In CVS one afternoon, I walked past the aisle of glossy magazines telling me whose marriage was falling apart. And who had a bikini body three months post-pregnancy and how much salad I need to eat to lose weight. Why Donald Trump was going to ruin or save America and why I needed to purchase this wrinkle-prevention cream and how I needed to fix my life. I reminded myself that life is not a thing.
Life is not something I own.
Life is what I share with my sister and the dogs at the shelter down the street and my mother and the trees. I reminded myself that I can’t know how long I will get to experience this gift of life. But that I’m not very interested in arriving at some future, shinier, more improved version of me. I’m not interested in old resolutions from last year. I’m interested in the here and now.
Please understand, I am not usually this aware. My thoughts – repetitive and often a tad bit crazy – create a vast space between myself and the moment I’m actually in. Yesterday, for example, I found my keys in the fridge. Right next to the coffee creamer. And when I told my husband about it, he said, “Yep, sounds like you, honey.”
A part of me wonders if I will always be that girl leaving her keys in the fridge, forgetting her purse, running late no matter how early I wake up. Most of the time I am not a human being, but rather a human doing. Rushing from one activity to the next.
Slowing down to find joy
But at 2 p.m, on a Saturday at CVS, I felt an immense need to slow down, and a surge of resistance to the messages all-surrounding me. Marie Claire called their issue: “The Next Big Thing Issue.” Cosmopolitan’s main headline: “New Year, New Booty!” Quizfest featured pictures of Ariana Grande and One Direction along with the headline, “Find the true YOU!”
And something deep inside me said NO. NO to the next big thing. NO to a new booty. NO to a better or truer me. NO to the idea that we all have an unlimited amount of time on this planet.
I said NO to wasting that time wishing I was a different person living a different life in a different body.
The resistance and sensitivity I felt probably had to do with the fact that I’d just left the animal shelter where I volunteer. At the end of my shift, I found out that three Dachshund puppies had passed away. Only one week earlier, they’d nuzzled their tiny heads into my chest. Their tails wagging with joy, their bodies wrinkly with skin they had yet to grow into. Just about everything seemed to thrill them. The sound of my voice, the appearance of a biscuit, the toss of a toy, the sight of someone new. What wonderful family dogs I thought they were destined to be.
Lessons from animals
But sadly, the pups came down with an illness that the veterinarians couldn’t treat. And quite suddenly, they were gone. Full of life, and then empty of life. Here, and then not here.
How short their lives were, but how present these animals were to experience life as it was happening. As it was flowing through them. Perhaps dogs have some kind of voice in the head guiding their feelings and behaviors. But if so, it’s a lot less damaging and relentless as the one in human minds. The voice telling us to revisit the past or worry about the future. The one constantly forming opinions and judgement. The one that keeps us so distracted and lost in our heads, that we forget what we are doing in the moment. We are hugging a friend, but our awareness is consumed by the fact that we are running late. We are taking a walk, but the song playing in our headphones reminds us of a breakup or a former heartache, and we don’t take notice of the trees or the sky or the other creatures around us.
Yet among animals who are so connected the here and now, I find it easier to inhabit my own body and life. To see the eyes of three puppies lighting up at the sight of me. To feel their tails beating steadily against my legs. To laugh at their little tongues on my face. To touch their soft, silky fur and warm bellies. To say, You’re so sweet. So cute. I love you.
When each of us only has a certain number of days on the planet, what could be more important than this?
Certainly not a “new booty” or “the next big thing.”