Watching my dog during the course of a day and we begin to understand what motivates him. Dogs aren’t pretending. They aren’t acting. There’s no mask or false facade.
Michael is a Boston terrier. He reminds me a lot about myself, as different as we are. I’m not sure whether it’s the fact that I raised him like this or if he developed his little idiosyncratic traits on his own. He can be stubborn, needy, but he is also full of wisdom.
I often look at my dog and wonder if he is living a happy life. Sometimes he looks at me with those sad puppy eyes.
What’s a good life for a dog? And if Michael could teach me something about living, what would he teach me?
Perhaps he wants to teach me to be patient. How complicated is it for a human to have a conversation with another human? It takes years before we could go beyond crying and screaming to get what we need. To think that we have to communicate with an animal… How do we do it, except to be patient? We are learning a language of our own. A language that involves words and bodies. It’s more a conversation of emotions than it is of context. A dog doesn’t know I’m late for an appointment or that I have a very important presentation coming up. All he knows is that I’m stressed.
How do I get this dog to eat his dog food? Is it the food he doesn’t like? Is he not hungry? Or does it simply want it in another vessel? Like speaking, we begin to form messages through patterns. The word “Treat” has somehow resonated with Michael. The same way I perk up whenever I hear someone talking about burgers. He’s good with “sit” too. “Come” is a little harder to understand. But be patient, Michael would tell me and don’t get frustrated when we start speaking in different languages.
Michael doesn’t worry about his legacy. I try not to either. But I catch myself often wondering: What great works and ideas will I pass onto the next generation? I feel that thinking of the future in this way motivates me. But perhaps it causes me more stress than necessary. Why should I feel as though the future should be my responsibility? Why can’t I simply be this little bit of wonder that blinked briefly in time only greatly affecting those people closest to me? Can’t my legacy simply be like Michael’s to make those lives closest to his better?
There is a certain expectation for humans to contribute. As we’re now standing on the shoulder of giants of the past, we’re expected to lift up the next generation. However, it would be just as fine for me to make my primary goal to be good to those directly in my orbit as opposed to thinking of how I can greatly impact the whole universe.
When I was a kid, I dreamed of a life where every day would be unique. Every day full of new adventures. Such a life would never get boring. But that’s not a real life… that’s a storybook life, where all the dull bits are edited out. It is our routines that make up our lives — and so does a dog’s. All Michael wants is to have a routine that he enjoys and repeat it consistently for the rest of his life.
If you want to teach a dog tricks, you need to repeat it. You need to make learning a part of his routine. And so routines are the same for us. Yes, the dog may choose comfort but we can choose another objective for our routines. The key is that we must stick to it. What we choose for our routine is what makes up our lives.
What’s most interesting about Michael is how he takes up space. He always seems to find the most comfortable spot, it’s an amazing skill. As pleasure seeking animals, it’s easy to understand the appeal of comfort. There is this epicurean concept of necessary desire and unnecessary desire. Michael best represents what it means to be happy by chasing the right desires. My dog focuses on treats he likes and comfy spots to sleep in, but he doesn’t get caught up with the desires that curse humans.
He doesn’t get caught in the need to rise in social class or make more money to impress friends. There is no status he wants aside from reaching a certain level of comfortable. If nothing is causing him physical pain, he’s as happy as a nugget.
Michael doesn’t consider some invisible objective, he lives in the physical realm, where all that matters is whether he wants to be on pillows or stretch out on the entire bed. I try to be like him and live parts of my day in the present world — I think the best way to accomplish this is to take a nap. That’s how you fully indulge in it. To simply take up space in the physical world.
When you find it hard to be understood, when you are thinking too far into the future, and when you are getting too worried about something you want and don’t need — think of Michael and remember that while you are freaking out. He’s taking a nap.
Maybe you can use a nap as well.
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