Which one are you?

Every day I get to walk our puppy dog. It’s a ritual I’ve followed for more than three canine’s lifetimes with Bear, Sacchi, Morrie and now Toast.

Anyone who has been graced with a household pet–or “fuzzy children”, as my friend fondly calls them–knows how much laughter, zeal, joy, frustration, slobber, dirt, hair, spontaneity, tenderness, and unconditional love this kind of being can bring into a home.

And, if we’re lucky, we get to experience ourselves as equally tender and unveiled and unarmored many times a day. What would it be like to operate among human beings without that subtle layer of rejection-protection, I wonder? This is what passes through my mind whenever I lean in to kiss Toast’s rose-pink nose, near those perfectly round brown eyes, or in that soft notch where I imagine his “third eye” exists and quietly connects with my own.

Why is it that we don’t lean in as often in a day with our own partner, our own child or friend with this same kind of openness and innocence? And what is it that keeps us from asking for help or support when we really need it? I still think that one of the most effective ways of letting someone know we could use a little love and support is to walk over, climb up and curl into a trusted one’s lap, to surrender ourselves totally, knowing that we will be tended to appropriately. This approach seems to work brilliantly for animals–why not us?

For most of us, it’s very hard to ask for support when we really need it. In fact, for some of us, supporting others and spreading ourselves too thin is all we do. It’s a life of one-directional relationships, so much so that the people on the Receiving end come to expect it and are highly disappointed if we can’t bring them the level of support they’re used to.

But usually for these same people we are endlessly giving to, asking and expecting others to support them is all they know how to do. And it seems that they have made such a well-crafted habit out of Receiving without Giving, that they don’t even know to what degree they’re doing it.

Although I’m learning to reach out for support these days, I’m also learning to lend my support as well. It’s a constant balance and re-balancing of the two, as precarious as the childhood game of “see-saw”, where we would each sit on either end of a long plank balanced in the middle by some fixed support, one of us swooping swiftly up, the other dropping rapidly down as each of us took turns pushing the ground alternately with our feet. This is what exploring the dynamic of Giving and Receiving seems like these days, when so many of us are pushed well beyond our natural inclinations and healthy limits, and are forced to make choices between a meal, or getting to work on time; “being there” for our body or “being there” for a friend, staying up two hours later on the phone to be with them through a crisis, instead of logging in two more hours of much-needed sleep.

I observe that the people I know fall into either one or the other category, that of either Giver or Receiver, the majority of the time. It’s a wise and aware person who can operate from a golden mean, this “middle way” between the two extremes.

Which one are you? Do you create constant dramas, oblivious to other people’s own life challenges, and thus require everyone around you to forever stop, set down what they’re doing and help? Or are you the other kind–the person who believes you are partly responsible for any discomfort any person you know within a 300-mile radius may be experiencing, and so race out to try to lend a hand, zig-zagging across their Soul Path, certain that their lives are your responsibility and cannot move forward without you?

Lately I’ve become acutely aware of how precious and precarious the balance is between Being There for myself, and Being There for others. Ideally, it is a beautiful dance, showing us over and over again how important it is to be aware of both practices, and how to keep our own vessel “full” that we may give to another whose own is running close to empty.

If there were one awareness I wish someone could have gifted me with at a young age, it would have been to urge me to observe how often I required the help and attention of others unnecessarily, and even more importantly: How.

Each of us probably knows someone who is charismatic, charming, and maybe even good looking enough to woo even the most savvy of personalities. They have perfected the art of winning us over by, for example, pointing out their own shortcomings and making fun of themselves so that we laugh along with them, thus excusing their actions through humor. Or perhaps tossing their hair to one side, smiling coyly, and then giving you a sudden kiss on the cheek, drawing you into your more charitable nature. Or they may find more obvious and conspicuous approaches that are equally effective, through hoping to make you feel guilty, or selfish, or as if you’ve disappointed them, or that they may even be mad at you.

Every day my dog Toast makes me laugh. He beams at me and smooches my cheeks or my nose, or sometimes in my nose when my attention wanders. He accompanies me on every errand, and peers out the car window in earnest, celebrating me when I return. He plops on the couch between my husband and me every evening, and shares his beloved toys, and cleans one of our hands or a foot until it shines…

Every day I walk Toast. We take different routes, depending on the season. Sometimes we take the long, dirt roads, until they get newly oiled to keep the dust and dirt down in the height of summer. Sometimes we take the higher, paved roads if foxtails and star thistles aren’t blooming over into the road from the gravel shoulder. But sometimes, even with our best intentions, we end up with some sort of weed, or the end of a thorny vine, or a small branch stuck in Toast’s tail. It’s at this moment that he stops, looks back at me, and waits calmly, and I like to say, “Mama help?”  Then, the extend-a-leash shortens as I close the distance between us, and I kneel down and begin to work the object out of his tail, or take the back foot or a front paw he has lifted up for me to inspect, and search the soft pads for a thorn or small rock that has caused a sudden limp.

And for some reason, it always brings tears to my eyes and a huge smile across my heart. Because I think that’s how Giving and Receiving should feel.

Yeah. Just like that.

– em claire

Three Dogs Knowing

They don’t set out to do anything grand.
They play, the three of them:
Black and Burr ridden,
Speckled and Bright-eyed,
Sleek and Questioning.
Every morning the play continues –
tugging one another this way and that
along throughout a day.

If He sits, scratching and gazing out across
the great divide of valleys,
She will bring Him an enduring piece of hat
or garden hose or
the last fourth of a plastic ball
and drop it at His feet.

If the One with the moon-colored eyes
lies in the ivy, with sun on Her ribs
and leaves in Her ears
the other two will attack mid-dream
with nip and tug at
neck and tail.

It is pure genius and heart.

Three dogs living out the Mystery
every moment,
while it slips like water

all of my grasping.

‘Three Dogs Knowing’ – em claire
©2007 All Rights Reserved

(Em Claire is an American poet whose work appears in her book Silent Sacred Holy Deepening Heart, as well as in When Everything Changes, Change Everything. She may be reached through www.emclairepoet.com)

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  • Therese Wilson

    Oh! I love this! I have a theory that my huge Bear (Great Pyrenees) and my poofy Sammy, (Pomeranian), don’t beg for love. Rather, they present themselves to me to be loved, knowing they are worthy. Would that we all knew that.

    Oh! I have another view of the objects that tangled in the fur…I now call it “fur jewelry”!

    Yes, giving and receiving should bring tears of joy to each…yes!


  • Buzz


  • mewabe

    Domesticated animals are simple and honest…they can usually be trusted.
    So can very young children…and even wild animals are usually very rational.

    As people grow into adulthood, some begin to no longer be so direct, so transparent, so honest. Simple honesty begins to be confused with naivety, with a lack of sophistication, a childlike innocence. For multiple reasons, many having to do with adapting to difficult situations, to growing up in oppressive or adverse conditions within a family for example, they no longer show who they are directly…and some no longer remember who they are.

    Human relationships are difficult because, as you wrote so eloquently, people do not show themselves…their true needs…their true hearts. They have a mask, a persona, an act…some people smile or laugh nervously when they are sad or upset for example…they cry when they are angry, or get angry when they should cry…they say things they do not mean…why is that? it is not that human nature is complex, but that we make it complex unnecessarily.

    All we need is remember being a child…being simple and direct, and true to ourselves and others…knowing, feeling and openly expressing our real feelings, instead of hiding them.

    Or, for those who believe in cross species reincarnation, they can remember being a puppy in a past life.

  • mark

    Pets have the ability to make us choose to be more gentle, caring and patient with all who enter our lives.


    congress man was talking politics,which uses societal laws made to protect society againgst itself. politics is also about egos.in spirituality there is freedom to decide.we cannot legislate spirituality.so spirituality transcends politics.

  • Erin/IAm

    What a lovely way to begin the day, Em…Thanks for the thoughts here!:) It is especially nice to step out of the political box of the moment & celebrate our ‘fuzzy kids’…past & present. Amazing teachers & lovers, indeed!

    To give without expecting return…To receive without expectation to give. How absolutely purrrfect! This is Teamwork, This is Camaraderie, This is fine co-existence…This is Family.

    Oh, Em…It was through beloved creatures, not humans, that I learned the meaning of ‘unconditional’…to love freely & free-willingly…that the body vehicle is by no means more precious than what it vessels.

    With honor & respect…with unconditional love…Thank you, beloved creatures, for putting up with humanity for the centuries we have walked together in this realm. Thank you to the many who have not given up on us, but lend us their eyes, their wings, their Natures…their hearts & souls…their lifetimes. Blessed you will always & all ways be.

    With you, the Journey has been nothing less than Amazing.:)<3

  • Mel Dee

    This is very thought provoking on a few different levels and hit right home.
    I, too, an animal lover have thought many times over how many lessons (remembering) I have gotten from my “fuzzy children”. …and not fuzzy children…I now have a fish (Gus) too … (remembering to share here another time). I just recently picked up a small book from Unity Church called: Kindred Spirits: Animals as Spiritual Teachers. I continually remember so very very much from my pets. You know they say you are like your pets (a reflection as well) and I so see that. I have a pit bull (that I attracted… when I got her I was afraid of them (media)…no accident, her name is Karma right :)…and a wire haired terrier, Peanut. Both were rescues. I ‘see’ bits of myself in both of them and how wonderful and unconditional their love is; however, with that said…they too can get sassy at times (more so my cat perhaps). They call me on my behavior (however subtle) at times actually and I have deeply reflected and even shed tears thinking how sweet they were & unconditional as they ‘went through’ my training them. HA…..who is training who?! I have gotten better with age as everyone else…noticing each and every bit. Back to training w/Karma….she’s on my lap like a small dog in the training session because she’s afraid of people. Is she?…and/or is she picking up on my uneasiness of the people just coming up and into her face when she doesn’t even know them….is it an underlying fear of mine??….and it’s hers too that I spot…interesting huh.
    Givers / Takers. Well, I think I’m both. I know I love to give. It does make my heart sing. One of my favorite things is to give gifts!!!…wrapping and preparing and wanting to see the persons day so much better…I love that! Then I noticed lately I was calling this person in my life “Ebinezer”. It definitely was coming from a ‘make wrong’ point of view. Then I thought….huh…I must be like Ebinezer too. Some shadow aspect of myself he is reflecting and it bothers me because I too possess this on some level. You know holding my hand tight with what I think I am controlling. Give when it feels good….how about when it doesn’t feel so good (only because my mind has it that way)…until it does…which was as soon as I decided to open my fist. Even sometimes if things look like (based on my judgment, of course)….that I should or shouldn’t blah blah blah….still feels better when I open my heart and my fist. I have found & continually find…sometimes I am taking…because they are giving and yes, when they decided to stop I didn’t like it. Not one bit. I felt like I was giving back….but was it true giving???….or a measured response for what I thought they provided. I think that’s a big difference there to look at. When we give ..are we really giving…and or is it a measured response for what looks like giving??? Or more from what ‘we think we ought to do’ in return. It feels the best when it’s true giving with no agenda…just an illustration of my love. Also to notice ~ when people do give…how do I receive it? Just as powerful to receive as to give. Something i work on … probably a worthiness conversation deep within. Ah ha….I see…so poof gone :). Thanks Em! With Love ~

  • Helle

    Hi Em,

    Just LOVE it. Makes me all mushy – because this is how am I with my own dog. Always have been in love with dogs – these most amazing creatures who put us in touch with our love and joy each and every day no matter what else is going on.
    And you are right – somehow I’m just not as soft with humans on a daily basis as I am with my dog. Maybe it’s because dogs never require anything of us that we are not willing to give? They always bring us in touch with “who we really are” – pure love. Great post : )

  • Laura Jean Pringle

    Thought-provoking, and relatable article! Thanks for your insights! As a child, I used to resent how much better my mother treated our multitudes of dogs than my sisters and I.
    She must have loved their innocence or simplicity?

  • Paula

    I was drawn to this this morning. Thank you for the gentle if not thought provoking nudge. Thank you for reminding me that my cat just wants my attention and is not just keeping the paper from feeding through the printer for some diabolical reason! Hehehehe, he is a character to be sure.