Lessons From My Dogs
As telecommunication becomes faster, attention spans become shorter.
I heard someone say the above words years ago, and I realize today how true they’ve become as Twitter and the like epitomize the quick, shortened sound-bite, while novels such as War and Peace, Ulysses, or The Magic Mountain are now read by less than one percent of the population.
In my own life, too, I see my attention shifting from one thing to the next with the speed of a hummingbird buzzing from blossom to blossom. I am aware that ten, or even five, years ago I’d be willing to wait a few minutes as a website came up; now I’m impatient if it takes longer than ten seconds. Focusing was something I once did effortlessly, where now I must consciously bring my attention back to the object of concentration and hold it there. My goal is not to blame technology but to be aware of how these subtle, some say insidious, changes affect me and others around me.
Human others. For while I know the detriment technology has on our natural world—cell towers and electromagnetic fields killing and altering birds and bees (and that’s just the tip of the iceberg)—my dogs have not taken up a Facebook page (unless they appear by my own hand), nor do they spend time checking e-mail. Their lives are full and rich and they don’t ask for more, more, more (the occasional cookie notwithstanding.) They focus easily on the task at hand, rarely if ever, multi-tasking. When they sleep in the small patches of sun, they sleep deeply. I know they dream but I don’t think they lie down at night with minds racing about all they must do. When they hunt, they do so with a single-minded focus that is enviable. And when they play they throw themselves into it with everything they have.
This summer, as the bunnies took up residence in our yard, feasting on clover, and veggies from my garden with great glee, Chance took up monitoring them from inside our home with a focus that verged on obsession, really. She’d jump from the bed in the early morning and before even popping out the dog door to do her business, she’d trot her old legs over to the window and simply stand and stare. She could have chased the rabbits out of the garden, but she chose instead to watch. I like to think she’s taken a page from my pacific philosophy of life, but perhaps the truth lies closer to those old hips and legs, or perhaps it’s her stomach: she doesn't like the Swiss chard I put in her food. Let the bunnies chomp all!
Now it is fall, cooler evenings, a special change to the air that I love, and the squirrels are equally, almost obsessively, focused on gathering and storing up nuts. Olive has taken up this line of work: squirrel patrol, with a focus/obsession that puts Chance’s rabbit guard to shame. How easily they focus; how intense their absorption. And Sasha…? Well, plus ça change, plus ça reste le même, some things never change. She focuses on me, rarely leaving my side. On this clear autumn afternoon, as the cool of evening moves our way, I sit in the last shards of lowering light, and Sasha sits beside me staring up with intensity. When I absentmindedly lapse in my duty and stop stroking her, she rakes her toenails across my cheek. Food, she wants food. Always food. But even more than that, she wants love. They all do. I turn to her and focus. Now that I can give them. That, I can do easily. Love, it takes so little effort to focus on love.
Olive and Chance on squirrel and rabbit patrol.
And Sasha watches me.