Lisa Miller: Forgiveness and Triggers after Chicken

Sleeping DogMy dog is snoring beside me as I write this.  She looks adorable sprawled out on my bed—she likes to put her head on my pillow.   When animals do things that look human, we always think it’s great.  I’m looking at her innocent sweet face, and I’m tempted to kiss her head.

But I won’t wake her up; she is very tired.  She didn’t get as much sleep as usual because for some period of time over the course of the night, she helped herself to a leftover chicken.  Or maybe it only actually took 5 minutes and then she enjoyed a deeply replenishing tryptophan induced slumber for 8.75 hours.  I’ll never know.

I walked into the kitchen this morning, and the evidence was everywhere—the trash can tipped over, assorted garbage, mango skins, and the empty very clean roasted chicken containers were sprawled across the room—the cleanest garbage a person could ask for.

Lisa MillerBut I couldn’t believe it.  Our dog is 10 or 11 (the family of a rescue never knows for sure) and has been with us 7 or 8 years (a middle-aged-woman never remembers for sure), and I don’t think there has ever been an incident of kitchen trash trespass.  This was a little shocking—I stood staring for half a minute.  For 10 of those seconds I actually even surmised that it was a raccoon who had done it.  They have opposable thumbs you know.

So I tested my hypothesis by calling my pup to the crime scene.  I didn’t warn her with my tone that this was a test (and may I just say that this was very canny and professional behavior on my part, very, very canny and professional at 6:47 A.M after staggering out of bed with my dream all around me still.  I have had no formal crime scene training).

So she came wagging toward the kitchen but stopped on the threshold, head down, tail disappearing.  Aha! She had done it.  It was not a raccoon.  Mystery solved.  She slinked away to hide on my bed.

In this 8 minute video, people of varying faiths  discuss forgiveness.  I’m drawn to The Dalai Lama in the final 40 seconds who says, “Anger [doesn’t] help—only destroy[s] your own peace of mind.  Deliberately, try to keep your mind more calm.”

Herein people are discussing forgiveness in far more serious terms than the sins of a beloved pet, but I feel it’s worth saying here that we practice first at home.  What an opportunity to check-in with ourselves about our reactions.  I ask myself here if I can respond rather than react in general, to perceived slights from others.  What about when I’m kept waiting and it’s no one’s fault but a “stupid system” like traffic that has inconvenienced me AND caused me to be late?  What about later today when I have to deal with roasted-chicken-carcass-dog-vomit in my carpet?

Perhaps these life things happen to us so that we can explore our own human qualities.  Does what happen outside of me really cause me to react, or am I using those events to justify being triggered?

This morning, I restored the trash can and all its sanitized garbage (where is the mango pit by the way?), and got busy with breakfast for my humans.  But left with the awareness of my dog’s transgression, I wondered what should be done.

This is what I thought: Nothing. I forgive her, it’s over.  And not just because I’m now practicing what Deepak Chopra says is rest-full awareness, a state of calm in which one responds rather than reacts to environmental stressors allowing one to live more harmoniously with the flow of life’s ups and downs and unpredictable turns.

No, this nearly immediate forgiveness for my dog comes from an awareness that she is an aging canine who already knows right from wrong and who upholds an impressive standard of respect 97% of the time.  Does she need to be reminded that she was wrong in this case? Perhaps, but where I would have felt it necessary to have a perfunctory (sit!) (down!) with her a few years ago, I now just think, “move on, she knows, don’t tempt her unfairly again, the end.”

To not take personally the decisions that others make, even our pets, is not only freeing it is also a realization that nothing is ever personal.  Each of us always only behaves according to our own needs and desires.  Is forgiveness even needed then?  In this case I don’t even think (feel) so, and I’m not just saying this because the kitchen floor under the strewn garbage is also now cleaner than it has been in months.

What am aware of at this point, is all the forgiveness and grace that has been offered to me in my life.  And I’m definately not respectful 97% of the time.  What a gift, I’m feeling deeply grateful.

But to acknowledge that I am not my mistakes, and that despite my best efforts I will surely continue to make them and that I’ll be forgiven again, is another essential realization.

Why is this important? Because. When we can forgive ourselves for a lifetime of both intended and innocent transgressions, we begin to really, authentically respond to loved ones and even enemies with a genuine heart for forgiveness.  “Practice at home” might really be closer than we think of it, and then, there are no triggers really.

I’ll let you know how this is working for me later today—I suspect a visit to the vet might have to be added to my already busy schedule if I don’t see the chicken again.   Either way, I will remember that life happens and that it’s what I do because of the roasted chicken that matters.

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