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  • Kristy Johnsson

My Dog's Face

Maybe all those Buddhists talking about impermanence and seeing something for the first time were on to something after all.


This blog is about my dog's face.

I was lying on my bed a few weeks ago, sometime in the late evening, too early to go to bed but late enough to not want to do much more than lie there. I was texting someone back and forth. Next to me was my 11 year old dog, my face close to his.


As I waited for text responses, I gazed at his face, transfixed by each shift of muscle, the infinite hairs across his muzzle and swirling around his eye, the lifting and falling of his brow, the darting of his eyes. It was almost like I was a bit drunk. I was in love with every sensual detail of this creature's face. A creature I've spent over a decade with now.


This kind of perceptual shift isn't entirely new for me, but I felt aware of my own sensory indulgence in that moment in a way I maybe hadn't yet.


I probably could've sat there for hours. One of the reasons I pulled back was because I could sense the way I was getting a bit too close for him sometimes, and so I wanted to respect his discomfort. But otherwise we lay there, me gently running my fingers over the contours of his face, feeling the velvety fur of his ears, amused by each epic and then subtle twitch and rotation of these cartilage satellite dishes.


Moments like that are a balm to my own nervous system. I am free from the near constant obsession with the future, the past, that which needs to incessantly be done so that all is okay. I live entirely in the miracle of physicality and I need nothing else.

It's been the growing awareness of the presence of death that has helped motivate me to sync with my senses so deeply with my dog. Knowing that any day could be our last together, and that with each passing day the next is more likely to be the one that takes him. There's nothing I can do to stop that reality, but I can do this: this worship of our relationship, this gratitude for his existence through my senses. And as I sync more deeply, I sense his emotional shifts more accurately, and we move together more effortlessly.

It makes me think of a time when I lived next to humongous fir trees while living in a forest-encircled cabin a few years back. I had seen them many times; several of the larger ones on the property formed a line across a path that you walked to get to the barn.

Somewhere among my many traverses, they arrested my attention and I stood there, gawking: 'my god, you are MASSIVE.' I had looked at them and taken them in so many times, but for some reason I had never been able to fully appreciate their size. It felt like I had finally become fully aware of my own body's size that I was able to accurately perceive theirs. And it didn't just happen that one time; for months I'd be in awe of their true height, especially in relation to mine. Coniferous demi-gods, I thought. Towering in their benevolence over this small piece of land.

So my attention has been shifting for years, and this infatuation with the minute details of my dog's face is just the latest shift in which thoughts, concepts, the future and past are being dethroned.


And that's increasingly what strikes me: the extent to which this society truly exalts, worships, truly obsesses over mental thoughts and concepts, often abandoning the senses entirely. And let's be clear: thoughts and concepts are evolutionary miracles in their own right. But it's like we're constantly compelled by the bubbles of sea foam and miss the magnitude of the ocean. Do we know the incredible depths and wildness of life that lives below the surface, beyond the shore? Can we appreciate this delicate, ephemeral sea foam while not forgetting the sea itself that birthed it, upon which its existence rests?


We talk about healing trauma and integrating fragmented parts of ourselves, implying that we'll feel better, we'll feel empowered. But we don't realize the extent to which we'll simply get to be here with the miracle of life, with the richness of so many opportunities for relationship in this very moment because we've stopped constantly dissociating, and that that alone might be what we're really longing for.

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