I used to be such a calm, contemplative person. Well, at least ever since I left the law. I would meditate every day, sometimes in the morning and before bed. I used to eat well and go to yoga classes. I calmly recited my favorite passages from the Yamas and frequently ran my words through the Three Gates of Speech before saying them out loud. I taught yoga. I practiced pranayama. I had patience and compassion for the world I lived in.
…and then I adopted a 17-week old puppy.
Where once my days were filled with writing and asana, now they’re consumed with potty training and squeaky toys. I’m never alone. I’ve cried at least once every single day since we brought her home. I’ve felt anxious and exhausted and overwhelmed all at once. And, as I’m writing this, our new pup Millie is running laps around our apartment like she’s a frontrunner in the fucking Olympic 10K.
I know they’re not even remotely the same (God bless all those new moms and dads out there), but the closest thing I can compare this to is having a newborn infant. Millie poops and pees all the time. She cries when she wants to be held (which conveniently seems to be whenever I’m trying to get some work done or going to the bathroom). She has an extremely regimented schedule of walks, playtime, naps, meals and training which, if abandoned, almost always results in a little “surprise” somewhere in my kitchen. Millie is a sweetheart and snuggles, but she’s also a demon with razor-sharp, tiny baby teeth. She can go from being a cuddly pile of love to a wild Dire Wolf in a matter of minutes. She seems to pick up new skills quickly, but then stubbornly plops down in the middle of the sidewalk and won’t budge.
She’s testing my patience in more ways than I can even count, and I’m starting to think that those days of yogic calm will just be something I reminisce about in 15 years when I’m living out my days as a 40-something crazy dog lady.
I know, I know. I’m supposed to be “unattached” to all of this, right? I’m supposed to tap into the powers of the Universe and honor the divine light within myself that guides my way on. Maybe you’re right. And hey, maybe you’re capable of calmly sending a little light and love to the dog that’s taking an intentional shit on your rug. But this yogi is fresh out of zen and it feels like there isn’t enough namaste-ing in the world to make up for the fact that I’ve barely slept or eaten (let alone stepped foot on my mat) for 5 days.
During those rare moments when my apartment is perfectly quiet and perhaps I’ve just woken up from a nap, a little clarity starts to come in. Yes, Millie is a very intelligent Corgi and yes, she learns new commands at the drop of a hat. Yes, she taught herself to use an indoor grass potty pad in an hour. Yes, she knows how to pick out a new toy and put them away. And yes, she’s already sleeping through most of the night.
…but she’s also just a puppy.
There’s nothing quite like a lack of basic human needs to send you flying back into bad habits. And for me, one of my oldest and worst habits is perfectionism.
From a young age, I always wanted to be the best. I’m naturally competitive and love to win. Losing just wasn’t an option for a long time. After all, I went on to become a corporate litigator, right?
Then I found yoga. Slowly but surely, this rich practice taught me that perfectionism isn’t just anxiety-inducing, it is entirely impractical. Nobody, not even Oprah, is perfect. It’s impossible. We all make mistakes – it’s how we learn. We all feel sad and angry and happy and frustrated. We’re scared. And in the end, we all just want to be loved.
So what happened when I got a puppy? My default higher-than-high expectations set in. I took it as a personal failure every time my dog peed in the house (even if it was on her designated potty pad). I felt like the worst puppy parent in the world whenever she pulled on her leash or tried to gnaw on something other than a chew toy. I became so attached to her behaviors that they became a reflection of my own, and the judgment started pouring in like a tidal wave of doubt and anxiety.
Somewhere in the flurry of potty pads and teething, I forgot that my puppy is just that – a puppy. She’s a super fast learner, but at the end of the day, she’s only been on this planet for a little over 4 months. Everything is bigger than she is and, what’s more, she’s living in Manhattan where the world seems to move at a mile per second.
I also forgot that she’s a living, breathing, embodiment of energy just like me. She is comprised of the same light and love that I am, the same “magic stuff” as my beloved fiancé and parents. And just like us, all she wants is to feel loved and safe.
Will there be days when I lose sight of this clarity and cry while mopping up pee? Absolutely. But part of living a life of yoga is feeling those emotions, even when they aren’t particularly pleasant.
Feel it, sit with it, and then let it go.
If having a new puppy has taught me anything so far, it’s just how much I still have to learn. Yes, I’ve come a long way from that stressed-out attorney pulling an all-nighter to make her billable quota, but I’m far from “finished.” None of us are.
This new ball of energy has taught me to recognize patience and to practice compassion. She’s showed me just how important those pranayama and meditation exercises I’ve been doing for the last 3 years can be in turning a bad day around. She’s taught me that my energy and emotional state dramatically impacts her own energetic space and, consequently, her responses. When I’m stressed, she’s stressed. When I’m sad, she’s sad. But when I’m calm and centered, somehow she ends up falling asleep in my arms.
If you’ve ever stepped foot inside a yoga studio, then you’ve probably heard one of your teachers say that the Universe brings you exactly what you need at the right time, usually to teach us something. I’ve said it to my own students dozens of times, but it never really struck me until this week.
If I’m being perfectly honest, I’ve felt a little preachy for a while now. I started thinking that I had this whole thing called life figured out, that I’d mastered it with a little restorative yoga and a daily meditation practice. But, as always, the Universe started laughing and sent me something to bring me right back to where I belonged – in the here and now covered in puppy poo.
I am incredibly grateful that I have a few yogic tools at my disposal to help with stressors like this, but they’re just that – tools. I haven’t even come close to mastering my own mind and, frankly, to think that I can is just a product of my own ego.
So maybe this puppy, this little bundle of snuggles and chewing and poop and wee wee pads, is here for a reason.
Maybe she’s here to teach me compassion. Maybe she’s here to show me that we are all, in fact, connected and feel the same things. Maybe she’s here to show me what seva really looks like in action. Maybe she’s here to teach me about balance and patience. Maybe she’s here to help me live more in the present and not wishfully await the time when she isn’t quite so rambunctious. Maybe she’s here to show me what unconditional love really feels like. Maybe she’s here to help me explore my new city and make new friends. Maybe she’s here to bring my fiancé and I closer together. Maybe she’s here to remind me that our energies drastically dictate our realities. Maybe she’s here to make me laugh but also help me feel more comfortable with other emotions like sadness or anger. Maybe she’s here to help me work through my feelings of loss from the past year.
Maybe she’s here to show me that I still have a little zen in me, after all.
Keep Calm & Carry a Poop Bag,
The Yogi Lawyer