Searching for Happiness: Lessons from Tara the Rescue Dog

I brought home a shelter dog, Tara, in early January. She has been blessing and challenging me in powerful ways since then. All of my core wounds are being brought to the surface in this relationship~ dynamics of responsibility and projection, patience and control, commitment and ambivalence. So much of what I’m learning with Tara seems reflective of the challenges at the center of any relationship- with ourselves, our loved ones, and even with life itself. The powerful lesson here that keeps grabbing my attention is about how the external circumstances of our lives can never guarantee happiness.

These last ten weeks with Tara have been a roller coaster ride with highs of total delight in her sweetness and lows of feeling I’ve made a terrible mistake. When I slow down I notice a kind of obsessive questioning about whether or not she is making me happy. I am reminded of all the times I have had similar thoughts about other life circumstances (relationships, jobs, places to live). It is a kind of “grass is greener” syndrome, an urgency to surround myself only with things that make me happy, and to avoid anything that makes me unhappy. Can you relate? Perhaps this shows up for you in dissatisfaction with yourself or your relationships. Maybe you find yourself daydreaming about a future reality when everything will be better.

Sometimes, especially when there is some form of abuse present, it is essential to find a way to make a change. What I’m talking about is the suffering that comes from endlessly seeking something “out there” to make us happy. Every situation, every relationship, every choice in life comes with a mixed bag of joys and challenges. I find it is so easy for me to forget this, though, because of how much I want to maintain the fantasy of how good I will feel once I get that “thing” I’m seeking. It can become a kind of addiction…thinking about how good we will feel, using that imagined feeling to distract from life-as-it-is. In all that wanting there is often a great deal of suffering, a rejection of ourselves and our lives as we are.

I had quite a fantasy about how my life would be with Tara. Now I see that that’s a lot of pressure to put on another being to fulfill! Ten weeks into our journey, I’ve realized I need to lay that fantasy to rest. If I keep looking to Tara to make me happy (and never make me unhappy) I’m setting myself up for one struggle after another. She’s just a dog. A high energy, super affectionate, and sometimes anxious and reactive dog.

So what am I doing with all of this? I’m giving Tara a break. I’m surrendering a bit more to the choice I’ve made and to the imperfect and blessedly complex journey that will follow. I’m working on letting her be a dog, and I’m discovering a way to be at ease in the process. My hope for us, especially those of us with the conditioning of western culture, is that we can find a new kind of happiness. This happiness is simpler and more humble. It doesn’t demand ecstasy and bliss. It allows life to be more messy. And it finds that just being is enough, just enjoying the simple pleasures of our lives. These days I am finding how really being present can turn the mundane into something quite rich and nourishing. When I meet this moment as it is, whether in a conversation with a stranger or friend, playing with my dog, writing these words, drinking a glass of water, then all the stories about happy and unhappy fall away and just this… is enough.

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