Building and Letting Go

Our guide-dog-puppy-in-training is 14 weeks old now.  She’s bright, energetic and confident.  Much of her happy demeanor is reinforced by success in performing routines.  The biggest challenge for her has been learning to restrain herself when she encounters new people or other dogs.  She loves to be fussed over and petted, but she must learn that when she has her vest on, she’s at work.  She’s learning to be a rudder and a set of eyes for a blind person.  She must consistently check in with her human handler, and never approach other people or animals independently.

Lila’s been to several stores now, and has been walked around a variety of neighborhoods as she learns “loose leash” – to walk on the left of her handler at the speed of the human, without pulling or diverting toward novel smells and sounds.  As she has been taken through more confusing situations, we have begun doing FIR (Food-Induced Reinforcement).  If she heels properly while walking and looks to us, asking silently “Like this?” she gets fed a single piece of kibble and told the single word “Nice!”

Some of the default behaviors that came with this dog are advantageous.  When confronted with a new, loud noise or an animal she hasn’t seen before, instead of reacting with fear or barking, she will stop, sit and look.  Talk about being present!  I’m very impressed.  I’m going to practice more of that sort of behavior myself.  I think it’s a better reaction than making decisions too quickly, or responding emotionally to distressing things I see.  Something’s new.  Something’s different.  Wait and see.  Don’t think, just observe.

Readers have expressed concern that it might be emotionally painful for us to give up the dog in a year.  I’m not pretending we won’t miss her, but we are only foster parents, the little wheel inside a greater wheel.  This puppy wasn’t born to be ours.  She will have another half year of intense training after we pass her along before she can qualify as a companion.  If she makes it all the way, she will only work 6-8 years.  It’s a demanding job.  If she retires or gets career-changed, we would have first choice to get her back as a family pet.  We’ll see.

I’m used to working hard on projects, then tossing them into the air so they can take wing.  I’ve practiced thousands of songs and then performed them to others without recording them.  The “record” is what happened in the minds of the listeners.  I’ve acted in plays and told stories on stage, and those performances reside in someone else’s memories, not mine.  And I’ve had sex a few thousand times in the past 40 years.  There’s no record of it, for the most part, but it happened and I recall it as having been beautiful.  I’ve enjoyed living very much.  Most of my life has been unobserved.  If my memories are fallible, I would hate to dispel all my cherished illusions about what occurred.  I accept that some of it is a matter of wishing my intents had been more pure, and that my actions had been more effective.

My wife and I grew up loving to read.  We both dreamed of owning an extensive, excellent personal library.  When we married we ended up with many thousands of hard and soft-bound volumes.  But the storage methods of information have changed.  We can obtain much of our library online now, or in digital form, and our house is smaller.  This week we got 20 boxes of books out of our rented storage space, and we’re going to have a neighborhood party where we’ll give away any that our local friends and neighbors want.  The rest will be donated.  That will only leave about 40 more boxes to go.  One step at a time.

There’s a form of meditation practiced in Tibetan Buddhism in which one builds an intricate, complex mandala out of grains of colored sand.  These are geometric representations of the whole of life, and all the sources of energy in it.  The traditional designs vary except that they are always circular, always symbolic versions of the mirror all forms of meditation can be for us.  It can take weeks to complete one.  Once you finish, you take it apart.  You build an exquisite pattern in an unhurried fashion, then you let it go, allowing it to pass from this limited dimension to Everywhere.  All things must pass.

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15 Comments

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15 responses to “Building and Letting Go

  1. Training and fostering the puppy for a year then letting her go on to another to do her job is an excellent lesson in non-attachment. It is truly a gift to love her and let her go on to help someone else. It is the same with children, with significant others, and many other things in life. It is tendency to want to keep attached for our own comfort. This causes a great deal of suffering.

    I think that letting children, a dog, a lover go on a fulfill their highest good and live a full life as loving them the most authentically.

    Oh, and one other thing, do you really think you have had sex a few thousand times by age 50?

    • The letting go theme is so close to my heart. I’m glad that part clicked for you, Debbie.

      Just to clarify (for amusement) on the sex statistics – I’m 57, and I began having sex at 17. It’s 40 years of sex, not age 50. I had a LOT of sex between age 20-45. My rates are more sensible now, so there’s more time for writing, going to work, all kinds of important things.

      Perhaps I should write an exploitation movie, “I Was a Slave to Testosterone”.

  2. I’m going to practice more of that “present” behavior myself, too.
    She is SOOOO cute!

    • I bet that would be good practice toward your inner peace and productivity, Myra. Just being “there” is hard when one is as intelligent as you, and living in a home with hidden holes you might fall in. (My original family were highly-verbal complainiancs too.) Thanks for stopping by,

  3. I love old fashioned books. Wish I was there to pick up a couple.
    I do, however, have tons of ‘stuff’ that I used to value, but now would love to sell or give away. The older I get, the less stuff I need.

    The sand paintings are so beautiful.
    I love this short koan;
    Tanzan and Ekido were once traveling together down a muddy road. A heavy rain was still falling.
    Coming around a bend, they met a lovely girl in a silk kimono and sash, unable to cross the intersection.
    “Come on, girl” said Tanzan at once. Lifting her in his arms, he carried her over the mud.
    Ekido did not speak again until that night when they reached a lodging temple. Then he no longer could restrain himself. “We monks don’t go near females,” he told Tanzan, “especially not young and lovely ones. It is dangerous. Why did you do that?”
    “I left the girl there,” said Tanzan. “Are you still carrying her?”

    • I like that story. I also like the other koans about carrying; St. Christopher, the frog and scorpion, Friar Tuck and Robin Hood etc. Understanding why and how much baggage we carry is important. Thanks, Tracy.

  4. jennygoth

    id have really big problems letting go that dog so id be no good taking one on sounds selfish but i would get too attached how come with relationships its not the same we let go from our lives and never think of ever loving them at all we are funny human beings dont you think ? xxjen have a lovely week

    • The ability to let go got easier for me with age. Perhaps because you are still young, those nurturing hormones and your desire to take care of other beings is stronger. I think the biological urge to be a parent to something or someone, even if you don’t have a child, is a real part of our genetic design. Now that I’m a Grandpa, that urge has sort of expanded and softened into a desire to lend a helping hand to the whole world, not just members of my own tribe.
      You have a good week too, Jen!

  5. Pie

    Gosh, the puppy is 14 weeks old already (I deliberately said ‘the’ puppy as I wouldn’t want to attach something to it by calling her ‘your’) ;-) Whenever I see a person with their guide dog, I find myself wondering how they are trained. I have no idea if they are using the same methods in the UK, but it’s a good job that you are doing there.

    I find that I need less ‘stuff’ and I’m getting better at being able to discern what is going to be useful, or beautiful to me, however, I can still be attached at times to things that really don’t matter. I’m a work in progress.

    • Though I don’t know for sure, I think it’s likely they use the same reinforcement methods anywhere these dogs are being trained. We are doing the phase of training involving basic socialization, and exposing her to as many aspects of normal life as we can in as many different places as we can get to. Once she’s had the rest of her vaccinations, we will be taking her on buses, in taxis and on the ferry. She’s already used to riding in our cars. She’ll go to church, and to cafes, and to gatherings in other people’s homes, and to classes at different schools. She needs to be exposed to any place a blind person might go, so she will be confident and calm.

      As far as the learning curve we materialists must go through, I certainly hope we are all “in progress”. Thanks for visiting, Pie.

  6. Aw, she’s goregeous! So glad to hear she’s doing well. And that’s a really thoughtful idea with regards to the books… I’d be afraid to let any of mine go though, I’ve become much too attached to them! And if the internet ever blows up one day, at least I’ll always have my books :)

    • Thanks for checking in, Anna. I do understand your feelings about books, since Mary and I spent many years attached to them also. However, you can keep many of them on flash drives, e-readers and in the computers, and save yourself a ton of shelf space. Also, for the time being, you can visit the kind of books you can hold and turn the pages of at your local municipal library. I’m a big fan of those places. They even LEND books to you!

  7. I so enjoy hearing your tales of puppy training. She is adorable. It’s hard for people to understand sometimes that she is a working dog, so I can see that it is critical for her to understand this concept herself.

    The school where I taught is a very dog friendly place. I usually brought my dog to work with me. But for the few years when we had a blind student with a guide dog on campus, we kept our dogs in our offices or left them at home so that they would not interfere with the important work the dog was doing. That was an amazing dog. And an amazing student! I learned so much from having him in my class.

    • I’m learning tons myself. I’ve never known or worked with service dogs before. They are just like any well-behaved dog most of the time, but they have to follow so many specific routines when that vest is on.

      Thanks, Galen.

  8. I’m sure you’ll be fine. Letting her go will make way for perhaps another?

    I liked the concept of you trying her behaviour – thre is much we can learn from other species, if we are prepared to allow ourselves to do so!

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