What Can I Learn from You?

9 weeks of ageAs far back as I remember, I have never really had mentors or role models. Not until the past few years, where I have met a few amazing people and have nominated them – without their knowing, I think – to become my mentors. Whether personally or professionally – as if these areas are unrelated – I have been learning about adaptability, authenticity, questioning authority, seeking the unexpected, expressing gratitude, emotional attunement, presence, and probably a whole lot more.

“Moments of dynamic quality, moments with the potential to move our very souls, are all around us. Though unpredictable, they require only one thing from us in order for us to experience them: We must be available. … Dogs remind us that the only place that dynamic quality can occur is in the moment of now.” – Suzanne Clothier, “Bones Would Rain from the Sky”

The question, “What can I learn from you?” is a powerful question, regardless of who it might be asked of. Or about. The question does not apply to humans only; if our eyes, ears, and heart are open, we can ask anyone around us and be open to hearing and seeing the reply. In this case, Tobi (a little photo gallery here) is turning 11 years young, and I am taking the opportunity to think about the lessons my loyal fluffy companion and guru has been teaching me with incredible dedication and endless patience.

One of the earliest lessons was about my control. Trying to feed a dog who doesn’t want to eat really works well to help one look at his themes of control in life. Tobi’s teaching style is very quiet and he primarily uses his body posture and eyes to communicate these lessons to me.  This one has probably been the longest one, and one of the most challenging he had to deliver to me. I am eternally grateful for your dedication and perseverance with this particular one, oh Fluffy Guru.

Tobi is also an amazing role model in demonstrating about knowing what he wants and knowing how to ask for it, with patience and persistence. As someone who was brought up without any room for wanting much, and much less about expressing these and being heard, this lesson has been a particularly slow and challenging one to learn. Still is.

Then there is the “work” area, with yet another invaluable lesson. While I don’t really compartmentalize my life into neatly labeled boxes of “work,” “hobbies,” “life,” etc., I am passionate about the professional aspects of my life. The flip side of that passion is that it causes times of imbalance, of too much focus on it and not enough on all the other times and activities that nourish me. Here, Tobi becomes a beautiful reminder to stop everything and play, just for the sake of playing. Daily. Multiple times a day. Whether a ball, a stick, or a towel, this seems to be the highest priority for him and I am learning to say Yes to his initiatives.

“Of all whom we might hurt as we use them in some way to shield or soothe ourselves, the dog is the only one who would stand unflinching before our darkest secrets and most painful wounds and love us still, forgiving us again and again for being human.” – Suzanne Clothier, “Bones Would Rain from the Sky”

All these above are, in a way, just a warm-up for the really big and important lesson of them all. We go back to my childhood upbringing, where I ended up learning that people are not to be trusted. Promises will be made and broken, love will be conditional yet always a moving target and never quite reachable, and being open and vulnerable is not something one should even think about showing. I was a good – and young – student who readily accepted this lesson, and have perfected this way of being in the world. Don’t ask me how I managed to maintain my relationships and a marriage all these years. There was always a wall, and nobody was allowed to see what’s beyond it. A thick solid wall. With spikes protruding in all directions. Stay Out. Trespassers will be shut out forever.

And then came a Tobi. Always consistent, always loving, always true to his “word” and always showing up authentically, consistently, and with complete and utter honesty. Allowing me to see this wall and its impact on my life, without judging and always with loyal and unconditional love. Even during the moments I was not willing to look at myself. Ever so slowly, the wall started melting away and I started trusting another being. And then Alison showed up in my life – but that will be another story.

“Lots of people talk to animals,” said Pooh.
“Maybe, but…”
“Not very many listen, though,” he said.
“That’s the problem,” he added.
– Benjamin Hoff, “The Tao of Pooh”

And so, Tobi, my gift to you on your 11th birthday is that I am learning all that you have been teaching me. I am a slow learner. Luckily, I am blessed with a very patient teacher.

Simon Goland