The Present Tense Of A Dog

posted January 30, 2014

When I was younger I spent most of my time in my head. It was muddled but cozy. It was the only head I’d been inside and it seemed like so much was going on in there. When I spent time with others I thought about their heads and figured it couldn’t possibly be as muddy in there. I wasn’t down on myself, or maybe I was, but mostly it was an ignorant presumption I made, a self-inflation I failed to recognize for years. It was an unconscious elevation of my muddled thoughts, or an excuse really to stay out of the now.

Every so often the world would come into focus.

Not the “world” I imagined in my head, which was something that was an ongoing analysis and critique based on a whopping few years of life experience, but the actual world. I’d notice a particularly lustrous sunrise or sunset, or something of that nature. Something huge. Coming from the muddy and intellectual brooding of my head I’d think, wow, take a look at that world! There was always an element of presumptive enlightenment to it, like I was sure people were missing it and I was uncovering something as hard to find and uncommon as the whole sky. The world was probably already noticing it. The world probably noticed those things a lot more than I normally did.

Like so many white males living in a privileged society I didn’t make much of myself in my 20’s while still maintaining a highly favorable image of myself.

At some point though I think that falls apart for every man-child, thankfully. I eventually got sick of the muddled state of my brain and realized its feelings of importance and depth were a complete illusion. The mud was wide, but not very deep.

So I read a bunch of books by super smart people, subjected myself to Tai Chi masters with annoying and grumpy shih tzus, tried everything and anything to capture that “living in the moment” crap everyone said was so important.

I did manage to learn that it is, in fact, important. And I made some headway. I cleared a lot of the mud. The more I lived in the present tense the more I lived with the people around me. And not just the friends and family, but the guys and gals I came in contact with everyday. I’d still retreat into the workings of my brain everyday, but I stopped mistaking that tendency as a wonderful and unique experience I alone was going through. The world, the real one, was out there. The workings of my mind were never again “the world.”

I still struggle with that, but now I have a puppy.

My first puppy. What I imagined it would be like to have a dog and what the reality is aren’t completely different, but they’re different enough to allow me to discard my expectations. It’s easy to let go of those ideas I had before the experience in this case because reality is so much nicer than even my best case fantasy of dog ownership.

It’s not easy though. It’s way harder than I imagined.

I thought I’d take my hound for a run everyday and in 60-90 minutes tucker her out. The rest of the time she would just be cute and obedient and so, so appreciative of what a great owner I was. If you’re a dog owner go ahead and take a minute to laugh.

It’s obvious that my dog loves me, but some of the time she couldn’t care less what I’d like her to do.

The love doesn’t translate always into good behavior. She still needs direction and I still need to do a little work myself. The contents of my brain, those ideas my dog should just always come when I call and be perfect because I treat her well, are hilariously inaccurate.

What I can do is communicate with her. That means paying attention to her and to the events going on in that moment. A dog’s brain is capable of great storage. Tula can sit, stay, lay down, sit on her back legs, touch this bell with her nose when she needs to go outside to pee, etc. No problem.

When she’s just being herself, just being a dog, she is completely in the moment.

Which means a few things. For one it means the world is an incredibly exciting place. If she’s at home all those commands she knows, easy peasy. But it’s one thing to hear “come” from my office and have her leave the kitchen or cat alone and chill quietly with me, and another thing entirely to hear “come” when she is running through the trails chasing birds and meeting other puppies.

The present tense is a strong and wonderful place. As frustrating as it can be to have a puppy, they are really great for proving to me daily that all that stuff in my head is not more potent and filled with possibility than all the stuff the world presents to me at any point in any day.

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