions can be wrong. They are often wrong. They are wrong because they are clouded by things wholly unrelated to the matter in view — our histories, our needs, our moods, our want for the world to be a certain way. Our impressions are also wrong because our eyes are limited in their scope. You do not get to see all. Or really even close to most.

It seems strange to say but it is hard work to see something, to really see it. There’s a lot to filter out of the picture.

This morning your dog went out to do his business before the first light of day. You could see his silhouette in the yard, leg cocked, body tilted like a small plane coming in crooked, for several seconds. In the instant he finished the motion light on the garage clicked on. You could see he was looking back at you the whole time. Then he ran back to the house and bounded up the steps to where you opened the door for him. You just observed him do this. You didn’t think of the coffee you might have or the temperature today or grabbing the doggy mitt you use to clean his paws or the next thing you were to do in the precious early hour of the day. You just watched him do what he does, what he did do, without trying to make anything of the moment.

There is much to be said for this.

Just See

Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring — What good amid these, O me, O life?

Answer.
That you are here — that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

-Walt Whitman, Drum Taps: The Complete Civil War Poems (2015)

Life is suffering. We’re all messed up, screwed up, useless, and dumb. Yet there is this fact: we’re here. We’re alive. We’ve got our feet on this big rock hurling through the cosmos. At least right now we do. If even for a moment, we have the chance to shine a little light and bring a little warmth, and never matter that none of it may last a day.

I’m tired of trying to make something of the world. Literally, my body is worn out. Exhausted. The metaphor that comes to mind is the cleaving of clay. A tall stack of red sand clay, standing tall in the middle of a mountainside dessert, the sun beating down, wind at my feet, I dig my wire in and remove a chunk of the clay. Enough so that I must hold it with both hands. I try to shape it into something the world has not seen. I imagine that I will hold it up for the world to see. I am little more than the toddler who says, “look what I did, mom!” Indeed, I imagine making something of it to show me myself — and you me.

Enough: let the clay be. Set down the wire. Step back from the tall stack of red sand clay. Just see it. That is all. Just see it. If you can.

It’s already what it is supposed to be.

Grasping

Let the world come to you.

No, this is not passive.

Be you. Do you. Inch ever closer to your best you.

These steps will cause you to cross paths with the people and things you need.

You don’t have to wander off into the dark woods, hoping you will stumble upon these people, these things.

It is enough to walk through the world as you can and as you do.

Words Change the World

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

-Abraham Lincoln, “Gettysburg Address” (1863)

Never think you must say much.

Never forget the importance words. The power of words.

Be moved.

Let words stir you.

Honor the gift.

So that possibly you may be able to move another.

Failure is Not an Option

In meditation, it is the moment you notice your mind wander where the growth occurs. You think this moment is the failure but in fact it is the victory.

At that instant when you notice is when you know you have done what the practice is for.

At that moment is where you know you have done good work.

In that spirit, do not call yourself defeated, incapable, or lacking when you observe that the effects of the original sin have been triggered. Instead, celebrate the fact that you see that has occurred.

This is no small thing, this observation.

This, in fact, is, too, where the growth comes.

Do not run away but rather lean in.

See the weight you have lifted.

You think you have done what you can but what a gift to find — to be presented — with a new way to improve.

Truly good work old boy!