Saturday, June 25, 2016

6/27/16—Moving America Forward

How many times have you exchanged something for a newer model, only to appreciate the old model more? Like maybe you get a new washer/dryer and it washes and dries faster, but uses more energy and has frequent mechanical problems. We've all been there. And since you can't move backward, you move forward, lower your expectations and learn to adjust.

America is kind of like that dryer. Everyone wants a new one, convinced it's going to change things for the better. One side favors a more socialist way of existing, where everyone shares the responsibility for the whole and those with less get more. The other side favors a more isolationist bully approach, where one guy builds a wall to keep immigrants out, calls for banning an entire religion and shuts out those who disagree with him. Both sides think their ideas are going to make America great again. They both want a shiny new washer that does things the old washer doesn't.

I was watching America's Got Talent on TV earlier this week. There was a performer there named Vello who was a 52-year-old man whose thick accent was only eclipsed by his funny costume. I assume he is a naturalized American. The audience was doubtful at first, then sat stunned by the amazing things he could do with his feet locked behind his head—things you and I couldn't do under any circumstances, much less while contorting. When he was done, the audience went crazy. And in that moment, what I saw was a man who was so proud to be an American...on one of our country's largest stages...playing to a packed front of TV cameras...and having everyone behind him. Who would have thought?

Imagine yourself in his shoes. He left Estonia for the hope of something better in the US. And he came here and was able, not only to earn a living teaching kids, but perform before millions. At the age of 52. As an "outsider." That right there is the American Dream. And if there's anything people around the world admire more about the US—and anything we're more proud of ourselves—it's how anyone can have a dream and achieve it here, if they put their mind to it. Evidence of that is everywhere in the US, across all origins and classes. It's not guaranteed, but it's possible.

So, if we were to close off or slow immigration here, we would have fewer hard-working, persistent dreamers like Vello to keep our American Dream alive. And the hard-working part is critical, too, because immigrants tend to have to work harder and in less desirable jobs than the rest of us. So if we screw with immigration, we lose that depth in the American work ethic we're so proud of and, over time, we lose the foundation of people doing the less desirable work that fuels the lifestyles we love, like keeping 7-11s open all night, running carryouts and performing maid service, to name a few. Over time, the immigrants that fill those positions and work hard will work their way out of those positions, and with further immigration stalled, nobody will want to fill them.

So will the "native" Americans left behind jump in and work extra hard in service areas or achieve the American Dream? Sure. Some will. But we have become so complacent and privileged that some jobs are considered "beneath us". And we've become so jaded that most people just settle into their comfortable-enough lives and skip the risk, hard work and possible disappointment. In places most of us don't even notice or see, a continued flow of immigrants is critical to keeping our country moving.  Their work ethic is critical to inspiring everyone else's and keeping us on our toes, and their ambitions are important to fueling the American Dream. 

In their heads, some think closing our borders will solve everything, but it will just create more problems. In addition to what I mentioned above, it has the potential to make us less knowledgeable and worldly at a time the rest of the planet is becoming more so. So we lose our leadership, our connections to the rest of the world, and we end up in a vulnerable global position. When you are only 4% of the world's population, you have to remain relevant and it's probably best not to be relevant for your xenophobia. We lose our diversity. And, what I consider pretty damning, we lose that spark that lights up in the eyes of people looking for a better life, because they cannot find it here anymore. That's not "making America great again" to me.

And that's just changing immigration. All the changes I mentioned on both sides of the fence have foreseeable consequences if you stop to think them all the way through...consequences that could change stuff you may even value more. But most won't stop to think them through, nor will they be able to think them through objectively. And if you don't believe me, think about the political conversations you've had lately with people whose ideas differ from yours. They can't stop to see your side and consider the validity of your side and let it sink in, nor are you, perhaps, able to do the same. If the conversations are frustrating to you at all, that means you can't do the same. All of these matters are highly complex considerations that go beyond "smart" and "stupid" ideas. So if you're seeing them in black and white, you're not seeing them objectively.

This past week our representatives showed us that, in some ways, our structure isn't so much broken as ill utilized. Things like filibusters and sit ins give voice to the people even if our representatives refuse to honor that voice. They make our politicians accountable in ways they are usually able to avoid. So we do have ways to work more effectively within the systems in place now. And their entire jobs there are (supposed to be) about progress and moving our country forward. They vote on new ideas every day. What they don't do is accurately represent the voices of the majority of the US while doing it. And yes, that's a problem. But it's a problem we can fix without restructuring big parts of who we are.

Will it be fixed? Probably not...not if we leave it up to our leadership. Will it be fixed by making wide, sweeping changes? Probably not, because every solution has inherent flaws when you're serving a populace of 300M individuals who feel differently about things. America is broken, no doubt. But it's not broken in the ways we think.

Our own individual inabilities to bend or even consider other views is the brokest part of the US. Because of that, we don't even understand the truth of what's going on around us, we only understand our own biased perspective. So we make ill-informed decisions. (Ask the British about that in the wake of Brexit.) Another big issue is our tolerance for representatives that represent private interests and not the people. We can only legitimately complain about how awfully our country is run when we recognize WE hold the reigns of this country and we exercise the power that comes with that. But instead, we sit on our sofas with a bowl of Cheetoes, complain, formulate the views that occur to us, dig in our heels, refuse to listen to the other side and continue to fuel the flames of discord and inaction. We have become complacent and complicit in our misery.

Because of that, I have made a concerted effort to listen beyond the sound bites of my (all-time) least favorite candidate which, no surprise, is Donald Trump. It's not all racism and hate. He has legitimate things to say about what's wrong in our country. The smart things he says don't really make the news. And for every smart thing he says, he says a couple of truly idiotic things. And I believe he's Politifact's all-time most untruthful candidate with less than 10% of the checkable "facts" he states being true or mostly true. But he does have some legitimate, interesting things to say that are worth consideration. I still believe he's a con man who will ruin our nation, but now I understand the people voting for him in a different way and I'm more educated on what America wants, and not just what I want.

I have done the same with the Bernie Sanders supporters, because some of their views are just as curious to me, albeit for different reasons. From my point of view, I would never vote for anyone who stirs up such supercharged blind passion in their supporters as Trump and Sanders. It's a turn off for me, even if I like some of the things they say. The violence at rallies, the rabid obsession, the ways it brings out peoples' dark sides—on both sides—is toxic.

Anyway, I don't think things are so broke as to take the radical measures that those on the far left and far right propose. I think those new measures are going to end up like the new washer. And, both literally and figuratively, I'm not someone who upgrades to new model just because one is available on the marketplace. That kind of thinking, from marriages to consumer goods, is a big place where our country is horribly sick in the head. It is a privileged mindset that is resented by others in the world.

Personally, there are parts of me that really miss things like the sound of a dusty record, being away from phones when I'm out of the office, reading things in cursive hand, and people who are present when you're talking to them instead of glancing at their devices. Progress has brought a lot into our lives and it has also taken a lot away. We continually move toward newer and better as a natural course of life as it is, without having to force it prematurely upon those who don't want it.

It's clear our nation wants and needs change. But right now I think we're throwing ideals at the wall to see what sticks. I don't think we're ready for that change because we want such different things, refuse to listen to each other and haven't thought things through enough to make adult decisions that consider what's truly best for our country, instead of just ourselves. We are a country divided. Both sides have legitimate arguments as to why their way is the "the American way". Both sides are passionate. Both sides are both right and complete idiots, depending on who you talk to.

Sometimes it's hard to see the real issue, even when it's right in front of your eyes. We—you and I—are our own worst enemies. We are the reason our politicians under-perform. We are the reason changes don't get made. We are what's blocking natural, evolutionary progress, not to mention the meaningful progress so many want. I am neither an organizer nor passionate about anything in particular (outside of the gun debate,) so I'm not the answer...haha. I'm actually ok with many of the ways we're broken right now, because I prefer them to what I believe will be the new problems that emerge if we make big changes.

But change doesn't happen just because you whine about how broken and "unfair" things are. You want to beat the NRA? Become as organized as they are. Or, like in an article I saw this week aimed at LGBTQs suggested, join the NRA and change it from within with your member votes. Split their agenda. Cause discord. Fight as dirty as they do. The beautiful thing about this country is that we have the power to do stuff like that, and under the current ways of doing things.

But I'm just not for turning America into Canada (or North Korea) in order to make it great again. We are great because, for now, we're still the land of opportunity. We're great because we're allowed to have this conversation out loud. We're great because we're diverse in our colors, origins, religion, attitudes and beliefs. We're great because we have a wonderful lifestyle, good education and are relatively "safe" within the world, despite all the homegrown violence we face.

And when we forget all the things we're truly proud of, that's when we're not so great. That's when we end up as we are now, believing we're broken, bickering over everything and solving nothing. In fact, we're like a profoundly unhappy couple who airs all our dirty laundry publicly and on social media. We've lost our pride in what made us great in the first place. We've lost our self respect. And we're embarrassing ourselves in the process.

Think back to a time when you thought America was great. At that time, we were less informed about what was going on in our government. We were more trusting of our government. We understood you don't get everything you want. We spoke to our neighbors and had actual face-to-face conversations with each other. The news we got was largely objective and not partisan. We had fewer outside threats, despite immigration laws. We were more cooperative, polite and respectful. We didn't draw lines in the sand. There were no memes proliferating lies disguised as fact. As individuals, we were less violent. We were different. (On the other hand, many Americans didn't have equal rights, like women, blacks and gays. So how "great" was that for them?)

The truth is, this isn't all the government's fault. When they refuse to get along, they are just reflecting the attitudes of Americans as a whole. WE don't get along. So the blame lies on our shoulders, on the shoulders of global intercommunication and travel, on the shoulders of progress itself and, sure on the government (and many other things.) But it won't get fixed until we fix ourselves. And some elements, like globalization, can't and shouldn't be fixed. So we have to learn to accommodate progress without losing our humanity. Because progress has been slowly chipping away at it, especially in the digital age, and we have nobody to blame but ourselves.

Normally I try to avoid politics and I tried to stay away from this campaign, too. But alas, I let buttons get pushed and I have caught some passion myself...I'm passionate about stopping all the whining for one...haha. And I'm no doubt a contributor to that from time to time, I'll admit. I'm afraid of what will happen if Trump becomes president and I know I'm in the majority on that score. And when you see Great Britain with a good deal of buyer's remorse over Brexit because they believed a liar and didn't even understand the implications of what they were voting on, it worries me we'll end up in the same place.

So, for my part, I've made a point to speak out more this year, instead of just be silent. The thing about Trump and the NRA (for example) is that they don't sit quietly waiting for us to pay attention their POV. They inundate us with it from every angle. They train advocates to take up their cause in social media. They indoctrinate their followers to "fight the good fight". It amazed me that Hillary won the primary, because my Facebook feed certainly didn't have anyone speaking her praises like the other candidates had. But then, the others were as successful as they were because they were so vocal. So I'm speaking out.

And another thing I've done was look at that which I find so ugly, in order to understand the needs of those who support Trump (and, to a certain degree, those who support/ed Sanders) so absolutely. That tack has not changed my vote or what I want for the country. That's not the point. It has given me an understanding of the different things people define as "great" and it has alerted me to weaknesses I hadn't considered in my own thinking before. Maybe because of that, my involvement in creating meaningful change will grow and I'll contribute more to the harmonious US I'd like to see.

So, instead of just complaining about what's wrong with America, what do you think is right and precious? And do the changes you propose impact those things in any negative way when you think it through from all angles? Have you researched the complaints and concerns of those in countries that have instituted similar changes? Are you willing to pay more taxes to fund your changes? And the biggest question, are you willing to open your mind wide enough to see where your thinking may be flawed? Before we can move America forward, we have to move Americans forward.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

6/20/16—Sharing Five Things About Happiness

Here's an odd piece of trivia: people tend to like enumerated lists of things. So if you get an email with a subject line that says "Five Things Weird People Do," you're more likely to open that than an email that just says "Stuff Weird People Do." 

Before you protest and tell me all about how you'll read any email with "stuff" in the subject line, there are, no doubt, exceptions. And you, a board-certified snowflake, may be one of them. But it's just one of those things the advertising industry does research on, then pumps into my head. So I thought I'd share it with you. Because tonight I'm really tired. And instead of writing a brand new post from scratch, I'm going to share a classic one from two years ago with you—Five Things To Know About Happiness. 

1. Happiness Isn't All It's Cracked Up to Be. You very well may be happy right now and not even know it. It doesn't necessarily come with a balloon and streamers attached. It's not necessarily something you get in exchange for something good you've done. It's merely a feeling of remarkable wellbeing in body, mind, emotion, and/or soul. And by "remarkable", I'm not talking "rare". I'm talking, "hey, I'm remarking that I'm happy!" (Notice the lone exclamation point?) So it's not quite joy or bliss (which *do* come with streamers...AND a few extra exclamation points). Happiness is just a nice smile that comes from within. :) 

2. Happiness is Not a Destination. It's part of the journey. There's never going to come a day when you're happy and it stays that way. We all have ups and downs. We may be happy in one area of our lives and less than happy in another. It's not a place to land and plant roots. Nor do you want it to be. Because happiness should never become mundane. If it's how you felt all the time, it wouldn't be such a gift. 

3. Happiness is a Choice. In most moments, you can choose to be happy. You can choose to see your situation as a gift. Sure, if the bad guys are chasing you with guns, it's hard to be happy. Unless you like that sort of thing. But most of us lead pretty tame lives. And we can choose to let some inconsiderate person, for example, ruin our day. Or we can choose to focus on the positives, see how good we've got it and let our bodies and minds flow with gratitude. Now, chemicals in our body can make our moods shift. But even those can be improved improve through exercise or pharmaceuticals or whatever. But still, we're all human, so there will be times it won't be a choice. But many times it is. And since I promised you only five things...

3a. Gratitude is a Direct Route to Happiness. Want to be happy? Count your blessings. We are all so incredibly blessed and we don't even realize it half the time because we're looking at all the areas where life has fallen short of our expectations. Well what about the vastly larger number of areas in which it has met and exceeded...or at the very least mirrored the effort we put forth?

4. You Can't Know Another Person's Happiness. So stop looking over the fence and thinking that person is happy! C'mon...think about all the times you walk around with a smile on or tell someone you're having a good day, even though you're less than happy. Well, newsflash. Everyone else is doing that, too. In fact, some people are significantly better at looking happy than you are. The Dalai Lama is probably the happiest person on earth (that I know of, at least) and even his moods modulate. Besides, he's waited on hand and foot, worshipped far and wide and hugely respected. He was literally born to be a leader and a holy leader. But he was a leader in exile most of his life and his people were oppressed...all this happening to a very compassionate man. You want his problems? I didn't think so. So be careful what you're wishing for. 

5. Happiness Shouldn't Necessarily Be Your Goal. Contentment should. See, the ultimate goal in life is supposed to be balance, right? Well, happiness is weighted to one side of the spectrum. It's not in the center. And the things beyond center are harder to maintain. Not only that, but in order to have balance, things that are weighted to one end eventually have to be mirrored by things weighted at the other end. But contentment is at the center. It's satisfaction. It's upturned lips and a relaxed brow, but not quite a full-on smile. With contentment, there may be things in your life that are less than hunky dory, but you'll take it. Because it's pretty good overall...pretty good for a Monday. It's the wellbeing without the exclamation point. And it feels really nice. And, with the right mindset, you can maintain it longer. 

Sunday, June 12, 2016

6/13/16—Peering Into the Mystic

Suddenly, my dog Mystic loves the back yard. She was always the first one inside, but now she spends hours out back alone, hunting for things and policing the perimeter. And I think I know why everything changed. 

As many readers are aware, the first few years I knew Mystic, I was in the midst of (what I now know to be) a three-year long asthma attack, the severity of which varied from day to day. But because I never coughed or wheezed, I went undiagnosed until I landed in an ER in the midst of a crisis. It was so severe some days that I would have to stop to catch my breath after walking from the kitchen to the living room, a distance of about 40 feet. It was miserable. It was scary. There were times it was so bad I thought I was going to die. All I did was work and sleep. And I napped a lot in between.

So that was Mystic's mommy for the first three years she was here. Mystic is a dog that needs a good bit of exercise and so she got walks as best as I could. A few days a week. Most days if I stopped everywhere they wanted to sniff, I could make it around the block. She's got behaviors that do not respond to training, but do respond to exercise. So it was a win-win for us to get her walked.

So the change Mystic made had nothing to do with me being more active now, because that's not even necessarily the case. But it did coincide with that ER visit, followed by a few days in the hospital. My disappearance, coupled with a strange caretaker, was traumatic on all three of the dogs.  

So maybe that somehow triggered Mystic's change. But I think it goes even deeper than that. Because while things appeared normal on the surface—I was going for walks, conducting business, doing the grocery shopping, visiting with friends—I was scared, panicked and miserable on the inside. My lungs were the only thing physically broken, but living that way for so long broke my spirit. And once I got out of the hospital, I was able to start feeling whole again. 

I believe Mystic was so dialed in to the heavy, thick sludge of my psyche that it changed her. Having brought her out a farm on a few occasions, I know her natural way is to just wander off and explore and stalk things. She was a rural girl. That is her nature. But all of that was suppressed because I was suppressed.

Another interesting observation is around the Kizzie situation. A few weeks ago, he ended up with a disc issue that may (and likely is) an indication of a larger issue with him. He's an old boy. And while the immediate issue of a ruptured disc is healed up, he's been having occasional issues indicative of ongoing spinal cord issues. So, until I came to accept that Kizzie is in decline, I was distraught. And during that same period, Mystic stopped taking part in her nightly fisticuffs with Magick. She resumed once I let go of my grief over this development with Kizzie.

Whatever it is, the bigger picture is that our pets know far more about us than we realize. I believe Mystic's story reinforces that we all transmit data that can be picked up by others without verbal, auditory or visual cues. Humans can do it. Dogs can do it. And probably everything in the universe can do it. In general, I think other animals are far more capable of doing it than humans. Our societal mores and critical natures get in the way of many of our natural instincts. 

And whenever a parent claims their young child isn't aware of issues in the home, I cringe. I remember knowing things I didn't hear or see, but sensed, as far back as toddlerhood. Two of those things, in particular, were later confirmed and I still can't shake off the feeling there's something more to one of them. So there probably is. The issues weren't concepts I understood at four, I had no words for them, all I knew was that something was fishy...something was odd, not quite right. 

But, back to Mystic. When I was growing up, dogs were just dogs. They were fabulous friends, but in the bulk of global consciousness, dogs were dogs. Separate. Lesser than. In my lifetime, that  consciousness has rather rapidly changed. Dogs may as well be people to most of those who have them as pets. Part of it is their distinct personalities, yes. But part of it is in this energetic exchange and intuitive understanding that goes on between us. 

We don't get to know and trust other humans as quickly and deeply as we do with a dog. And when it does occur between two humans, whether in friendship or love, we call them a soul mate. We hold the relationship sacred. We meet a handful of humans like that in our lives, but pretty much any old dog is capable of creating that experience, at least for me. 

I write this blog, in part, to explore the unknowable and spiritual in life. Myst became a completely different dog when I became different in energetic ways she could only sense, not see. She's not just a dog, and I have seen this capability in all my dogs. Children are not just children. And humans are not just humans. We are all connected to something we don't have the words for or even understand. And everything we do or hold inside us makes an impression on that collective consciousness (or whatever you might call it.) So what will you contribute to that vibe this week?

Sunday, June 5, 2016

6/6/16—Journaling Again

I have kept a journal for most of my adult years. When you consider the amount of space I fill here with nearly 1200 blogs and the fact that I used to journal multiple times a week, if not every day, you can imagine the volumes upon volumes of journals I've filled. :D

In fact, I used to have a whole ritual around it. I had a guy in Colorado who would custom make leather journals with handmade papers for me. And I would light candles. And it would be like a bubble bath for my soul...haha. 

One thing led to another and my journaling tapered off. Then when I started this blog and wrote six days a week, I told myself that this blog was my journal. And in a way it is. I talk about my feelings and whatnot. But there's a lot that goes in my life that I can't share here, whether for professional or personal reasons. And it's stuff I need to get out of me. So I started up a new journal this week. 

Journaling has always been a sacred process for me. It's where I think through feelings I'm having. Work through issues in my life. Acknowledge things about myself that are hard to acknowledge. And, for a couple of years, it was where I worked on my descriptive writing skills, as well as my "getting inspiration from nature" skills while meditating at sunrise by the river. I had forgotten just how sacred a process all of that was, in fact. 

And it's clear I'm not the only who feels that way about journaling. A few years ago a friend of mine announced that she had burned all her old journals and felt a great release from doing it. Of course, pretty much everyone rushed in and said "no, don't do it!" I thought a lot about this and made a post that I was thinking about it. Nearly everyone said "no, don't do it!" to me, too.

But I get what my friend was talking about. With journaling, the process is where the value lies for me. So anything older than, say, a month is pretty irrelevant to my life today. I keep all these journals right in sight, yet I never open them. It's just past issues lingering around in a life where they no longer matter. So I still toy with idea of maybe one day sifting through them, tearing out pages here and there that are important and burning the rest (though I couldn't burn the leather part of my god, that man made beautiful journals.)

Anyway, all of this is part of a growing restlessness within me. I recently joined a book club and I don't read, for example. I have no idea what I'm thinking...haha. I just know I need something more than work, blogs, dogs, TV and tarot to think about. I like all those things, but there are other parts of me that are languishing, so I'm beginning to feel those things are walls closing around me, holding me hostage. Actually, the truth is, I've felt that for a while, but never quite realized it in so many words. In a way, I was doing "OK enough" in that prison. That's sad to say, but it's honest. 

It's just one of the many areas I've come across in my lifetime where I have settled for something "not miserable" instead of insisting on something truly worthy of my attention. And, consequently, this settling has led over and over again to the painful bleeding of both my joy and my potential. Not that journaling can fix that. But it will help. If for no other reason than to keep me from avoiding the fears that keep me in my self-imposed prison. 

The shift from blessing to curse in our routines, beliefs and actions is so incredibly subtle that we don't see it happening, usually until we've been disenchanted for some time. Sometimes needed change is forced upon us and sometimes we have to impose it upon ourselves. Either way the best way to handle it is to move forward with as much grace as possible, knowing we'll eventually land someplace better.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

5/30/16—Starting the Long Goodbye

I've never had a child. I have no doubt raising children is a hell of a lot harder than raising dogs—with one exception.

Every (good) dog parent knows from the time of adoption that we will have to make a decision that leads to the dog's death. We'll have to hold them as they die. And, unlike parents of human children, we pray that our fur children will die as teenagers, and long before we do. It is our final act in the promise of "forever" that we made to them as pups.

It is the HARDEST thing about having a pet. While I understand it's counterproductive, I start worrying about that day years before it comes.

Many years back, a neighbor dog had gotten old. She had good days and bad, but the bad days were getting more numerous. Everything was an effort for her. Everything was pain, managed by injections and pills. The parents had set many dates for euthanasia, but when the day came, the dog would have a good day. So they just rode that roller coaster, not knowing what to do....afraid of what they knew must be done. 

One day the parents came over to get me because the dog was really bad and they didn't know what to do. I know it sounds weird, but dogs do communicate. And this dog was loud and clear. She was writhing in pain and begging to die. I told them to call the vet immediately and put her out of her pain. She died naturally while waiting for the vet to arrive.

After that experience, I did a lot of soul searching. And I decided I would never keep an elderly or terminally ill dog alive because I couldn't bear to put her down. I decided that I would I never give an elderly dog cancer or liver treatments to buy them six months of life, because what is the quality of that life when they're on chemo or dialysis? I know dogs have different pain tolerances than humans, but I know when I'm in pain, it's hard to think of anything else, even if I'm on medication. That isn't quality of life. Not being able to enjoy the things you love is not quality of life. "Hanging in there" is not quality of life.

I have only had to put one dog down so far. I was blessed with an easy decision. Passion was a large dog and 10 years old. I swear she had been asking to die for a year. But since she seemed perfectly normal, I told her she was silly. And she WAS perfectly fine....she ate, did her walkies, played with Kizzie. And then one day she collapsed and I took her to the vet. They told me she likely had cancer and might not live through the night. So it was a simple decision. We went home, held each other all night long. Talked and laughed and shared memories. I apologized for not listening to her sooner. And the next morning I brought her to the vet.

Now, the same thing that happened with the neighbor dog happened to Passion. After suffering all night long, she was her old self that next morning. This is a phenomenon called "brightening" or a "last hurrah"...the dog (or human) perks up right before they die. The neighbor dog had brightened and dipped repeatedly over months. Each time they got to keep her a little longer. But who was she staying alive for?

I contend that dogs have a completely different relationship with death than we do. They don't fear death. They do know they're diminishing. And they're ready to go long before we're ready to let go. Of course, we really don't know for sure how a dog's mind works, but based on the speed and capacity at which they're able to forgive, forget and live in the moment, it's clear their minds work differently than humans, much as we tend to humanize everything they do.

So I decided I would gauge my dogs' behavior and physical comfort. And I would not let them suffer either mentally or physically just because I wanted another day, month or however long with them. In fact, I feel the same way about humans. When the inevitable is clear, what is the point of suffering to make everyone else happy? If you've ever watched someone die slowly from cancer, you know that staying alive just prolongs everyone's suffering. We have no other option for humans. But we do for dogs.

The reason I'm writing all of this is because last Tuesday I woke up to a Kizzie in severe pain. Kizzie is 12. And he's a big boy. His beautiful mane is graying. Readers of this blog know him as my sunset-watching companion, the boy who became a leader at mommy's request, the boy who gets toys brought to him from the other side and, one of my most popular posts of all time, the boy from the post about vibrations in the universe

Kizzie is the kindest, most gentle boy I know. I call him "mommy's clown faced boy" because he is always smiling. He's maybe the only man I've ever loved fully, walls down and heart wide open. And there he was head-down-tail-down-unable-to-settle-panting-staring-into-space in pain. The vet had a few ideas about what was wrong. All of them pointed to realizing Kizzie's forever is coming. 

Kizzie is fine today. His issue was a best-case scenario...he had a ruptured disc. Not the bloat I thought he might have when I brought him in. And not the spinal tumor that the vet said could be the issue, though he has lost a decent amount of weight, so who knows what's lurking? So, for today, we have tomorrow. But since I won't let an elderly dog suffer, I do have to start thinking about this. I mean, actually I started thinking about this a few years ago, which is what prompted our nightly sunsets on the front stoop. We may still have tomorrow, but I can't fool myself that we have years.

I'm a total wussie when it comes to this stuff. That's why I have multiple dogs in the first place. At the age of five, I started worrying about the day I would have to say goodbye to Passion. So I got Kizzie. And when Passion died I got Magick. I'm not proud of admitting it, but one of the reasons I have three dogs is because I need someone to hold if one of them dies. As a card-carrying loner and hermit, I wouldn't be able to live any other way.

All that said, Passion's death was actually kind of a beautiful thing. We got to say goodbye and chat all night. And I held her in my arms and sang her her theme song as she was drifting away. And just when I was ready to get up and leave, a final puff of air left her, as if her soul were waiting for me to finish saying goodbye. I felt honored to have been there every step of the way in her life. Which doesn't mean it wasn't gut-wrenching to say goodbye to my girl. But it is the price we agreed to when I first met her. She more than held up her end of the bargain. I had to hold up mine.

It's easy to forget the dues we have to pay as dog parents. We may even think our dues are going for walks, picking up poo and working with our dog to sit, stay and heel. But the real work—the work nobody wants to do—comes at the end of the job.  It is both a privilege and the most heartbreaking job we'll ever do.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

5/23/16—Loving Unconditionally

Most of the really good stuff I know, I learned from a dog. 

Although there have been countless lessons and observations over the years, the first really big lesson came when my first dog, Passion, was a puppy. She had done something "bad"—I can't remember what—and I yelled at her. I was really mad. And at some point during my rant, I saw her looking up at me with her puppy eyes and she was shaking, trembling with fear. 

That one moment changed me in so many ways. Seventeen years later and I still remember exactly how she looked and how ashamed I felt. To begin with, it held a mirror to my anger and the way I express it. Is this really who I wanted to be? Is this the mother I wanted to be? Second, I had enough empathy in the moment to see her situation—a helpless little girl with everything on the line, trying to be good. Did I have a right to make her feel unsafe? Aren't I supposed to protect her from people like me?

Third, and most importantly, it left me with a critical decision to make. See, up until that point, my love was conditional. I treated her with love when she was good and when she was bad, I wasn't terribly loving. This caused a roller coaster of emotions for both of us. I wasn't sure I could handle a strong-willed, very alpha dog and so she couldn't feel safe I was her forever mommy. 

One look from that little girl and I was brought face-to-face with my inadequacy, my anger, my effect on others and my screwed up way of loving. It was excruciating. To this day, I don't think there's ever been a single more devastating moment in my life. Nor has there been one with more of an opportunity for healing. 

In that moment, I had a revelation—either I was going to learn to love her unconditionally, or I was going to continue on the same path I was on and end up hating myself more than I already did. I chose to start learning to love her unconditionally. And that's when a miracle occurred. 

Once I realized I was going to love her no matter what, I stopped getting so angry at her "imperfect puppy self" all the time! I mean, what was the point of sweating the small stuff if the result is always going to be loving her? What was the point if I was always going to hold her afterward and hope for her forgiveness? I may as well just skip all the drama and stress on both our parts and go straight to loving her and respecting her sensitivities and emotions, even when I'm mad at her.

Of course, my dogs still piss me off from time to time. The people you love unconditionally are going to trigger you, too. But I handle situations differently now. And time after time when adjusting to a new dog, I come to a place where I stop trying to mold them into some perfectly behaved automaton and just accept them as they are. And every. single. time. things get so much easier from that point forward. The more I resist just loving them, the more stress and frustration I have. The more I surrender to them, the more love and joy I receive. 

This has translated perfectly to human-to-human relationships I've had over the years. If you have a family member that drives you crazy, for example, you can change a lot in regard to that without changing them. Just surrender to the fact that, regardless of their bad behavior, the end result is always going to be the same. You're going to end up loving them, even when you're hating them, because you have no choice. Or you can cut them out of your life, too. Both are paths of least resistance and both are legitimate choices, depending on the situation. But sitting on the fence just causes repeated pain.

Before my experience with Passion, I applied that model to my father without even thinking about it too deeply. And the minute I decided to love him, even if he was never going to be the father I wanted him to be, I started enjoying our relationship more. And thank god, because he died soon after, so I didn't have to deal with him leaving while there was resentment in my heart. 

A lot of the pain we have in relationships happens upon the fulcrum of "should I stay or should I go?" Maybe it's not in quite the same words, but that's what it boils down to. Once you commit to a certain direction, that pain largely disappears. However if you find yourself asking "should I stay or go?" over and over again in the course of a relationship, it's because you either made the wrong choice, or you never fully committed to the choice you did make

Not long after that decision with Passion, I was faced with another choice regarding her. She had hip dysplasia and, due to the condition of her hips, her young age, the size she would grow to (100lbs) and the cost of care, I was advised to put her to sleep. So my "unconditional" decision was tested and I chose to get the operation. That pretty much sealed the deal for us as mother, puppy girl and the bestest of friends. After that, I never looked back. 

So your "conditions" might be tested in your unconditional relationships. But if you're in a never-ending cycle of "I can't take this anymore" after making your decision, you need to really search whether or not you made the right choice or if you are fully committed. Because resistance is what causes the struggle and pain in pretty much every big life decision. You're either resisting giving yourself over fully, come hell or high water. Or you're resisting change. Both are scary things, which is why we resist.

I've struggled with whether or not to surrender unconditionally to each of my dogs, all of my siblings and both of my parents at one time or another. In the moment of anger and frustration, we truly believe we can cut them off. And, for some, that might be the right decision. But most of us can't and shouldn't. The death of my brother, especially, taught me that, when someone you "claim" you don't like dies or is faced with death, everything changes. Years of anger, pain and frustration melted away the second I heard "I've got lung cancer." In that moment, I finally saw that all the posturing and "he said, she said" meant little when the guy I knew and shared a life with from infancy is dying in a horrible, premature and heartbreaking way.

Unconditional love is a lot like forgiveness in that it's not something you do for the other person as much as something you do for yourself. The other person doesn't even have to know you're doing it, though they'll know from the way your energy changes around them. Both also involve letting go, albeit in different ways. And also, like forgiveness, unconditional love doesn't mean you have to be their buddy or look for ways to spend time with them. Some of the people you agree to love unconditionally (or forgive) are toxic. Loving them regardless doesn't mean they stop being toxic, it just means that you're going to love them anyway, preferably from a distance. :D

Being human is hard. We're expected to open our hearts and to love people—and even pets—who will inevitably cause us pain, disappointment, sorrow and even heartbreak. Even the best of them will do that to us at some point. Unconditional love is a brave thing. And once you can do it for family and pets, you can open wider and start learning to extend it out to others, like friends, strangers and the all of humanity. And each time you manage to do it, the less pain you'll experience, the more love you'll net and the closer you'll come to aligning with that big unconditional lover in the sky.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

5/16/16—Surviving Ourselves

ANNOUNCEMENT: For blog readers who may be interested in getting a free, self-serve intuitive reading, I am now posting Weekend Readings each Friday night on my Facebook Author Page: Tierney Sadler, Deck of 1000 Spreads.

 It seems like there's a disdain for television in society. A snobbery, of sorts. "Read something instead of watching TV. You're rotting your brain." 

Well, I watch TV. And, as it turns out, it hasn't rotted my brain. In fact, it conjures all sorts of deep and intelligent thoughts for me. I was raised on TV. I have a degree in broadcasting. And I have written for TV and video throughout my career. In contrast, I don't really read. Maybe a book a year. And yet I'm a pretty accomplished writer with a darned good vocabulary and a brain that doesn't smell like dead fish. So TV has served me well. 

What conjures even more disdain, however, is the kind of TV I like. Sure I like the comedies and dramas, but I have been a fan of unscripted shows—reality shows—since Big Brother and Survivor pioneered the category in 2000. And while some may turn their noses up at that, it's what sparks some of my deepest thoughts. At some point, people forget the camera is there and you see the ways they operate and what they're like under pressure. And you take that in and think of it in terms of yourself.

Over the weekend I binge watched the first season of Alone. This is a show where they abandon 10 different people on 10 different, densely forested parts of Vancouver Island in the Pacific NW. And the last one standing wins. The weather is wet, freezing and unforgiving. There is zero human interaction. They are alone for as long as they can survive. They do all the filming themselves. They only get to bring 10 survival items with them. And when they've had enough, they have a satellite phone that brings in the rescue crews.

The first ones "tap out" (quit) in the first day or two out of fear of the bears, wolves and cougars that dominate the terrain. By the end of the first week, half have tapped out. And that's when it starts to get interesting. Because once you have shelter and a way of getting food, the days get longer and thoughts begin to turn to yourself. As the winner said, "your biggest challenge isn't the bears and cougars, it's dealing with the predator inside you." And, ultimately, that aspect alone took a couple of men out. But the ones who were able to live through their fears and thoughts were fascinating.

One guy's insights were particularly thought-provoking. Lucas was, arguably, the person best equipped to be there. I say arguably only because he didn't win. But by Day 14 this MacGyver of the bush had built a beautiful canoe from tree limbs and tarp. The canoe provided him access to an unending supply of clams, as well as better places to fish and a better camp. By Day 33, he had built a proper yurt. No kidding. Two days later, he made himself a little guitar, was composing songs and thinking of building a sauna...haha. This man lived like a king relative to all the others. Nothing stood in the way of him surviving the brutal winter there. But within a few days of making that guitar, he was gone.

He left because he got clear about himself. After the first month (only 4 lasted more than two weeks) all the remaining men began to thoroughly examine who they were, the stuff they take for granted in their lives and why they were even doing this in the first place. All (except the winner) ultimately left because they came to the realization that they were there for their win for their egos. And they no longer needed that. They had endured so much. Accomplished so much. Proven so much to themselves. They had been stripped raw enough to see there were things far bigger than winning. They no longer needed to win. Lucas ultimately decided to leave because he finally felt at peace with himself and no longer had a reason to stay.

Another interesting guy was Sam, the last one to quit...the guy who got second place. I was sure this 22-year old expectant father wouldn't last long. He was too flip, baby-faced and devil-may-care to take this seriously. He was awful at getting food. His shelter was pretty pathetic compared to the rest of the guys. Moreover, it had a flapping tarp, which was a mortal sin in my family growing up. :D But the thing that got him to Day 55 was the very attitude I thought would take him down. 

Mental fortitude, stubbornness, a sense of humor and the ability to face his own demons is what got Sam—and Alan, the winner—to the end. In fact, when they came in a day later to extract Alan (a very skilled and deserving 40-year-old survivalist) and tell him he'd won, he was genuinely shocked and said, "So soon?" He looked over at his shelter like he wasn't ready to leave. He was mentally and emotionally prepared to stay a full year.

So, what all of this is getting to is that the path of discovery that you and I are on isn't for pussies. Once you have food, shelter, water and fire, survival is a mental game you've been preparing for throughout your own spiritual journey. Cougars and black bears aren't what frightens people most. Being alone with oneself and an inability to transcend one's own fears is what makes bad asses crumble. These guys weren't ordinary dudes who got drunk one night and thought it would be fun to go to the woods. They were all experienced at this sort of thing. But only the final few had the ability to search within and come out alive. 

When Alan was leaving camp after he won, he said the experience was "probably the most free a person can get in their life. It's just you, the creator and creation." And that's what this journey does for us. It's what meditating in nature does for me. I know the more I let go of my own fears and work on coming to peace with myself, the more free I feel. We don't realize the weight of the burdens we carry (and impose upon ourselves) until we put them down and walk a few steps without them.

I know for myself that, as introspective and searching as I am, I'm also a big avoider. I'll find any distraction to keep me from looking too deeply within sometimes. Things like writing this blog help me get in my quota, but I do avoid. Lucas talked a lot about that. "I can't stuff it away anymore. Not with food, a relationship, work, social interaction, computers..." When we're alone with our thoughts and no distractions, our truth bubbles to the surface. It's terrifying, freeing, painful and triumphant.

The insights gleaned while watching this show, from cool survival tips and wisdom about working with nature to personal revelations that hold a mirror to our own motivations and fears, are priceless and provide countless cues for introspection. Rumor has it there are books that do all of that just as well as reality TV does. ;) And both can also be used as an escape from searching within, too.

As someone who frequently felt lonely and alone growing up, I've often thought the challenge of the self would be one I would ace. But I think we overestimate the value of our loved ones. I need my dogs. I need my friends and family. I need to interact with others. Granted, I need it less than most people, but I still need it. And that was a big part of what swirled in the minds of these men. "Why am I here when everything that matters is at home?" We can have food, shelter, water, fire and all the coping skills known to man, but humans have a kryptonite that we often take for granted. We need each other.

Alone Season 2 is currently airing on the History Channel and this year the contestants included three women, one of which is still competing. You can watch it online