Saturday, January 23, 2010

My Life with Emma: The Wisdom in Emma's Discipline: Part II --- Stay

In the winter, Emma and I often share my office chair. As she curls up, I sometimes cover her with a small polar fleece blanket from her crate. The house can be cool when the snowflakes fall through the aspen and Canadian cherry trees outside my window. There’s no question we must negotiate the space and the negotiations do not necessarily result in equitable comfort. I must admit she most often wins her space.

This inequitable balance and fit is disrupted when I need to leave for a cup of tea or to change the laundry. As a puppy, I worked on the stay command with her in this same chair. In the beginning after I said, “stay,” Emma would stand up and look at me as if to say, “Are you sure I’m OK here and are you really coming back.” And any number of times she would jump out and come downstairs only to return with me back up to my office. Complying with “stay” was a different challenge than “sit and wait.” “Stay” required that Emma exert more self-control by staying in her place for a longer period of time.

Through that first winter we worked on her ability to control her fear that she would be left out of the next event in our life together if she stayed in the chair. Eventually, I found she had no problem staying if the classical music from my computer continued to play. If, however, the music were no longer playing, she would leave our chair and come padding down the stairs after me, realizing I don’t return if I’ve turned the music off and put my computer to sleep. Over time, her ability to control the impulse to flee untenable feelings of abandonment in my office chair has grown strong.

I’ve admired Emma’s strength for I know how hard it is not to flee. I face the urge to take flight when I can’t face a revision of a piece of writing. I face the urge to take flight when I’ve made a commitment that begins to grow larger than I anticipated. But I know if I stay in my chair and face the revision, I may find that moment of breakthrough or inspiration right around the corner. I know if I stick with my commitment but face my personal limitations and demands from others, I will face the challenge of living honestly with myself and others.

I also know we will both need encouragement in the days ahead. When we work on the table obstacle in her agility runs, Emma needs to go into a down and stay for five seconds. With more play ahead of her on the agility course, she will, from time to time, question my command. With a couple of repetitions, she can been successful. When I tell her to stay in her bed by the kitchen stove when company comes, she has great difficulty. She will go lie down, but after a few brief minutes, Emma is walking in and around the legs of company, looking up, just hoping for someone to notice her. Success at that point is at least an acceptable decorum.

Without knowing it, Emma encourages me, too. I know that the presence of a goal in my life has helped me stay steady with its completion. I’ve always exercised all-year-round. In order to do so I establish a workout schedule and stick to it.

Two days ago I needed to take a short run. The day before I’d cross-country skied for two and half hours and felt tired. Late morning, Emma came out from under my desk a couple of times and looked at me as if to ask, “Is this all we’re going to do today?” She gave voice to my conscience. I had promised myself I’d exercise mid-day and not let the opportunity get lost in the needs of the day.

It’s in those transitional moments that Emma’s inquiry nudges me to remember my dedication. I rise up out of my chair and mark an important separation between my immersion in the task at hand and the commitment to walk out the door and exercise. Emma’s elation is immediate: she barks for her coat and she barks at me to hurry up. Once I’ve tied my laces, she screams out the front door looking back at me as if to say, “Are you coming?” And I gratefully join her, the brisk January air an awakening to the rewards of remaining loyal to the discipline of my commitment.

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