A Final Act as Master

It’s nine months since I made and enacted my last decision as master. Those of us that love dogs say our dogs are our fur-babies or our dog’s human, as if they’re our equal, but they’re not. If you’re like me, you treat your dog as your companion, a cherished member of the family or your favourite living creature on earth, but your dog is still not your equal. They’re nearer to being a dependent child or reliant best friend. As its owner, you are fully responsible for your dog’s happiness: its comfort, its health, its exercise, its mental well-being and its love. You are responsible for its life – and its death.

I took Chopper, my last dog, the handsome, seal-eyed, chocolate Labrador, to the vet on the afternoon of 20th March this year. I say my dog because that’s the way I felt, although I know that he had a family, my family. His two fur-brothers accompanied us. It had been a hard decision to make; harder than I knew. You see, I understood that he was suffering, and I gave him lots of drugs to ease his pain. I modified our walks and hugged him as I lay next to him on the floor. But I still thought he was happy. He always seemed eager to go out, lifting his head attentively and wagging his tail when I asked, ‘Do you want to go out?’ His eyes followed me around a room. He sat on my feet when I was still. But some days he could barely go out to wee. He could barely get up. Or he’d throw up.

My sons helped as much as they could and one day, as I broached the subject of the imminent end, they said things that indicated they already knew and they were waiting for me to accept it. I suggested we wait another week, until after the Easter break, so that Chopper and I could have quality time together in our holiday house down the south coast, a place he loved. ‘He’s still happy,’ I said, ‘so it makes it that much harder.’

Then one son said, ‘He’s not happy, he’s only happy when you’re with him.’ I was shocked. I asked the other son what he thought, and he said, ‘It’s not a dog’s life!’ I suddenly felt so sad. And selfish. My desire to keep him by my side had affected my judgement and my reality.

My sons carried him outside for his pre-bed wee, a time, not long before, we cherished as an end of day ritual: fifteen minutes walking, out in the darkness and quiet, Chopper sniffing all the night-time scents and me looking up to the moon and stars. He sat there. He couldn’t even get up to wee. I hugged him and cried. I buried my face in his furry neck and said I was sorry. I was so afraid to lose him, to no longer have the comfort of him, to be on my own.

I’d been his master for over eleven and a half years. He’d been my companion, pal and confidante. I rarely walked him on a lead. I rarely roused on him. He’d joined in the fun of the family, guarded us and looked after the emotional needs of each of us. He’d chased remote-control monster trucks, swum in the sea, supervised barbecues, romanced other dogs (putting it politely), played chasings and tug-of-war.

 

 

He’d travelled with me in a motorhome, never tiring of exploring, resting by a lake or meeting other nomads. He’d consoled me when I was sad, willed me off the lounge at night, and wagged his tail every time we made eye contact. He lay on my feet when I was writing. He didn’t feel like my equal; he felt like a soul-mate.

And for my soul-mate, I had to put his needs before my own. I had to do what I could do as his human and ultimately, his master. I could give him peace.

And nine months later, I can tell you about it.

Dec 15 (53) - Copy

 

Face Work

Would we love our friends more if their faces were less wrinkled, less spotted and less saggy? Would we love them more if they were ‘prettier’ or their eyebrows were higher? Would we love them more if their lips permanently pouted?

Of course not!

Loving our friends has nothing to do with how well their face defies age. It has everything to do with who they are, how they think and what their values are. We like someone when we share interests or they excite us with new ones. We like them because of how they behave, what they do and what they say. Their attention, conversation and empathy are what’s going to make us think, what a great friend, I love this friend!

Not how they look!

It’s the same the other way around. Our friends aren’t going to love us more if we have a firm, plump face. And they aren’t going to love us less for gathering grooves and sagging.

Grooming is different. Grooming is about personality. Grooming is superficial, and I don’t mean that in a derogatory sense. I mean it’s an outer layer that we can don or discard, according to how we want to present ourselves. We tend to hang around people who groom a similar way. We judge people by how they look, and that’s okay if it’s just the grooming we’re judging. It’s human nature to assess if someone is like us or not.

Some people don’t care what they look like. Some care a lot. (Some people have no choice in the matter, but they’re not who I’m talking about.) But what we wear, how we do our hair or how we decorate our faces, is just a temporary effect. It is a choice made for effect.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand the desire to stay looking younger and ‘prettier.’ In my forties, I had Botox because I was worried about my frown and drooping eyes. I didn’t like the signs of aging. But then I realised that most of my friends weren’t having Botox. They were aging naturally, and I loved them just as much. My son used to make faces at me when I laughed because he knew my face well enough to observe the distortion in my face. He loved me well enough to let me know he preferred the natural look.

I’ve noticed that it’s hard for people to stop doing ‘work’ on their faces once they start. I know that Botox leads to collagen. All that paralysing, lifting and plumping needs to continue to keep up with the aging process. And it doesn’t keep up! It twists and pulls out of shape. It leads to a false, weird look. If our friends were doing this, we’d want them to stop. We’d want our friends to stop us!

Changing our skin through use of a needle or knife reveals an insecurity. And a belief that people will love us more if we look ‘better’. My argument is that that can’t be so, that they don’t love us in the first place if they are so affected by how young or attractive we look.

We love our friends because of what’s on the inside. So lets pay more attention to that. Let’s keep our minds, our hearts and our bodies healthy. Keep learning, be curious and be interested. Be kind, compassionate and thoughtful. Eat well and be active to keep fit.

Be a good friend. Love your friend for who they are. And remember that your true friends will love you no matter how your face ages. They will love you more for the light and energy that shines through your eyes.

The Life and Death of A Hiking Boot

Last week I wrote about packing for a night away. More specifically, I wrote about going on a two day walk along the Kiama Coast. The most important things to take were my hiking boots. Only hiking boots can keep you comfortable, upright and dry. Well worn, travelled and loved hiking boots are the best. And such are mine.

My hiking boots joined me in 2009 when my fifteen-year old son was boarding in Kangaroo Valley NSW. This is a school campus that teaches outdoor survival skills and at one point, a parent is required to join their son on a two-day hike. The point is – to survive! Hence the boots. They worked hard and I survived! They loved their first adventure, despite the rain, and a close bond was formed between boot and wearer.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

They carried me with empathy and support across many Australian landscapes: beaches and bush in the Bay of Fires, craggy rocks and seal colonies on Kangaroo Island, tracks across Orpheus Island, snow and mud tracks along the Thredbo River, farmland in Goulburn, cliffs and bush trails from Shellharbour to Eden on the NSW South Coast, and most memorably, up and down rocky ridges, through desert grasses and along dry, sandy  river beds on the Larapinta Trail in Central Australia.

Day 13 Glaciar Perito Moreno (42)

Overseas, they trekked over frozen ground in Patagonia, keeping my feet warm on windswept farms and glacial waterways. They helped me breathe at high altitude by keeping me stable and comfortable in the dry, arid Atacama Desert in Chile.

Day 37 Atacama desert (27)

And then on a simple walk through the hills and along the cliff, halfway between Kiama and Gerringong, one boot started flapping like a thong beneath my heel. We’d covered some uneven, muddy and grassy ground, leapt over a rivulet, then there it was. Flap, flap. I looked to see what was stuck to my heel, but alas, it was an unstuck sole. A bandage from the First Aid Kit could only slow its leaking lifeblood, and by Werri Beach, my soul had become unstuck!

Kiama Coast Walk Oct18 (34)

I was ceremoniously carried across the last rivulet so as to keep the boot dry. But we had reached the end of the journey. We had travelled so far. The boots had been in shoe-hospital once already. It was time to let them go. I undid the bandage and the sturdy laces, peeled them off my feet and kissed them both goodbye. Then I unceremoniously dropped them in the bin! Despite this callousness, I will always remember them with love and gratitude. RIP boots.

Spoilt for Choice

Tomorrow, I’m going on a trip to Kiama. Not for a week. Not even a long weekend. But for one night. I’m looking forward to it. I’m doing a two day walk with my walking group and we’re staying over-night, which should be fun.

But what’s not fun, is packing for it. It seems to me that you go to just as much trouble for one night as five. And the weather causes a quandary as to what to take. It’s Spring and the weather varies from warm and muggy to windy and cold. And thunderstorms are predicted one day and sunshine the next.

So, do I take long pants or shorts? Heavy raincoat or light? Runners for day 2 in case my hiking boots get sodden? Two caps? Obviously two shirts and a fleece.

But do I also take a comfy trackie to change into after my hot shower? Slippers?

And we’re going out to dinner, so there’s a full outfit, with shoes, and a wrap, because I can’t tell if it will be warm like last night or cold enough for a fire, like the night before!

The toiletries bag always overwhelms me. I try to find little containers to put shampoo and conditioner in. And face cream. And there’s the deo and sunblock and individual sheets of paracetamol and ibuprofen for all those aches and pains that come from hiking. And Bandaids.

I’ll need PJs but what about a gown? Pillow? Will I need swimmers and a towel?

My favourite tea is essential. But what about a teapot? Many places don’t cater for leaf drinkers any more. What about breakfast: cereal, sourdough, Vegemite?

And then there’s the necessary sustainers-of-life in the day-pack: water bottles, thermos, lunch, snacks, camera, hypothermia blanket (is that going too far?), emergency taxi money.

What if the weather is so foul that we don’t feel like hiking? Do I take a book, iPad? Kitchen sink?

At this point, I’m exhausted! But when I think about this, and stop moaning for a minute, I realise how blessed I am that I have all this choice. I have all these things! And I have the luxury of living in a country where going away for a couple of days is normal and easy and safe. It’s a holiday, an event unavailable in too many countries where there are no choices.

Australia. What a marvellous country it is. And how fortunate am I?

 

https://kiama.com.au/kiama-coast-walk

The Power of Now

I need to learn to meditate! My mind races around like static. One thought bounces into another and pushes it out of the way. Is that why I’m getting forgetful? Often, there’s a load of rubbish or dirty washing going around – on the repeat cycle.

I believe this is a common problem; it’s just about universal. But some people achieve the stillness and peace that comes with successful meditating. It sounds appealing!

According to the book The Power of Now by Eckhardt Tolle, you start by learning to be more present, by paying attention to this moment and that’s all. Not the past. Not the future. But Now. He advises that you can start with paying attention to your breath or the nature around you, not broadly, but very specifically, like one flower. He talks about noticing and feeling the space between things and the silence between the noises.

As I’ve revealed in this blog, I’m a nature lover. I like to walk or kayak on my own, admiring the bush and waterways. I also like to walk at night and look at the stars. The following passage from the book resonated with me:

“Presence is needed to become aware of the beauty, the majesty, the sacredness of nature. Have you ever gazed up into the infinity of space on a clear night, awestruck by the absolute stillness and inconceivable vastness of it? Have you listened, truly listened, to the sound of a mountain stream in the forest? Or to the song of a blackbird at dusk on a quiet summer evening? To become aware of such things, the mind needs to be still…

Beyond the beauty of the external forms, there is more here: something that cannot be named, something ineffable, some deep, inner, holy essence. Whenever and wherever there is beauty, this inner essence shines through somehow. It only reveals itself to you when you are present. Could it be that this nameless essence and your presence are one and the same?”

In other words, put down your personal baggage of problems, of past and future, put aside your judgement and running commentary, and just feel the Now. SO EASILY SAID, SO DIFFICULT TO ACHIEVE! Except for Zen masters!

As a writer, this skill would be very useful to me. I’d notice more. And I think I’d be more productive if I made space in my mind by removing the clutter. Also, according to Mr Tolle, “Only if you are able to be conscious without thought can you use your mind creatively, and the easiest way to enter that state is through your body.”

If you want to understand that, you’ll have to read the book. I’m still working on it!

 

I’d highly recommend the App Insight Timer for guided meditations and meditative, relaxing music pieces. My favourites include chimes and nature sounds.

For further study – http://www.EckhartTolle.com