How to Do the Holidays

16 Dec, 2019
Bark Avenue Foundation

Tucker walked into the office, and spying the rubber doorstop not in use by the closed door, he dove for it. Sparkle in his eye and tail a waggin’ he grabbed it loosely so when he turned, it flung across the room, and he scampered to catch up to the bouncing object. I suddenly forgot why I had come into the room, and watched him throw the door stop and romp around with abandon.

His joy was infectious. The other inhabitants of the office looked away from their computer screens and watched Tucker bounce about with this new plaything. Smiles slowly grew on their faces and whatever task his performance had interrupted was far from their minds.

It struck me how we don’t look to our pets often enough for the answers to our problems. While they hold no known philosophy or offer sage words of advice, they present their authentic selves every moment of every day as an example of how to live.

The holidays are supposed to be filled with joy, but it often ends up being a six weeks of unyielding stress. There’s family gatherings, houseguests, dinner parties, present shopping, gift wrapping, decorating homes, planning parties, going to parties, finding something to wear, finding something to bring, children’s Christmas pageants to rehearse for, costumes to make, pageants to go to, cookies to bake, meals to plan, and all the while still working, doing laundry, washing dishes, being a parent, being a spouse, being a friend, and living your life.

It is utterly overwhelming. 

But it needn’t be. Just look to your pets.

Right now, your dog is trying to unwind the garland from the Christmas tree and your cat is about to knock the elf off the shelf. They don’t appear to be masters of some ancient wizardry to get you through the holidays. They seem like added stressors, lacking any respect or sympathy for what you’re going through. But that’s exactly what you need. 

Our pets live in the moment. They are never anxious about the future or dwelling on the past. They are here, now. It’s not that they live outside of time; rather they live hand-in-paw with time—traveling together at the same speed. They do not rush through any experience but are fully engaged in whatever they are doing in that instant.

They do what they enjoy. If they’re not having fun, they simply don’t do it. Easy for a dog, but not for a person, you say. But it is easy for us in some cases. Do you enjoy decorating for the holidays? Do you love opening up the ornament boxes and remembering the story of each one as you place it on the tree? If you don’t, why are you doing it?

Do you love stringing up lights on the house and figuring out how to make it artful and pretty? If you don’t, then leave your house as it is the rest of the year.

Do you love picking out the perfect gift for a loved one? Or would you rather spend a day doing something special with them instead?

As people, we focus on the “having” and the “done” rather than the “doing.” Making dinner for a family gathering should be just as much fun as eating it together. Preparing for houseguests by getting a room ready for them should be just as enjoyable as spending time with them when they arrive. Planning a party needs to be fun or it’s not worth doing. And you don’t need to go to every party someone else throws—just go to the ones you want to.

This winter doesn’t need to be a series of obligations; it can be a season of joy—if you live it like your dog or cat lives their life: in the moment, never judging the past or worrying about the future. Your dog drops a ball at your feet—throw it. Your cat rubs against our legs—pet her back. The fireplace is warm—lie by it and listen to the crackling fire. You get a special dessert—savor every morsel.  Someone comes to the door—greet them with exuberance and true love. 

This holiday season, be in the moment. Listen to the music playing; be grateful for time with friends and family; relish the search for that perfect gift, knowing it doesn’t need to be an object but could be an activity. Focus on the “doing” not on the “being done.” 

Tucker does not believe he is done with the door stop, but from my vantage point he is. The greyish rubber object is slick with frothy white saliva, and a chunk of the edge has been gnawed off. I remove it from between his giant paws. 

“All done,” I say, and I see Tucker’s giant smile fade. 

He puts his head down. This moment is disappointment for a dog is never “all done.” 

But then the office door opens, and a new person walks in. The moment of disappointment is over; the lost doorstop gone from existence. Tucker is on his feet and runs to the door to welcome this new person to the space.

Every day is the holiday season for our pets. Moments of joy, a little disappointment, and then joy again. They take it all one moment at a time, never overwhelmed, and making sure every moment gets its proper attention. Heed their advice this holiday season, and live as they do. When you think there isn’t enough time to “get it all done” remember it isn’t about getting it done; it’s about doing.

When things start to get overwhelming, look to your dog engrossed in chewing on a ball, or watch your cat gazing out at the street. Let yourself be drawn back into the moment and live in their time, where every moment is an eternity with the potential for joy. Their chronological lives may be years shorter than ours, but the life they pack into those years is far more than we believe we can achieve in our own long existences. But we can try. 

May every moment of your holiday season be filled with joy.

Happy Holidays from all of us at Bark Avenue Foundation.