My daughter’s dog Baguette treats every dog who shows up in her life as if that dog is there to play. My dog, Jackson, is the opposite. He’s typically aggressive toward other dogs. He’s a rescue, eleven pounds, a long-haired Chihuahua, and thirteen years old. I was never able to find out his history, but I’m sure he has good reasons for what he does. He’s not great with small children, or changes in routine, either.
I had no clue about the root of his
aggressiveness until the day a friend of mine invited me to bring Jackson over
to meet her six small dogs. My friend said she might be able to help him get
along with others and play nice, even late in his life. With her assistance, I
was happy to give Jackson a test, or more accurately, a pup quiz.
My friend is experienced with dogs and wasn’t as concerned about his aggressiveness as I was. She said it was important that no dog be on a leash for this event, that we should allow the dogs to work things out naturally with each other. But just in case the experiment went awry, her husband was poised (water hose in hand) to break up a fight.
After Jackson had acclimated to her yard, she let all six of her dogs out of the house and they ran toward him in a friendly pack, happy tails wagging. Jackson was overwhelmed. He fell completely silent, and his body language spoke volumes. He sat down. He cowered.
My heart went out to him. Until that moment, honestly, I had no idea he was so terrified. That moment taught me about the true nature of aggressiveness, that aggressiveness is fear masquerading as authority or power.
Now, back to Baguette.
Up to this point, my daughter, MacKenzie, and I
had mostly kept our dogs apart because, frankly, it was a lot of work to have
them in the same room. But after that revealing encounter with six small dogs,
I wondered how Jackson might do with another chance with Baguette.
We scheduled a rendezvous at my house in the country, so that Baguette and Jackson had plenty of room to get to know each other better. We introduced them to each other outside, with no leashes. I took a deep breath and figured if anyone could make things turn out happy-go-lucky, Baguette could.
Top dog Baguette was a little surprised about Jackson’s style, but she took him in stride. She played his way. She was faster and much bigger than Jackson, and able to get out of his way easily, or take a flying leap over him if necessary, which she did once. She did whatever it took to play with his lunges, and did so happily and at full tilt. It seemed to Mac and me that Baguette was having great fun, almost as if she found Jackson’s aggressive moves hilariously entertaining! He certainly offered a new game for her. The more Jackson ran after her, barking and upset, the more Baguette invited it. How brilliant!
Then Baguette did an amazing thing. She began to imitate Jackson. When he barked, she barked right back as if to say, “Oh, so that’s how you like it!” If Jackson ran after her, she’d run away, and then turn around and chase him right back. This caught him off guard at first, because he didn’t interpret it as playful, and it threw him into a little more fear. Usually, his fear propelled him to run after her again, which is exactly what she was after. Essentially, Baguette welcomed whatever Jackson did and turned it into play.
Jackson wore himself out expressing his fear. It
required a great deal of energy to run, bark, defend, and pursue. Eventually,
he slowed down. When Jackson rested, Baguette hunkered down in a playful way
about ten feet away from him, gazed at him, and waited. She gave him time to
catch his breath. But after a bit, he didn’t come after her, so she barked a
happy invitation. When that didn’t rouse him, she went directly to him,
smelled him, and poked him gently with her paw to encourage him to go after her
and continue the game.
Baguette is clearly a four-legged Aikido Master. She never resisted him—she welcomed Jackson’s actions and turned all of it into fun. She received him right where he was, inviting him to do more of the very thing he was already doing. She didn’t overpower him, manage him, reprimand him or growl. She bounded about as if Jackson was the most delightful and interesting friend she’d ever met.
Eventually, her play and his fear turned into
play on both sides. We noticed Jackson’s tail wagging happily as he barked.
Jackson was tired and happy after it was over, as if his fear had been drawn
out of him like a long ribbon. He seemed lighter and less concerned, more
relaxed and confident. We thought he seemed quite pleased with himself about
how things turned out.
We could all learn a little from Baguette, don’t
you think? And from Jackson as well.
We could apply Baguette’s built-in brilliance to our own lives. We could learn how to be authentically playful, for instance, instead of aggressive, impatient, flippant, or even hateful, with partners and ex-partners. I watched the practically impossible happen with Jackson and he’s a better dog since Baguette ran circles around his fear as if his fear was un-seeable and therefore Jackson’s fear mattered not at all to her. She could only decode his actions as reason to express herself fully—to play in a light-hearted way.
Around Baguette, maybe Jackson’s fear
transformed. Maybe it lifted. Maybe it emptied out of him or some kind of magic
alchemy occurred. Who knows? But what I saw, heard and felt was the wonder of
how she decoded his actions: he was playing with her. And so, eventually, he
played. Gradually, he matched her interpretation of him. Jackson was able to
experience being with her in a happier state than he had been accustomed to
around another dog.
Baguette played with Jackson in a way that demonstrated he was friendship-worthy, and that their time together could be enjoyable. She decoded his actions in a way that blessed them both. And by the way, what a good and fortunate thing to have a friend who can’t see your fear, or see your actions as a problem. What a wonderful thing to have a friend who knows how to play, even when you’re afraid. How full of grace is the moment when a friend knows how to include everything and love anyway.
One evening in my local grocery store, I was shopping in the Italian food section. A few aisles away, a child was in the middle of a loud tantrum. Just as the extra-loud part of the tantrum revved up, a southern grandma walked by me. She was wearing a frumpy sweater and odd-looking pants, and walked with a slight limp. She had heard this child (along with everyone else in the store) and commented aloud as she passed me, “Somebody oughta just whoop that child and teach him a thing or two.”
You know how a whole lot can go through your mind in a few quick seconds, including detailed visuals?
To me, this grandma was a little
scary. I found myself thinking maybe she was limping ’cause she had whooped a
few too many in her day. Or maybe she had underestimated one
“whoopee” who had whooped back. Maybe she’d whooped so many, she’d
over-exerted. Perhaps it was her calling to whoop. Maybe she was a grandma that
whooped her whole family regularly, and had done so that very day even, and now
she was tired and limping.
I wondered what it was like to be a child in her home. What was her point of view on cruelty and kindness? How had her parents treated her and what had she concluded from that treatment? Had she changed over the years, and if so, how? As you can see, I was on a roll in my imagination. She seemed disgusted, angry, old and tired.
Then I noticed my Inner Guidance kick in—and it threw a flag on the play. A whistle blew right there inside me in the grocery store and my awareness snapped to attention. “Oh, there it is!” I thought. “I’m manufacturing a negative story about this grumpy grandma.”When I imagined her possible past evils, I felt negative emotion.
How did my Inner Being throw a flag on the play? By me experiencing a negative emotion. The grandma’s some-body-oughta-whoop-comment in passing required nothing from me. I could have received it, accepted it, let it go. However, I made up a judgmental story in my mind about her, and my Inner Being let me know (through negative emotion) that I did that.
Because I was paying attention
(good for me), I noticed the negative thoughts (judgments about Grandma) were
followed by negative emotion (ouch in my heart). In other words, it hurt to
think what I was thinking. My thinking caused me to come to conclusions about
her, which created an outcome—I felt stressed. Afraid. Worried.
Imagining the grandmother’s past
actions showed up as a tight heart in me. Wasn’t it good of my faithful
guidance system to alert me about my thinking? Believing my thoughts about Grandma
(my made up, stressful opinions) wasn’t going to help me or her, or any of
those already whooped children in any way.
I stood still for a while after she walked on. I didn’t respond verbally to her, but she knew I heard her—we made direct eye contact. I took a moment to notice I was not in a state of love or acceptance. I also noticed that I preferred to return to a more loving state within myself, if at all possible. My way of finding my way back to center, to God, to Love, is to get quiet. So I got quiet. No use having two people in pain.
Limping Grandma reminded me of a truth: thinking unloving thoughts is like giving yourself a good whoopin’.
Silently, I thanked her, and said a
little prayer right there in the grocery store holding the pasta sauce that had
not yet made it into my cart. It must have looked a little odd, me holding
marinara sauce in quiet contemplation. In these ordinary moments, a grandmother
in pain becomes an unlikely angel. After all, she gave me one of the best
reminders possible about how to be gentle to myself, and I listened.
What a beautiful gift this unhappy, oddly dressed, limping, stern woman with missing teeth gave me. She reminded me that I have access to wisdom within. Because of this grandmother, my thoughts turned to masters like Jesus and Buddha and Muhammad and the blessed Mother Teresa, right there in the middle of an ordinary evening of food shopping in my local grocery store.
One thing I was pretty sure of:
this grandmother was doing the best she knew how.
I thought about how Mother Teresa visited the sick and suffering and simply opened her compassionate heart. She received them with love, nothing but love. I decided to become Mother Teresa—at least give it my best shot. I can tell you that pretending to be Mother Teresa relieved the pain of my judgment.
Grazie, sei molto gentile. (Thanks, you are very kind.)
When it comes to sensuality—being fully present in our five senses—we most often think of it as a way we feel when we are most vital and alive. We feel the touch of a partner’s hand, the sound of a loved one’s laugh. We enjoy the taste of chocolate or salted caramel. We smell the heavenly aromas of coffee and cinnamon at our local bakery. As we stroll through April gardens, our eyes feast on the wash of Spring colors.
We don’t often consider the profound healing impact of sensuality as it applies to the full spectrum of living—life all the way to death. But being a caregiver changed that for me. Even the experience of decline and death holds sensuality.
I remember near the end of my husband’s life, as the days became increasingly challenging for him, how his senses contributed mightily to the quality of his remaining time. Eric loved looking out the window by his bed. Even though he couldn’t eat much, he loved the smell of desserts baking. His cat was his constant companion, and a source of hours of comfort. Sitting near his bed while reading, I propped a book against my knees with my left hand, the other on Eric’s shoulder while he fell asleep.
Early on a March morning in 2017, Eric took his last breath. His once strong, naturally athletic 175 pound body had wasted away from cancer into practically nothing. But dying meant he was finally pain free. His death was a relief, and also the most unholy measure of grief I have ever experienced.
A few minutes after Eric died, my daughter, MacKenzie, and I walked into his room, and to our surprise, we felt elation. It was the very last emotion we could have predicted—that we would feel jubilation!—but there it was, full-on ecstasy as if every particle of air was celebrating his release. MacKenzie turned to me, and I to her, as she said, “Oh, wow, do you feel that?” I nodded in wonder. The rapture became so intense that we began to laugh softly, with our hands on our hearts. Eric had become a thousand pieces of light. We joined in and let ourselves feel the joy of it.
After time to fully appreciate the exhilaration, we wrapped Eric in his favorite blanket, put a bouquet of woodland flowers in his arms, and spent a luxurious couple of hours with his body. It might sound truly odd to say, but Eric’s death was a sensual experience.
There were all the sensual moments taking care of him, followed by the truth of his passing—the joy and elation—along with the broken-heartedness of saying goodbye. Even grief is a sensual experience. Feeling the depth of my love for him and the anguish of the loss of his physical presence was intense, especially for the first year. It has taken time to orient myself to life without him, and gradually, to begin to imagine meeting and building a life with a new partner.
Three years later, I’m feeling more spacious and open. The thought of meeting men feels pleasant, even natural. In fact, lately I’m reminded of sensual experiences from my past, and how important they were in my development as a woman. In my thirties, I had been casually dating a guy I enjoyed—he was kind, with an open heart. We had been sensual with each other, but not sexual. One evening he called to say his best friend was coming to town, and asked if the two of them could “share me.”
Of course I asked what that meant, exactly.
His idea was to “put me in the middle,” that we would go on a date as a threesome. No sex, but plenty of touching, kissing, and hugging, as if we three had been long-time friends. He asked if I could I be with them intimately—equally? He asked how I felt about having four hands on me, which made me laugh.
After discussion, I felt safe and good about what he was asking for. Besides, my friend was my kind of handsome, and I loved the way he had treated me so far. I agreed to join the two of them for a night on the town.
This beautiful man and his best friend did, in fact, put me in the middle for our evening out. The three of us hooked arms, and strolled around Los Angeles as if glued together. Nobody was drunk or high, and I loved that, too.
What developed for us that evening felt sacred—that we felt a sensual appreciation for each other in a way that was beautiful, free and natural. Our connection with each other felt soft around the edges, as gentle as floating on the surface of a smooth lake on a warm summer evening. We brushed across each other. Touches were as light as a butterfly landing on a flower, kisses were both intense and fleeting.
After a long and elaborate African meal, which we ate with our fingers, we went dancing. All three of us danced together for hours, in creative, sensual, and ever-evolving ways. Neither of them ever crossed the line or changed their mind mid-way. I must confess that there were points during the evening where I was oh-so-tempted to bend the rules, but the two of them gently ushered me back to center. They shared me and treated me with love, care, and protection, just as they’d promised.
At the end of the evening, they double-wrapped themselves around me as the thanking began. I expressed my appreciation for one of the most beautiful experiences I had ever had. Many years later, it still is. They offered hilarious and tender re-enactments of what they loved most about being together. The front door goodbye was a long one.
To this day, the kindness of that evening remains in my heart. Being a goddess surrounded by strong, sacred masculine energy for ten hours straight is an experience that still feels as sensual, holy and good as the night it happened. Because of them, my appreciation and expression of my sensual self blossomed, and to this day continues to grow.
While life’s hustle and bustle might cause us to overlook the healing power of our senses, perhaps one exhilarating early morning walk with our dog as the light comes up, as the birds begin to call to one another, encourages us to remember to move through our days more awake to our senses.
The world is both golden and dangerous. It is wrought with fear, and brimming with love. To miss this depth and breadth is to miss the pulse, the spirit of being alive. At the end of a life, we don’t care so much about the fever-pitch of accomplishment, but rather—have I lived with reverence, knowing that I’m a little harbor that opens to a vast ocean? Did I allow myself the enjoyment of the many ways Earth offers pleasure? Am I open to my new Spring? Today, have I let my spirit soar?
You’re broken down and tired Of living life on a merry go round And you can’t find the fighter But I see it in you so we gonna walk it out And move mountains We gonna walk it out And move mountains
And I’ll rise up I’ll rise like the day I’ll rise up I’ll rise unafraid I’ll rise up And I’ll do it a thousand times again And I’ll rise up High like the waves I’ll rise up In spite of the ache I’ll rise up And I’ll do it a thousand times again
For you For you For you For you
When the silence isn’t quiet And it feels like it’s getting hard to breathe And I know you feel like dying But I promise we’ll take the world to its feet And move mountains Bring it to its feet And move mountains
And I’ll rise up I’ll rise like the day I’ll rise up I’ll rise unafraid I’ll rise up And I’ll do it a thousand times again
For you For you For you For you
All we need, all we need is hope And for that we have each other And for that we have each other And we will rise We will rise We’ll rise, oh, oh We’ll rise
I’ll rise up Rise like the day I’ll rise up In spite of the ache I will rise a thousand times again And we’ll rise up High like the waves We’ll rise up In spite of the ache We’ll rise up And we’ll do it a thousand times again
During this strange time in history, I noticed y’all were tackling all sorts of interesting projects. I decided I needed one, too—something positive to remember the pandemic of 2020 by.
I decided to pay attention to something I had abandoned…
Nope, I’m not cleaning my garage. I am not organizing one single thing. I’m not planting a garden or cleaning up my yard.
Instead, I decided to take care of myself better. This, folks, has made all the difference for me.
With relatively little time and effort on my part, I feel so much better than I did a month ago.
On March 30, I got on the exercise bike and the yoga mat for the first time in a long time, and did 30 minutes each. I liked it so much that I decided to do it every day. But I fell short of that, and changed my commitment to every other day, which felt more manageable, reasonable, and doable.
I also get off the bike after every song, take a couple of sips of water, shake out my legs and arms for a few seconds, and get back on. This makes the bike project a reasonable proposition, too.
Daily walks of any length—by myself, or with my little guy, Jackson—are a fresh air bonus.
My recumbent exercise bike has pulleys to work my upper body while I pedal, which gets my heart rate up fast, and also helps my whole-body strength. It feels good to get up from writing, or doing a consulting session with a client, to do something physically challenging while listening to good music.
After only a month, I feel a sheet of muscles on the front of me I haven’t felt for a very, very long time. Goodness gracious. Who knew they were there. I’ll be posting rippling ab photos soon, I’m sure.
I have no idea what the scales have to say about my bike/yoga project—I don’t care. Paying attention to scales tends to send me sideways, and therefore, I’m ignoring them completely.
But—I LOVE the way I feel! Hang in there, everyone.