"Just Chew it": Lessons from my dog on a life fully lived
Yesterday I had the honor of sitting down for lunch with 7 friends at the impeccably delicious Del Frisco's Grille to give a "talk" on one of my favorite topics: "Turning a new leaf." I love new beginnings, and with the Jewish New Year just a day or so behind us, my season of renewal is upon me. What I've come to understand about the passage of time is that we need definitive breaks on a scheduled basis to help us divide our lives into chapters. Without these marked beginnings and endings, there would be no room for recalibration, clean slates and acknowledgement of progress. What I also love about starting anew is the opportunity it brings for me to remember what's really important. The day before yesterday, I was in Yom Kippur services with my congregation and during a journaling workshop a friend of mine asked everyone in the room to visualize what they wanted for the next several years of their lives. When the session was over and some of us gathered outside the room afterward, we discussed a common thread among our visualizations: they weren't nearly as much about achievements and acquisitions as they were about feelings and connections. While most of us expressed that it's taken us a while to realize that feelings of joy and true connection with loved ones is truly the "good stuff" of life, my dog seems to have had this concept down since day 1.
Hampton, our 6-year-old Golden Doodle, is clearly an adopted child of mine. No being with my DNA would have such an inherent capacity for laying, napping, eating with abandon, and letting anyone and everyone pet him instead of pulling his own hair out over a deadline. Of course, most dogs are this way, but just because there's a bit of species differentiation doesn't mean I can't take notes on a thing or two that his species is doing right.
In my own life, I place a lot of emphasis on achievement, growth and progress. I grew up believing I always needed to be doing something, and the freedom my dog feels to just sleep in on Saturday (or any day) is not a feeling that comes naturally to me. Thus, I take notes. I watch as the world's happiest animal freely enjoys what makes him the happiest, and I realize that we're probably not too different. For Hampton, it's the simple things that bring the most joy. Of course, in a human world full of complicated things, it's easy to get caught up when you're not on a leash and no one is stopping you from getting into your car and out into the world and getting all riled up.
Dogs also don't have smartphones. They can't sit on their phone on Facebook while the best movie ever is playing and miss the whole thing. They can't take their phones on walks with them - they have to look around and smell the grass and focus only on the nature around them (and finding the perfect place to poop, of course.) They don't have the constant distractions that we humans have. They get to be present and take in the world around us and make us wonder why we thought we needed so many distractions to begin with.
In the Jewish religion and tradition, we are commanded to observe Shabbat from sundown on Friday night to sundown on Saturday. Each weekend, I unplug as much as I can during that 24-hour-period and make like my favorite furry pal: I take in the peacefulness of silence, the warmth of my cup of coffee, the lack of madness from not having to get in my car and go anywhere for a long while. After I've stopped twitching and come down from my full-blown technology addiction, I get to soak in the good stuff. I get to connect with people face to face. I get to just lay down. I get to do what really matters.
But stress can make us feel like we can't do that on every other day of the week. Most of us go to work each day to do what we need to do and leave our dogs at home to do the laying while we do the hair-pulling. We aren't dogs. We have responsibilities, and as Monday becomes Wednesday and then becomes Friday, those responsibilities wear and tear at us until we forget what's important again. Like the Nike ad we grew up with, we head out the door every day to "Just DO it" while our dog stays home to "Just chew it." Our dogs get fed when we leave, fed when we get home, and walked when they need to be walked. Everything is taken care of for them, no stress or mania required. By the time our day is over, some of us might even find ourselves pretty jealous of their all-inclusive situation.
I have obligations that Hampton doesn't have because I'm a human adult - that's obvious. I'm grateful that while my life can often be stressful, I get to have the experiences and relationships and emotions and triumphs that being human allow me. That said, when it comes to my pursuit of happiness specifically, I observe the furry experts. If you want real, unabashed joy, there's no doubt that our dogs are on to something. The joy isn't on the other side of the grindstone. We don't have to run out our front door and knock down everything in our path. No, when it comes to peace, quiet, love, connection, and all those wonderful, simple things, there's nothing complicated about it. Like fresh grass and a good spot to lie down on, they're all right there in front of us.