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“The dogs ate my essay.” Yes, I’m using the classic homework excuse that no one ever believes. But I’m serious. They did.
In a gigantic leap of faith (or spasm of lunacy), we adopted two puppies two weeks ago. Not only did they consume every second of my time the entire first week at home with us – including the time I typically dedicate to writing, but they’re in the process of chewing this week to pieces too.
There’s a reason babies are born cute, right?
Seriously, though. For a person who leans heavily on routine to stay centered, calm and (mostly) serene, it’s pretty funny that I voluntarily invited chaos to come and live with me. Funny in a way that feels almost like providence. It feels like these little guys have something big to teach me.
So big that, in an effort to discover what it is, I went to my most fertile prayer place – my yoga mat. I tucked the puppies into their bed across from my mat for “yoga time” and stood quietly holding the question in my heart. “What am I to learn here?” As they have done every morning, the pups watched me intently through my sun salutations, and were sound asleep before I finished my standing postures. I spent the next hour and change repeatedly drawing my mind back to my body and my breath, deliberately staying focused only on the moment at hand. Each time I wandered ahead to coming postures or to the house-training that lay ahead of us, I deliberately drew my awareness back to what I was doing right then.
By the time I sat up from my rest in savasana, I was again feeling centered, calm and (all the way) serene. I picked up my mat and props, put on my jacket and boots, and knelt down, “Wake up, puppies. What good yoga you did. Good yoga.” They stretched and yawned as I opened their crate. They sat quietly as I put on their leashes (nearly miraculous) and we headed outside. As I watched them frolic, I noticed that I was smiling. My smile slipped as I started mentally planning what was “next” and trying to figure out how on earth I’d get it all done while watching these two love bugs. Luckily, I noticed this too.
At that moment, I had my answer. The puppies, if I let them, can teach me to stretch my ability to stay in the moment. Right now, I’m pretty good at staying present when things feel “under control,” for example on my yoga mat or when my next step is obvious or when things are quiet. Doing so is much harder for me when I’m surprised or thrown off guard or simply feeling hurried. And, for the next few months at least, I suspect I’m going to feel surprised, off guard and hurried a fair amount as I figure out how on earth to raise two puppies into well-mannered dogs while continuing to live my life.
While I’m convinced this story will have a happy ending, it isn’t a fairy tale. There is no fairy godmother or magic spell. There is only practice.
Just as I had to refocus my mind over and over again on my yoga mat while my pups slept nearby, I’ve had to redirect my mind a hundred times a day to stay in the moment. Luckily, it’s pretty clear when I’ve lost my focus. Some signs include, tears of frustration when I’m standing outside in the cold for the 6th potty break in an hour, storming at my husband for allowing me to do such a foolish thing as bring two dogs home, stomping, fretting and losing sleep.
But these moments aren’t failures anymore than losing my focus on my mat is. Instead they are chances to notice that I’ve become distracted. They are opportunities to learn about what temptations lure my mind away from what I’m doing. They offer me the gift of another try.
When I receive this gift and draw my awareness back to the present, I’m never sorry. After all, these days I can have a lap-full of puppy love if I’d just sit down for a second. Even better? As I continue to try and try again to stay in the moment, I’m finding that it’s astoundingly likely that whatever is distracting me can wait for a second while I sit down and hug a puppy.