verge (vʉrj)
the edge, brink, or margin (of something): also used figuratively the verge of the forest, on the verge of hysteria

to tend or incline (to or toward)
to be in the process of change or transition into something else; pass gradually (into) dawn verging into daylight

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Dogtorate Degree: The Art of the Paws

I am a card-carrying, licensed dog walker.  Most people probably could have grabbed a leash, fetched a dog, and slapped a business card on the cafe bulletin board to earn the same credentials.  But I'm a slower learner, and I have a tendency to take the most indirect route possible, usually landing far off from where I intended.  If I had a dime for each time I've wondered how I got here, I'd be walking with dogs in Ipanema, Taormina, Costa Rica or Argentina.

For whatever reason, I was born with only 2 buttons: Stop and Fast Forward.  I lack the standard-issue Pause button which turns out to be an essential tool for dog walkers.  [And, as a side note, I can't quite prioritize tasks either.  When I first get home at night, I (still) chaotically shout hello, drill through the mail, start the rice, check Facebook updates while texting my boss, and go piddle (dog walker-ese for pee) all at the same time, creating quite the spectacular frenzy. This is where a Pause button would come in handy.]  Instead, I've had to manually install my own button which I've created with the leftover spare parts from other projects of mine over the years.

A Pause button initiates listening. And I mean really listening. Here's how to listen: get yourself a cello and play some chamber music. With the help of Brahms or Schumann, you'll pull your head out of your own busy sounds to listen with curiosity to what the first violinist is saying, responding with a contrasting idea, or maybe an echo, and in the most sincere way. And if you listen really closely, you'll hear that it isn't always your turn to respond. It might be someone else's. This requires patience and waiting for others. It also sometimes requires jumping in and then jumping back out. The uniqueness of your contribution is built, paradoxically, on your very careful and attentive listening to others.  Listen as if all that existed was that sound. Get so curious about what you're hearing that you vanish into its center.  You'll need to apply this kind of curiosity when you play with your dog. He'll need you to listen that closely.

And after you've started listening, go back to school (yes, again) to study learning. Dive into human development so you can understand your maturity or, as in my case, immaturity.  Study the essence of your confusion and find it's correlation to understanding.  Learn to teach so that you can be taught.  Your dog needs you to not know everything.  Your dog has much to teach you.   Paws to understand (Forgive me for that sentence. I couldn't help myself).

And finally, now that you're listening and learning, throw everything you think you understand into mid-air, let it scatter and step out of the way, letting someone else (like your dog) catch it. Notice what this understanding looks like to him.   Hold his understanding as absolute truth, and meet your dog right where he is, as he is.  Hold his true nature, while helping him to soften his rough edges and allowing his best traits to emerge.  As therapists, we call this unconditional positive regard. We strut around like we invented it (but we didn't).

With a little listening, some understanding, and an ability to meet your dog right as he is, you have all the components of a Pause button.  Mine is firmly attached although I have not yet found a way to set it on autopilot.  Each walk still requires a manual reset on my part.  But without this Pause button, I wouldn't be dog-walking, I'd be just walking--with a dog.  And when I'm actually dog-walking, then I see that he instinctively pauses (yes, instinctively!) and sniffs a lot. He pays such attention to scents and sounds that don't begin to register with my senses.  Apparently, there is much more happening on the surface of the earth than my senses and skills can discern.  He's pointing me there.

And I'm kind of getting curious about that...

Perhaps there's a dogtoral program out there for me.  Of course for such an undertaking I'd have to learn to prioritize tasks and my side-tracks.  Maybe I'll have to start by practicing my nightly entrance home a few more times. But just maybe these dogs can teach old me new tricks.

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