A Lesson on Love, From the Dog: How Pacer has Taught Me to Love Unconditionally

5/29/2018

This is actually from my old blog and is about 4 years old.  However, it seemed fitting to share again on this blog.

[I’ve written other blogs previously on lessons we learn for dogs, but I believe the greatest lesson these four-legged and furry animals (or should I say sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews, grand dogs, etc.?) teach us is about love, and what it truly means to love.]

“Dear God, please help me to love myself as Pacer loves me.”

I wrote these words in my journal, not very long ago.

I was in the middle of reading Marianne Williamson’s “Return to Love” and I realized that I never truly thought about what it meant to love. I also realized then when I did love, it was often with conditional terms. “I love him, but not when he does that.” “I love her, but I can’t stand it when she’s acts like that.” Etc. Etc. But never were the terms of conditional love truer as when it came to loving myself.

My self-love and self-worth came with what I succeeded in, and often not succeeded in. At one point in my life this dealt with weight, grades, and basketball. More recently it dealt with my running times, job(s), and whether or not I thought I was doing anything worthwhile/making a difference in the world.

In other words, everything depended on the “if”. I only loved myself “if” I did this, I only loved myself “if” I achieved that.

Of course, I knew that kind of thinking wasn’t healthy. I tried to stray away from those thoughts. It helped a bit when I reminded myself that my family and friends loved me regardless.

However, it was until I thought about Pacer that I truly understood what it meant to love, and to love unconditionally.

With her, we fell onto that path naturally. From the moment she laid on my lap as we drove her home from North Carolina, our relationship was pure love, and that love went both ways. In fact, I love her so much, where I have nearly been in tears by just the thought of something bad happening to her.

I loved her despite the fact that on that trip home, she threw up in my lap.

I loved even though as a puppy, she nearly drove me insane.

I loved her even when she chewed my good running socks and I chased her for 20 minutes around the house, finally giving up in tears. And still when I let her outside to do her thing then wouldn’t come in back in, making me later for work, I still loved her.

Then there was the time I left the homemade veggie burgers on the counter, which she grabbed, ran, and devoured.

Image may contain: 1 person, snow and outdoor
Who chewed that?  Not me!

Image may contain: living room, table and indoor

 

She also has a protective and aggressive side, common I later learned, in herding dogs. With that, she bit someone (not a full on bit, but more of a bite you would give a sheep to get them in a circle). Instead of being mad at her, I cried at the thought of someone trying to take her away from me. (I decided a would run away with her before that would ever happen.)

She has surely cost us a small fortune, especially with “doggy boot camp”. (Once we had workers at our house, and I came home to my house set-up like a barricade…We forgot to put Pacer in her “place” and the workers shunned her off with plastic lids, closing doors, and putting couches in doorways. When I got through, Pacer was just sitting at the top of the staircase looking at me.)

Now, at 2 years old, things are much better, but she is still mischievous, rebellious, and full of energy.

For example, a few months ago “someone” left the garage open (which we never do) and she chewed my new pair of running shoes. (That “someone”, despite owning a running store, has still not yet gotten me a new pair.)

Speaking of running, I probably waste half of my energy on the trail telling her “No!”, “Pacer, back!” and “Leave it! (Squirrels are our friends, not food)”. And yet, she is still my favorite running partner.

Each time I get upset with her, the anger subsides minutes later. I forgive her, without even thinking about forgiving her.

I love her so much that any feeling of anger melts away. Lesson: Love is the only thing that matters, and should take precedence over everything else. (Reminder to self: Keep this in mind during next “difference of views”)

I love her, simply because she is my Pacer.

Thinking about it more, I realized she loves me unconditionally as well.

Never once when she was a puppy and I put her in her crate did she shun me when I came back home. I was, and still am, greeted with a wagging nub (her tail was docked) and much licking.

She loves me even when I accidently step on her paw.

And last year, when I accidently cut the skin on her ear while trying to get a knot out of her fur, she still forgave me (actually, it took me much longer to forgive myself.)

She loves me despite what job I have, if I had a bad day, made a mistake, and…despite how fast I run (however, she does prefer fast).

She simply doesn’t care about all those exterior things… She just loves me because, well, I am me.

And that’s enough.

A few months ago I wrote about my mom’s dog, Annabell, who has an incurable disease affecting her kidneys, causing her to piddle everywhere. Still, she is as energetic and playful as ever, plus the normal puppy mischief. My mom always tells everyone “all she wants it to be loved”.

That is so true!

And it’s true with all dogs.

Love is at the very essence of their being. And isn’t it so with us too? I think so.

Because of Pacer, I am learning what unconditional love is, and to bypass any imperfections in others, and in myself. (Isn’t perfect boring anyway?!?) It is definitely not easy. It takes practice.

But, it is worth it.

Even despite those chewed up $100 pair of shoes.

The Thief of Joyous Running

While this blog strays away a bit from my usual posts for this site as it is running related, I chose to write this anyway after 1) my sister suggested I write this and 2) running is often a microcosm and metaphor for life.  So even if you’re not a runner, I trust that you will find some meaning in my words.

“Hey Sandi…?”  Followed by a slightly awkward glance as the runner passes in the opposite direction.  In the brief moment our paths cross, I usually give a nod or small smile.  Should I say “hi”, tell him I’m not Sandi, or not say anything? By the time I think this over, I usually end up with the third option and just let the runner go by.

Usually, when someone calls me Sandi on the trail, I take this as a compliment.  You see, my twin sister is badass.  I mean, she is fast.  And strong.  Like about to represent the USA in the World Mountain Championships in Poland next month strong and fast.  And sometimes I just leave it at that.  Other times, I let my joy of trail running be stolen.  Who’s the thief you ask?  Myself and my habit of comparison.

2018 Salida half (2)
Me, Sandi, and her partner Sage after her win at the Run through Time Half Marathon in Salida.

Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States, said: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” *

Those words have held true for my most of my life.

Here’s a look at my thought process and downward spiral:

“I must not be that slow if they thought I was Sandi.”

“And maybe I’m not that much heavier.”

“Or maybe they think Sandi got slow and gained weight.”

“Why can’t I be as fast and skinny as Sandi?  We have the same genes!”

And so it goes.  Ugly right?  Makes one feel kinda crappy.

Why does this make me and, probably you, feel crappy?  Well one, my guess (or at least my hope so I don’t feel totally alone in this habit) is that you’ve had similar thoughts.  Second, when we compare or judge, it is usually a reflection of ourselves.  It has to do with our own lack of self-worth, feelings of not being good enough.  (So please, give yourself some compassion here!  You mostly have a wound from a past trauma or situation that made you feel like this.  Comparison and judgement are often the ego’s idea of self-protection.  It’s of course a false form of protection, but it helps to know this so we can learn and change the habit.)

I can’t tell you how many times comparison has been a dark cloud in my life.  I’ve compared myself to my classmates in grad school ‘They’re so smart! How did I get in?”, relationships “He’s so intelligent, handsome, and skinnier than me.  Why is he with me?” (that lead me to unconsciously act like a jerk that lead to the breakup), and even to all of the pro-athletes in Boulder that work out for hours each day and have bodies of gods and goddesses.

The funny thing is, when I truly reflect on where I am in life right now, I’m happy with where I am and with who I am.  I’m about to enter my 3rd year of graduate school in Naropa’s Transpersonal Wilderness Therapy program and work for SAGE Running part-time.  I don’t have time or energy to work out for hours and have 6-pack abs.  Which is totally fine! I rather be working to become an awesome therapist! I also have a wonderful partner who loves me and will call me out when I start to become “Judgey, McJudgey” (his words, not mine). My body is still exhausted from the extreme exercise and dieting in my younger years, but now I can still run for a few hour in the mountains with my dog.  That is happiness for me.  Life is truly amazing!

salida 2018
All smiles (and tongue) running with my best friend in Salida.

So recently, when I went on a 3-day solo as part of my Rites of Passage journey for my Transitions class (I know, I know- I did that for school! Again, totally awesome.) In addition to going into my 3-day solo with two intentions I wanted to honor for myself, I also considered the piece of me that I wanted to let go of.  I decided the piece of me that I wanted to let go of was my comparing self.  It may have served me in some ways over the years, tried to protect me, but I was ready to say “thank you, but I never want to see you again.”  I can’t say what went on during my 3 day solo, as I feel it is a bit too sacred to write in a blog, but what I can say is I focused on loving and honoring myself.  I found my beauty, deep within in me and in my body-including my curves and touching thighs.  Part of what I found was love for myself, which pushed out any need to compare myself to others.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that my comparing mind is gone for good.  It likes to sneak back in here and there.  But I’m on the lookout and ready to call it out when it rears it’s ugly head.  Like today, when I was beginning a run with my pup at Golden Gate Canyon State Park.  We were headed up a rocky trail that had a lot more vertical than I expected, and I was hiking.   There was an instant where I thought “I’m sure a lot of other runners could run up this.”  Then, the magic came.  I said to myself “Who cares?  Let’s just enjoy this time in nature with your best friend.  If you end up hiking a lot, then you just get to spend more time outside!  And I did hike a lot.  And I smiled a lot.  Which I actually think helped me save some energy to run at the end, in between my pup’s creek baths.  It was a beautiful, joyous morning.

0518180956
Pacer, distracted by another dog, while I try to take picture at Golden Gate Canyon State Park.

I’m sure there is someone our there thinking “But comparison is a motivator, it makes you want to get better.”  And maybe it does.  My issue with comparison in running is the “beat the other guy/woman” piece.  The ego steps in.  I’m not enlightened enough to say that comparison and ego are always bad, but at least from what I’ve witnessed, ego and comparison might help get you ahead for a bit, but it doesn’t last.  In looking at elite runners, the ones who continue to win are the ones who have an internal motivator, the ones who continue to find joy in what they do.  Looking at all runners, the ones who are often able to run for years are the ones who can do so with less comparison and with more focus on the process.  They have an inner drive, a gratitude for their own ability, and a sense of play whenever they get outside.

With that being said, I’m definitely not perfect.  But when those clouds of comparison begin block out my light, I’m learning to see the thoughts for what they are and bust my rays right through them.   Then I get back to playing with my dog.

With Joy,

 

Ray

 

*Okay, maybe comparison isn’t always bad: https://medium.com/thrive-global/roosevelt-was-wrong-comparison-is-not-the-thief-of-joy-9e490cd6225