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.