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I have subscribed for many years to a weekly newsletter, JUST ONE THING, from Rick Hansen, who is both a neuroscientist and a Buddhist. Every week, he focuses on a particular part of the human psyche, with "simple practices for
resilient happiness." Some examples: "See Good Intentions," "Embrace Fragility," "Feel the support." Quite frequently, his topic seems to be absolutely the PERFECT advice that I need at that moment. THIS week, he affirmed an action I'd just taken and I was THRILLED, I tell you THRILLED to have his support to ,,,
LET IT GO!
In Rick's words:
"The hard things to let go of are the ones that make sense, that have good things about them, that would be good for you and likely others if they could work out -- like longing for love from someone, or wishing more people would come to your store, or hoping that you're free of cancer -- but, alas, are either not worth the price or it's sadly clear that you just can't make them happen. You've watered the tree, fertilized it, protected it, even danced around it at midnight under a full moon... and it's still not bearing any fruit.
Now what do you do?
Sometimes you just have to let go."
We're talking surrender here, folks. And that's what I've done. After five looong years, I have surrendered my living room couch to Nikki. It was hard because it would have been GOOD for Nikki to learn to stay off the couch. It would have been GOOD for me to be more in control of him, and it certainly would have been GOOD for the couch. It just made so much sense.
Let me clarify that the choice was never betweem the couch OR the floor. Goddess forbid! In the living room, there are two dog beds AND an old armchair available. But Nikki was absolutely obsessed with he COUCH! Loulou never cared about it that much.
Now, I'm not a person who strives for a pristine environment. But the couch is the only really good piece of new furniture that I have ever bought.
I could never have made the purchase without the support of dear Cecelia, who met me at the store in Berkeley and then called me periodically to say, "This is the furniture police! Have you made a decision yet?"
Well, I finally chose a really cool almost psychedelic black&white upholstery. Why didn't somebody stop me? What was I thinking when I chose a fabric with a WHITE background???
Obviously I was thinking I would train my big dirty dogs to stay off the couch! And I tried, oh how I tried. Believe me, just yelling at Nikki when I caught him on the couch made very little impression on him. In my experience, standard poodles do not do that adorable doggy thing of skulking with a guilty smirk when you catch them being naughty. Nikki and Loulou's response is always "What? What? What's the problem?!? Oh, alRIGHT! If you insist..."
So I was reduced to creating barriers. I tried:
and PICKET SIGNS
Somehow Nikki could manage them all. He'd push things aside, knock them off the couch, squeeze next to them...
Plus it's kind of a drag to have to take furniture or sculptures off your goddam couch in order to sit on it!
Ultimately, I bought a strip that would give him an electric shock if he touched it. But I could never bring myself to use it.
Hey! I haven't tried dancing around the couch at midnight under a full moon! Maybe...
NO. I'm done.
This all reminds me of my struggle decades ago with Maeve, my rescue Great Dane. Maeve, like Nikki, was obsessed with the couch. She had a lovely homemade dog bed, a plywood platform covered with very thick foam rubber and a blanket. But no.
Margo and I could not sleep in the same room with Maeve because she howled and barked in her dreams, which were frequent. So she had to be in the living room.
Well. Margo moved in with some very nice furniture, including a couch. She did not want Maeve on it. I supported
her in this, although I probably wouldn't have chosen it myself. I mean, the couch was dark brown so who can even see the dirt? That's kinda my housekeeping standard. But I loved Margo and I took on her battle as my own. I was DETERMINED.
I found a spray at the pet store that promised to keep pets off the furniture, or my money back. I'm not saying it didn't work. But let me tell you, a redwood tree would pull up its roots and somehow walk away in an effort to distance itself from that smell. Not only did the spray keep Maeve off the couch, it kept Margo and me out of the living room for two weeks.
Maeve would always sneak up on the couch after we went to bed. So I decided to set my alarm for 2am, catch her on the couch and make her spend the rest of the night on the back porch. THAT would teach her to stay off the couch!
The first night, I woke up at 2am, caught her, put her on the back porch. Next night, same thing. Third night -- there she was asleep in her very own bed! Fourth night: Again in her platform bed! I had succeeded in training Maeve to stay off the couch! I was so proud of myself. Margo was very happy.
Then a few nights later, I had to go to the bathroom around 3am, and there Maeve was on the couch. Obviously, she had learned to wait LONGER before she made her way to her preferred sleeping accomodations.
That's when I gave up. What made me give up this time? I could not face my future of devising different couch obstacles -- a table? How about a swing set? -- and always yelling at couch-lounging Nikki.
Rick counsels: "Make space for the grieving that's natural when you let go of something that's been important to you." I'll tell you, two seconds of grief and then RELIEF. I am HAPPY to stop thinking about the fucking couch and chastising Nikki to no avail!
Rick again: "Let good things come into the space that's been opened up by whatever you let go." And I HAVE! I let a nice padded couch cover come into the space that was opened up. Admittedly, it's not as visually stunning as the original upholstery, but IT'S A LOT MORE COMFORTABLE! The truth is, I never enjoyed lying on the wonderful-looking upholstery because it was TOO SCRATCHY! I don't even know how Nikki could stand it. So he's gotta be more comfortable too.
Rick, one last time:
"Let yourself be surprised -- both by what might replace what you've released, and by the power of letting go in general. As the great Thai Buddhist teacher, Ajahn Chah, once said:
If you let go a little, you will have a little happiness.
If you let go a lot, you will have a lot of happiness.
If you let go completely, you will be completely happy."
Sitting on my suddenly comfy couch with Nikki makes me very happy.
Well, Bloggelinis, you didn't know I was so wise, did you?
Click here to subscribe to Just One Thing. Also, Rick has written a good book, Buddha's Brain. I've read it twice.