Puppies and the Art of Acceptance

puppy-chewing-rug

Over the summer, in some bizarre, masochistic state of mind, I decided it would be a good idea to take on the responsibility of caring for a puppy. As a former foster mom to a host of canines of all breeds and temperaments, I was cognizant of the challenges a young pup would entail. In some kindly moment of sentimentality, I referred back to Lily at 12 weeks and recollected her sweet spirit and how she endeared herself to me immediately. Assuming she was too young and weak to create much havoc, she entered my life as a reminder that the small indeed are mighty. Lily was perhaps the hardest dog I have ever trained, yet one of the brightest. I am sure many teachers and parents can nod their heads in a unanimous understanding of those most precocious of students.

Lily is now 1 year and 10 months old and is still ever defiant. I have come to accept that the rules that are most important – such as where to “potty” and to stay within eyesight of me on a trail – she follows. Everything else depends on her mood. As with any aware, intelligent, sentient being, she is who she is. Neko (the tot in question) proved to be much more trainable, although nonetheless intelligent. Perhaps it was her upbringing – a round-up stray, she probably never knew the cushy comforts of indoor beds, bowls of food, and saccharine humans to dote on her. She was born slightly feral, outdoors always, and learned – as any animal – that her survival depended upon modeling the behaviors needed to avert predators and ensure food, water, and the comfort of being a part of a pack. She immediately set to work observing Lily, mimicking some of her habits – both desirable and, well, less than. She instinctively knew where to go “potty” and watched me carefully for clues as to how she fit in to our small pack.

This post, however, is less about puppies and more about acceptance. Some might call it radical acceptance. What occurred to me, and has occurred to me in some less than articulate ways in the past, are the lessons that puppies provide. Most would agree patience must be practiced with any young animal, humans included. Patience has indeed come into play, or my lack thereof. Patience is something with which I have struggled in dealing with the various foibles of humans, but never seemed to be an issue with all these puppies. Every time an accident happened or a disruption or bad behavior, I just rolled with it and acted in the moment, taking care of whatever needed to be done, then releasing any feelings about it within seconds. This is not a process I practice with humans. When humans behave – by my definition – badly, I get angry, hurt, and run through a panorama of emotions that all boil down to my expectations of how they should have responded/behaved and how their behavior somehow reflects something in me, rather than just something the other person chose to do, hurtful or not. It then occurred to me as an epiphany on the a chorus of baroque angels:

 Patience comes when one allows oneself the humility of releasing expectations.

This seems obvious enough. Well, most of us know that we should keep an open mind… Thou shalt not judge, the man in the sky commands. Karma, some say, will take care of all injustice. The new age movement sincerely believes that we simply attract both good and bad by the energy we put forth.

I won’t get in to my personal feelings about the above, only to say that, while it’s a nice embroidered sentiment, letting go of expectations is hard. Brutally hard.

In fact, it is counter-intuitive, or counter-instinctive. As animals, we are in a constant state of outmaneuvering others to ensure the protection of our loot, our booty, our ranking… this physical state of competition is sometimes outpaced by our mental competition, which devises all sorts of psychological and behavioral machinations that make us prone to anxiety, suspicion, stress… and thus, adrenal overload. So, of course, in this stew of motives and skullduggery, we formulate plans, and plans rely on speculation.

 We must make an effort to avoid forming expectations. A lifelong effort.

I’d say most of us – somewhere along our timeline – have experienced some form of betrayal, a hurt, a wounding we have yet to really “get over”. Our natural response, rightly, is to be better prepared, anticipating any similar clues for future harm. We know this is futile. It is impossible to mind read or foresee every possible scenario before it occurs; yet we all are guilty of participating in this game of assumptions, whether innocently or pathologically.

It takes infinite focus to allow ourselves to ease only into the moment that happens right after the next, then the next, then… It takes a monk’s discipline to be so aware of the delight and innocence occurring in each experience that we are re-creating ourselves in every new moment. There is immense courage in this. You lose the drive to be mentally engaged in survival mechanisms and begin to transcend those primal urges to compete. You simple wake up. Then wake up again.

Some call this seeing through child’s eyes.

Some call this the opening of the lotus.

Zen.

The cloud of unknowing.

Some call it a hell of a lot of hard work.

{That last someone would be me.}

 When I am playing with a puppy, though, it doesn’t seem so hard. There’s forgiveness, a softening in me that arises. I feel it when I walk through the woods, or watch the light change in the desert. Maybe, rather than being at the mercy of fear, it is being at the mercy of joy. Perhaps finding more joy, rather than swimming upstream against our nature, is the path of least resistance.

Fully accepting we are in a predator’s body takes a lot of chutzpah. We are animals that rather like to think of ourselves as bearers of reason and goodness, and lash out against those we deem to fall short of, or stray from our paradigm of right. There’s so much freedom, however, in moving between moments. Joy expands and radiates. Joy commands a full attention, but with the rich, wonderful taste of being alive. Joy doesn’t have time for wondering if someone learned his or her lesson, or if justice has been served. Joy doesn’t have need for quid pro quo. Joy is being fully aware that the act of acceptance is in itself the first and last poem.

Un-Schooled: Valuing What No One Else Can Tell You

The teacher who is indeed wise does not bid you to enter the house of his wisdom but rather leads you to the threshold of your mind.  ~Kahlil Gibran 

We are a society that values academia but questions knowledge. Education that does not come with an invoice is overlooked or deemed suspect. Students are funneled through grad schools, seminaries, mail-order certification courses, and retreats aimed to connect student with guru/teacher/master, the one who claims to have “the word”. There’s no end to the deluge of purchased thought and those willing to sell. Those who question this blind system of organized education are simply labeled uneducated, outlaw, savage, unenlightened, or delinquent. When education is criticized, said criticism pertains to problems in public schools, lack of funding for educators and low-income students, and failing state colleges. Rarely, does one read an article about the problems inherent in the institutionalization of learning. 

Quite possibly, the biggest challenge to learning in our purchased degree-driven society is though the discernment of both teacher and idea. Ours is a culture addicted to efficiency and immediacy. Where these addictions have grown something positive, there are numerous examples of technological and scientific advances. I need not go into the benefits in any great detail; modern man boasts on these accomplishments fervently. However, where we are left anemic is in the area of critical thinking. Independent thought, mastery of problem solving, and old-fashioned “gut smarts” are seldom encouraged when dealing with standards and benchmarks. These rare talents have resulted in a collective gullibility that has the United States as a whole susceptible to blind party allegiance, thoughtless to laws that are – peering in from outside – verging on fascist, and ever so willing to demonize other cultures, races, anyone who does not align with the dogma of the day. Riding the forefront of this wave are the educated and successful, those who believe they’ve done the right thing, deserve their spoils. These entitled souls are perhaps the least discerning among us, for they have built their lives around the system of principles that supports this grand illusion of deserved property and prestige.

On the flip-side of the madness of politics and corporate corruption, class war and hierarchy, we have emerging from the vindicated mists of spiritual liberation, survivalists, militants, cult heads, and new age teachers willing to pander their own spoiled salvation. Countless smart, enlightened folks have flocked to the deviant savior who offers respite from the modern machine. Never a unique proposition or creation, these gurus sell Native American or early Americana, Paganism or Buddhism, or any form of “authentic” knowledge born from those who came before.

In our quest for answers to life’s most important questions, we have grown subservient to the knowledge of others, while forgetting our own sense of truth, awareness, and perception. To make matters worse, we are pushing willful ignorance, entrenched educational systems, and academic debt onto future generations. Many of us, both young and old, now skip problem solving entirely in an immediate Google search frenzy for quick solutions. One common complaint I hear from teachers, is that their students no longer want to think through a problem to arrive at an answer; they simply want the answer. That’s what they are paying for, after all.

Far from luddite, self-exploration and independent learning are paramount to discovery and to re/evolution. The best thing we can hope for as lifelong students is to connect with the teacher whose response is “What do you think?” in lieu of the one with a costly answer. We hope to find the teacher who understands that his/her job is to merely crack open the door with infectious enthusiasm and experience-driven joy, imploring the student to enter in, not through ego and economics, but through a sheer happiness and authenticity in the delights of life’s lessons.

Nothing changes in an institutionalized system of processes and input/output function. This approach simply rewards worker bees with increasing debt and a head-full of “must do-s” for a mandated American life. And, how shall this logjam be moved? Through radical thinkers, the rebels, the revolutionary women and men willing to move away from the norm. Thanks to them, some of our most ingenious discoveries, inspiring art, and necessary social movements have been created.

Let us not forget that access to learning is within each of us. Academia provides the baseline and the all-important paper needed to obtain that insidious career, but learning is everyone’s right and responsibility. Questioning basic assumption becomes second nature when flexing the muscle of critical thought. It is in the wisdom of a grandfather who allows his granddaughter to make a mistake or two (or three) while learning how to fix a problem under the hood. It is with the mother who listens intently to her son’s struggles with self-esteem and encourages him to listen to his feelings and adjust his actions based on the lessons these feelings convey. And, it is with the professor who instills a deep love of questioning – moving beyond textbook to exploration and challenging his own concepts and ideas. It is in each of us who are brave enough to say “no” when something feels wrong, or “yes” when the path before us is too compelling to stay comfortably seated at home.

With all of the information now literally at our fingertips, it becomes ever more crucial to problem solve, deeply consider, and weigh outcome against proposition. Employing this level of inquiry and intuition will certainly bring you to a deeper understanding of your talents and abilities and will lead you to the teacher or academic path best suited to your style of learning and the true heart of knowledge.