Puppy Wisdom


Recently I was asked, "Who are your wisdom mentors?" After some reflection I generated the following list. First and foremost is Mom, who treated me as an equal from our earliest conversations and who continues to embrace new learning every day. Second is Yoda. I've re-discovered the wrinkled little Jedi master as my children have taken their own journey through the epic Star Wars series. “You must unlearn what you have learned” is just one of my favorite Yoda maxims.  Finally, there is Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk who through his beautifully distilled writings has made mindfulness and meditation accessible to people around the world, including me. (The beloved 88 year-old monk recently suffered a brain hemorrhage but he is currently stable and in excellent care.) I need to add one more name to that illustrious list, that of Finnegan, our 10-month old puppy. So at the risk of writing in platitudes, I'm going to blog about my dog.

For over a decade our children negotiated with us for a dog to call their own. My ready response was that I had no need to take care of yet another digestive track. My husband pointed to the significant expenses and responsibilities associated with a furry family member. The cons far outweighed the pros. However, the kids eventually wore us down. The one pro, LOVE, prevailed.

You may wonder, how could a puppy make it on to my short list of gurus? There are the obvious reasons. The necessity of the daily walk has given him time to wander and me time to ponder. Whatever the season, he exudes sheer joy in discovering Nature's gifts. Nosing a crocus pushing up through melting ice, taking a nap in the cool shade of a primordial fern, chasing a leaf in its final spiral down to earth, kicking up clouds of newly fallen snow.

Finnegan reminds me to take pleasure in the simple sensory things: a fresh gust of air, a drink of clear water, a full stomach, a warm fire, curling up next to someone special. As he sleeps I notice the quickness of his breath. His first birthday is fast approaching. In dog years he will be seven. Next year he'll be one of three teenagers in the household. It's a short life. Every day matters.

There are also the less obvious lessons from my four-legged guide. Of late I have found myself recalling the work of Angeles Arrien's Four-Fold Way, which I referenced often in my early days as a facilitator. I haven't explicitly thought about these principles for many years, but hanging out with Finnegan has brought them back to mind. The late Angeles Arrien, PhD, was a cultural anthropologist whose work was widely applied in medicine, academia and corporations. I have found the four-fold practices to be impactful at the individual, team and organizational level. Here they are with Finnegan’s take in italics:

Show up & choose to be present. Greet people at the door with a full body hello.

Pay attention to what has heart and meaning. Focus on who is in front of you rather than who is in your electronic device. 

Tell the truth without blame or judgment. All animals do this. We provide non-negotiable feedback without an agenda.

Be open to outcome, not attached to outcome. While I am perennially eager to go for a walk or receive a treat, I'm also perfectly receptive to a good scratch behind the ear. 

I have much more to learn from my dog, I'm sure. It goes to show, we may find our best teachers in unlikely places.

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