Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Because Life Looks Better When the Sun is Shining

It's been quite a tumultuous winter, full of highs and lows. It's been a bumpy ride personally, professionally, politically... Right now I think a lot of people are feeling like we're riding a roller coaster in the fog -- can't see the ups and downs coming or the turns approaching, but we're moving fast and, with a few spectacular exceptions, the general trend is downward -- and there's no clear sense of when this thing is going to level out. Of course, while you're in the midst of it, all stress is major stress. And moreover, shared community stress is bigger still and tends to be self-propagating to boot. Conversations become horror story one-upper battles as we share our woes. But typically, the "it could be worse" perspective just serves to remind us that "it can always get worse." And probably will.

And although a lot of our current financial issues are rooted in a collective sense of entitlement and throwing-off of responsibility, lack of foresight and lack of cohesion, dismissal of sustainability and any sense of cause and effect, there's got to be a better way to comfort each other, to educate each other, to empower each other. How motivating is it, really, to simply stand in the shadow of such a formless, faceless fear and obsess over it? Or to search for someone to blame? What really helps is to remember that good and bad are relative terms. Setbacks are often no more life-altering than curves in a road, and sometimes they can even turn our life around in new and interesting directions. There is beauty in a storm as well as in a clear, sunny day. I say, if you can't bask in the sunlight, bask in the pathos. Embrace the uncertainty. Life is certainly going to move along, up and down, as it always does. Like the roller coaster ride, the emotion is half the fun. It's not only about finding the good and focusing on the positive, it's about neutralizing the negative or, better yet, finding a perspective that transforms the negative and uses its power as inspiration for greater good in the future.

We live in a world of infinite possibility. Challenges are not there to block our infinite potential, but rather to test us and to train us and to prepare us for success. If life were easy, we would never have evolved into beings capable of hopes and dreams and imagination. Overcoming challenges gives us our greatest joy. A triumph without challenge doesn't feel very rewarding! The candy bar you pick up in the grocery store and eat in 30 seconds flat is not the same candy bar you eat after a month stranded on a deserted island. Intrinsically, it the same, but within our minds we have the power to transform reality and elevate it. The first candy bar after being rescued definitely tastes better. No question about it! The trade-off for that power of super-enjoyment is that we are capable of super-suffering as well. If we are not careful, we can fall victim to exaggerated anxiety and stress and depression and fear.

Everything loses its emotional impact in time. But to polish life up again, one needs only to sink into despair and then come out again with a fresh perspective. Or bounce up into joy and then come back to earth. The human spirit, sensing the loss of intensity, will actively seek out experiences that will feed emotion, any emotion, and bring back the heightened sense of really living, in any form. The mistake we often make is in wanting to find the fast and easy way and not realizing that the only thing fast and easy is something new to us. We are built to seek out new experience, learn new things, develop new skills. If we realize this, if we consciously, thoughtfully seek out learning experiences, we can keep our sense of wonder fresh. Additionally, by making plans to create experiences that will bring joy to ourselves and to others, through sharing our past journeys, we can help others find new learning, new sources of inspiration. We can avoid the self-fulfilling prophecies of negative emotion, the lonely addiction of our more selfish emotional pursuits, and strengthen our bonds with the world through a constantly renewing sense of universal hope and growth and good will.

The key to weathering uncertainty is simply to fortify and then share your light. Ambition is a state of mind of never being satisfied, never being content with your place in the world. Financial meltdown makes everyone ambitious and anyone who embraces the ride is going to find that the lower the valley, the higher the peak they will be able to climb on the other side. Adversity builds momentum if we allow it. Of course there is such a thing as falling too far, too fast and thoughtful use of all the breaking and steering systems under our control will help to keep us from crashing and burning, but the downward momentum itself and its severity does not have to frighten us beyond all reason.

In this global, interconnected web that humanity has become, we have so much power over each other. Sometimes that sense of community frustrates us as we are thwarted in our goals and plans and enjoyments by the interference of others, but that price is not high for the luxury it affords us. Because we work together, as a collective, we have tremendous freedom from the basic problems of survival. We have time to spare to pursue anything our hearts' desire. We, each of us, are capable of choosing our own trials. We pursue our goals and dreams and upgrades and we accept that we will become attached to our way of life. We know that suffering the loss of a standard of living is simply a lesson in what's really important to us. We know that the price for attachment in an impermanent world is the anxiety about losing it and the pain we experience when we do. But it is all worth it, the struggle and the worry and the uncertainty. When the sun comes out, though it shines the same, it will feel warmer and lighter than we remembered it.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Puppy Season

Puppy season is here. They are wriggling, fuzzy, bundles of puppy breath and pure joy. Everyone knows that. But, in true animal rescue advocate fashion, I'm here to give you a list of reasons why you should not get a puppy.

1. Puppies don't interview reliably. Seriously, unless you are an expert temperament tester or have a magic spell that translates genetic information into future personality tendencies, you really just have no idea what kind of dog you're going to get. How compatible will he be with your family and lifestyle? Sure, you're "raising him right" but do you really have any idea what that means? Adult dogs will tell you who they are -- shy, outgoing, energetic, loving, anxious, intelligent, whatever -- the grown-ups put those things out on the table. And physically, there are a lot of variables, too. Adult dogs will say, "Here I am. I shed a lot." That's good to know! Puppies even change color sometimes. Brown dog for 2 months then beige dog for 10 years. How many adult dogs have you seen and said, "Gosh, who would want such an unattractive dog?" Of course, they didn't know! All puppies are cute and sweet and wonderful. But it only lasts about a year. If you're going to live with a dog for the next decade or two, go pick out a dog you like. Or better yet, go pick out a senior dog. They have the same potty training issues as puppies but they don't chew stuff up.

2. There is a surplus. There are simply too many dogs. And unfortunately, most people making puppies these days are doing it for money. Well, maybe not most. I'm not sure. But the people making the most puppies are doing it for money, definitely. If we stop giving them money, maybe they stop making puppies. Maybe we don't have to kill so many "extra" dogs. It's a lot of extra dogs. Visit and they'll tell you all about it. It's a lot of unnecessary death. And the lives preceeding the death are not so fabulous either. It's a waste and a shame and a tragedy. Don't support people who make puppies for money because, well... it can't be good karma. I'm just saying. And imagine if we started running out of dogs? Then people could breed them because people want them. Imagine what kind of world that would be... y'know, the kind where dogs are precious instead of products. What's up with buying and selling family members, anyway? And since modern dogs really don' t have any kind of job -- they don't guard the house or the flocks or chase bunny rabbits to earn their keep nowadays -- what else can they be other than family members? Think about it.

3. So much work! There's a reason puppies are so cute. It's so we forgive them for being such a hassle! Housebreaking, teething, training, oh my... They have small bladders and short attention spans. They yodel... all night long. They make big messes. Everywhere. Constantly. They have no manners. They sleep when you want to play and play when you want to sleep. Having a puppy is a full-time job. And it lasts for a year. Sometimes longer. Eventually you come to realize that they're past the point where you can use the puppy excuse to downplay their bad behavior and they're sure not as cute as they were back when... and then you realize that "raising him right" didn't actually happen as you planned. You worked hard enough at it, but where did this wild child come from? Why doesn't he like to play fetch? You bought so many toys and he destroys them all. What's going on here? If you had adopted an adult dog you could blame all of that bad behavior on someone else, on some other circumstance. You could take credit only for the good progress. You could pick out the dog who likes to play fetch or who sleeps a lot or who never jumps on people or who is perfectly housebroken or who is so beautiful you can't imagine life without him.

That dog may be at the shelter or the pound right now. It's worth a look.