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  • Writer's pictureSarahHauer

Dogs, Cats, and Bears, Oh My!



Humor In Chaos

Searching for Joy


Dogs, Cats, and Bears, Oh My!

 

I wish I could still hike. I love exploring. I love the great outdoors. I feel God intimately when I get outside. I love camping, boating, fishing, and sleeping in a tent. I love waking up to the birds greeting the sun and falling asleep to the frogs and grasshoppers calling to the moon. I can’t do those things anymore. I have accepted that.

 

Instead, on days that I can, I walk. I am not supposed to expose myself to the sun. It’s a lupus thing. However, for my emotional well-being, I cover up with a hat and sunscreen and take myself out for walks along the local trails, in the parks, sidewalks, etc. I walk to the coffee shops nearby to write.

 

The city doesn’t smell the same as the woods, and the sounds are cars on the multi-lane roads instead of forest animals. My memories are vivid. I pull from them as I walk to feel grounded once again.

 

Pulling from memories has a danger to it. The good thing about memories is we can use happy memories to lift our spirits or measure our own personal growth. They can help us nurture current relationships. They can make us laugh. They can increase feelings of love.

 

Memories can also be painful. They can lower our spirits. They can lead to ruminating on what was and what could have been. They can keep us stuck in the past.

 

We can’t escape memories. They will pop up. We all have triggers. Accepting those triggers and processing them is good, but we are vulnerable to bitterness. There is a danger here.

 

Before he left, my ex brought home a cat, Friday. I don’t care for cats. I’m a dog person. There was no need for this cat. When he left, he left Friday with my daughter and me.

 

We also had a dog, Pepper, that he brought home a couple of years after the cat. Pepper came to us old, unhealthy, and traumatized. Adding Friday to the mix didn’t help him. They were oil and water.

 

Pepper enjoyed having his belly rubbed. It doesn’t take much trust for a dog to expose his vulnerable side. Canines in the wild expose their underbellies to each other all the time to express trust and submission to the lead canine. Even though Pepper had major anxiety issues, he still joyfully exposed his belly to us for affection.

 

That was not the case for Friday. She was also about five years old and an unhealthy, traumatized pet. I don’t know what her past entailed, but she hated all of us – Pepper and all the humans. She preferred to be alone. She hated being petted. I think she had a chronic pain condition too on top of massive trust issues.

 

It took months before she would approach me. She started coming into my room when I was in bed to either lie by my feet or sit on my head as I watched TV. She still would not allow me to touch her. Human hands held bad memories for her.

 

Pepper never attacked her at all. He was afraid of her. She attacked him a few times unprovoked. Poor Pepper. His nose got nasty scratches. We consulted a behavior expert. She couldn’t get them to get along either. We have had dogs and cats over the years. We never experienced problems like these two.

 

It took a couple of years, but they finally came to an agreement. Pepper hung out with the humans. Friday did not. But cats are still somewhat social creatures. Not to the extent of dogs, but they still need love. She slowly made her way to sit on the couch with us, on the opposite side from Pepper. She would stay there a few minutes and then dart off. Those minutes seemed to increase with time.

 

A few months after my ex left, Pepper had a massive heart attack and died. We were sad. We talked about our memories of Pepper. The memories hurt for a time. As we shared them, they changed from hurt to happiness. He was a friend to us as our family was falling apart, and I hope we were good friends to him as he struggled.

 

His passing changed the dynamics for Friday. She started spending more time sitting on my head. She started allowing us to pet her, carefully. One false move or too long petting her, and we got bit. Hard. Not love bites.

 

More time passed, and the bites did become love bites. She still didn’t allow us to pet her back. Petting her too close to her tail meant an attack. I decided it was best to train my grandchildren to just avoid her, give her space, and don’t take her need to protect herself personally. She had things within herself to deal with.

 

And then it happened. She came up to me and turned herself on her back. I about fell over from shock. It was out of the blue and came with a kitten-like meow.

 

I was smart enough to know that when a cat turns on its back, it doesn’t mean the same thing as a dog. Cats aren’t keen on having their tummies rubbed. That is their vulnerable side. She still only wanted her head and chin petted. No more than that. However, her message to me was clear. She was showing me her vulnerable underbelly to say, “I am taking the risk to trust you won’t hurt me.”

 

Now, she sits on our laps and invites us to pet her. In fact, when we are gone too much or neglecting her, she demands it. Even people who come into our home. She gets on her back and exposes her belly.

 

She isn’t dumb. She knows she is in potential danger when she rolls on her back. That is cat instinct. It’s an important message to us. She has detached herself from those negative feelings from years of whatever bad things happened to her before. She hasn’t forgotten. Her memories tell her humans can be dangerous. She also has new memories now, new experiences with us, that humans can also be kind.

 

She is practicing detachment from her negative emotions from the past, and she is practicing equanimity from potential outcomes of what could happen in the future. She may expose her belly one day to someone coming into our home who takes the opportunity to, frankly, kill her. So much good, so much connection comes from exposing her vulnerability that she lets go of those concerns and rolls over.

 

Vulnerability is not a weakness, but it is a risk. There is danger there of pain or rejection. It is also a path to joy, sharing, love, connection, and acceptance. It’s a risk with better odds than a Vegas casino. And it can be scarier than the Vegas strip at 4am. Vulnerability requires courage to take the risk to reap the rewards of connection. We cannot connect with each other without some level of vulnerability. That can be scary. We can do it if we can detach from the negative feelings of what could happen, and practice equanimity.

 

When I first heard about equanimity, I was confused. What kind of word is that? Equanimity is the ability to accept that what happens, happens; and that what happens doesn’t have to be a nuclear bomb going off in our lives. It can be a disaster, because denial that bad things do happen isn’t good either; but that concern shouldn’t be what drives our decisions.

 

Equanimity is letting go of fear of the unknown, fear of change, and negative reactions from past experiences.

 

It isn’t choosing naivete. It isn’t choosing to forget lessons learned. Those lessons should be teaching guides to make better future decisions. It’s about not allowing potential negative scenarios be the driving force, and about not trying to control the decisions of others. Equanimity is doing our best and acceptance of the outcomes with peace. Does that sound impossible? It isn’t.

 

As humans, we have a tendency to catastrophize things. That leads us to make decisions based on fear instead of hope. That fear closes us off to experiences and life lessons.

 

I recently saw a video of a young woman on a snowy mountain locking her boots into her snowboard to head downhill. She has a camera set to record herself. She is in her joy, happy, and singing out loud to herself. Off in the background is a great big bear. A huge bear. I don’t know if it’s a grizzly or brown bear. I do know it was a giant, and it was behind her. (If this was a doctored-up video, I don’t care. There is still a clear point here.) The bear is running at her, and she is happily oblivious of it, getting ready to go.

 

She gets going. She starts off slowly. The bear is catching up. You can hear him growling behind her, but she is still singing and looking in her camera. He is getting bigger and bigger and closer and closer. He has the potential to overtake her. If he does, he will kill her. No doubt about it.

 

She picks up speed. She gets faster and faster. Pretty soon, he is getting smaller and smaller over her shoulder. A few moments later, he is out of sight, and she is still living in a moment of joy flying down this mountain.

 

What would have happened if she had stopped to look behind herself to check if danger was lurking? She would be dead. She would not have had the time to make it downhill and outrun the bear. In fact, if she had seen the bear, the amygdala part of her brain would have kicked in leading her to either fight, flee, or freeze. None of those things would have prevented the bear from killing her.

 

What saved her was living in joy, moving forward.

 

Obviously, she snowboards a lot. She knows what lives in those mountains. She knows there are dangers everywhere. No one goes into the mountains without knowing you can get killed. The people who live in joy in the mountains live in a state of equanimity that what happens, happens. The potential outcomes are only potentials. The only outcome that truly matters is the outcome that does happen.

 

That doesn’t mean we should never look back. Sometimes a glance over the shoulder is the right move. That hair that stands on the back of the neck now and then is there for a reason. We have instincts too. They are also gifts from God to keep us safe. Death is a real thing. We have to accept that. That does not mean we should be 100% on guard all the time. Knowing danger is there and living life in joy anyway – that is living.

 

Besides, our true joy comes after life in heaven. Isn’t that our ultimate goal?

 

Sometimes living takes courage. Sometimes living means looking around when that voice in our head says, “Wait. Look. Hold.”

 

Sometimes living means singing to ourselves while we lock in our boots and fly downhill in a state of God-given joy.

 

How do we know when to do which? We need wisdom, experience, discernment, listening, and a willingness to let go and let be. Equanimity.


Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for more!

 

Sarah

Humor In Chaos


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