Like many, I spent the bulk of this past year held up, alone, in my tiny, yet seemingly quaint, 750 square-foot one bedroom apartment. Well, me and my dog, Simba, that is. As challenging as 2020 was, I truly could not have imagined going through it without the companionship of my furry confidant. I would have fallen off the wagon long ago - guaranteed.
Apart from the obvious added benefit of his companionship, I’m somewhat convinced that I’ve actually learned more from Simba than well, just about anything or anyone… Amidst my ample quarantined downtime and reveling, depressingly dark nights of self-reflection - aka, no longer avoidable trauma - I managed to construct the following list of lessons learned from my dog in 2020.
Lesson #1: The power of pause, of presence
One thing’s for certain… I spent far more of 2020 disconnected from my body than actually connected. A bit of an odd observation, I know. Days would pass before I so much as noticed my breath. Disorienting feelings grew from moments to chapters, and before I knew it, the blanketed fog became all too familiar. Wandering about in a perpetual state of bewilderment, not knowing up from down… And the gold medal for this year’s trauma olympics goes to ***drum roll... well, the entire fucking year.
And therein lies Simba... To all my fellow dog lovers out there, have you ever just sat there, I mean truly sat there, and observed your dog? Really just wondered, with an engaged sense of curiosity, what could possibly be so interesting to have captivated you in such a deep, contemplative trance? Now, I’ll admit, I’m arguably the least qualified veterinarian on the entire planet, however, I’m convinced that there is never a moment in which dogs are not fully present. Let that sink in for a moment… Can you imagine what that must actually be like? To be FULLY in every. Single. Moment. To live immersed in presence.
I’ve ferociously read hundreds of authors throughout my lifetime - wisdom holders ranging across nearly every discipline - and yet, every single one of them has so graciously reminded me, that the most accessible yet complex gift we as humans will ever possess is the power and ability to be fully present. And yet, my dog of four-years is somehow the Jedi fucking Master of this gift. Humbling, I know.
For all the viscerally reactive, blood pumping moments of 2020 - of which, I can assure you, there was no shortage - there was never a moment that Simba didn’t somehow bring me back to presence. No matter the headline or the newsreel or the internalized suffering that I most certainly felt at any given moment, one look at him, and I just knew. I knew that he felt and held whatever it is that I was holding, and yet, he still lived immersively amidst gratitude. Me - shouting profanities and epithets at the television screen news hour... Simba - chewing on his rubber kong toy with all but a single fuck given - peanut butter. Yes, sometimes, it truly is that simple.
Simba has helped me to better understand that when we fail to be present, we are infinitely disconnected from our bodies and, therefore, ourselves. Disconnectedness is an inability to feel or discover true and absolute joy. Presence, however, the most powerful and readily available resource on the planet - is an inlet to a bottomless reservoir that is joy. Personally, that doesn’t sound all too bad after the shit storm that was 2020.
The point is this. Joy and suffering need not to be understood as separate entities. I’m unequivocally convinced they are, in fact, just the opposite of that; they are quite conjoined and inseparable. Sorta like that sibling of yours who is never not a pain in your ass. The one who possesses a penchant for taking years off your life from their consistently awful and poor judgement and decision making, and yet, you know you’ll never stop loving them, no matter the cause. Yes, just like that. Presence teaches us that joy and suffering are at one - a harmonious coexistence of sorts. Simba taught me that.
Stay tuned for next week's read where we dive into lesson number two of, Lessons From My Dog During Quarantine.