spirit flows thru -- Alison Rittger's spiritual reflections on finding the holy in the daily - blog
spirit flows thru -- Alison Rittger's spiritual reflections on finding the holy in the daily
PictureResponsibly leashed large dog.
Foxie is taking a nap. He’s been napping a lot since Thursday night. That evening when both of us were mellow from meditating with our friends and were walking around the block, a large dog without a leash jumped from the back of a car and knocked me to the ground as I bent to pick up Foxie, who as we know is dog averse. Foxie tore out of his coat for cold weather which fastens with velcro and ran into the street. Perhaps in the process he tweaked his leg or perhaps the dog was able to bite him. At the time, seeing my tiny terrified animal race into the street, I was not considering damage, just dreading that a car could hit him.

Two men who belonged to that unleashed large dog ran after Foxie as I lay on the curb and screamed and screamed for them to get my dog. Meanwhile the young woman with the two men and the unleashed dog, wrestled the big dog back into the car, assisted me off the ground and helped me limp to a bench in front of the burger bar where the unhappy event was taking place.

The following two days, Foxie continued to favor his left back leg.  Lacking the courage to wait any more days to look for improvement, I thought we needed to visit the vet for an x-ray. Foxie's leg was swollen and he couldn’t put weight on it, but no fracture. The vet said not to walk him so much for a while, feed him fiber, like broccoli and carrots, dose him with a pain and anti-inflammatory pill for four days and check back if he doesn’t improve. No one at the vets would say whether the scratch on my wrist was a dog bite or the result of being clawed. It is healing. My right knee and thigh are also healing.

In the meantime, although initially terrified and traumatized, Foxie and I agreed to wait until the desire to tell our most dramatic story had quieted. Because the offending animal is a breed much maligned, and I have had special reasons in the past to love particular dogs of this breed – my son’s dogs, Leeloo and Otto, I hold the irresponsible owners responsible for what happened to us that night. I wish the dog had been on a leash and someone had been holding the leash. And I wish I had taken their names and addresses or they had offered them so they could pay the vet’s bill. That would have made what looks like it will be a happy ending, even happier.


PictureFoxiebeau on short leash
If my one and only had asked me before she tackled the topic of boundaries, I would have recommended she read Setting Boundaries for Chihuahua Mixes. While essential reading for folks with small rescue-tempered dogs, the thin tome can be read as a metaphor for life. Unfortunately, it is currently out of print.

Stay on a Short Leash. My one and only claims to have had her own personal and profound experience of a boundary, but it was in therapy and the rope, as she termed it, was of an indeterminate length. It was nothing like a leash, and I don’t mean the retractable kind. I had one of those once, but the trainer we hired to go with us to the dog park said I should be kept on a short leash. The point being a fixed length of sturdy material attached to a harness sets a more realistic boundary. Even as a metaphor, it works better. You always know how far you can go. Recognizing limits is reassuring. On a short leash, my one and only can never go astray. When she isn’t going to the dog park or walking around the block in the dark, she can try the retractable kind.

Be Consistent
Another boundary for us smaller, more sensitive animals that would work well for my one and only is consistency. And I don’t mean a “foolish” consistency, which I have heard my one and only say is the “hobgoblin of little minds.” I mean reliable limits. Because my one and only loves me so much, she doesn’t set reliable limits. For example, when she is on her iPad, I can sometimes jump into her lap and knock it on the floor and she laughs. Other times, given the same iPad, the same couch or chair and the same lap, I am swatted to the floor and admonished. So, which is it? Until I know for sure, I will continue to make the leap. Eventually, I will get it right.

Less Talk
The actual list of boundaries for Chihuahua mixes is pretty long, so I will let the next one be the last for this post. This suggestion goes back to the time of Shakespeare and was spoken by Polonius, the father of Ophelia and Laertes in the play Hamlet. “...brevity is the soul of wit…” For our purposes, think that less talk to your Chihuahua is smarter than more talk to same. And here is why. We respond to tone, not to verbiage.

Small dog persons can orate, as does Hamlet that they are"... but mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw.” (Probably another kind of bird.) There may be no sense in this for small dogs, even knowing that the meaning generally given to this passage is that "birds tend to fly with the wind, and, when the wind is northerly, the sun dazzles the hunter's eye, and he is scarcely able to distinguish one bird from another. If the wind is southerly, the bird flies in that direction, and his back is to the sun, and he can easily know a hawk from a handsaw. When the wind is north-north-west, which occurs about ten o'clock in the morning, the hunter's eye, the bird, and the sun, would be in a direct line, and with the sun thus in his eye he would not at all be able to distinguish a hawk from a handsaw. "

While some might find this explanation interesting, a small dog, not hearing words it knows like “food, stay, treat or walk” is at a complete loss. And thus are words wasted. My point is say it short, say it clear, and smile. As for my one and only, the less said the better.


PictureFarmmech by Dana Erland
It was my turn on Sunday at the First Unitarian Universalist church to be the Worship Associate and to speak on the topic, Barriers and Boundaries. After the service in the greeting line with the minister, I met some people pleased with my Reflection, what we now call the five minutes of personal thought that tie into the minister’s sermon and into the theme. One kind woman asked if she could read my words. I knew she could listen to it again in the church’s on line archive, but not read it. I said I would share it in this blog. So it is as follows:

My work in the world is to be the sole employee of the Barriers into Boundaries foundry founded and funded by me for me. Yet meant to benefit all beings. My goal is to approach the end of life free to love from within flexible boundaries by recognizing rigid barriers of habit and reactivity that have kept out love, loving these barriers into protective boundaries.

In part, this business has been inspired by the poet Rumi’s directive: “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” That was my invitation to recognize habits and reactions that walled me in and others out. And I noted that Rumi doesn’t say get rid of the barriers.

In this work I struggle to recognize and accept aspects of myself that once probably served me well, but are no longer skillful or useful. Once these parts transform, in my remaining years I can be so open to life that it lives itself through me while I continue as this particular person who interacts in particular situations. In other words, I don’t expect a complete do-over. 

 I was shocked to discover that I could not honestly say I have ever felt brave or safe enough to stop being hyper vigilant about how others might perceive or judge me as well as how I perceive and judge myself. If it is confidence in one’s personal boundaries that fosters bravery, then I have often substituted bravado, replete with personality quirks that sometimes felt to me as if I were in the bullring, waving the red cape at toro.

I really do know how lacking safety works because for years I have been tackling childhood trauma issues with a therapist trained in somatic experiencing, a kind of non-conversational approach that focuses on the body to locate and release the hold of early terrors that originated in a time preverbal.

On our first appointment, Jane handed me a length of what looked like soft white rope and asked me to place it on the floor, wherever and however large or small I wanted it to be. I did. Then she said this is your space and no others can enter unless you invite them in.

I stood in the center of that circling rope and felt a kind of fierceness rise up. Almost apologetic, I wondered if it was wrong to feel such a protective surge within this circle. I could have growled the way Foxiebeau, my dog does when he protects his territory.

I have noticed that when feeling safe, I can be open and kind, able to face experience with curiosity; whereas from behind barriers, certainty plants the flag and claims the territory for safety’s sake.

I will continue to be curious as to the efficacy of this late-in-life job of reshaping barriers into boundaries. So far so good. I hope it will continue to pay daily dividends and none may find me cold or lacking in compassion.  

PictureFoxiebeau and Friend
When my one and only rang Greg’s doorbell, I was released into the hall. I saw her. Joyfully, I leapt upon her, racing up and down the hall, coming at her from many angles. Cooper too bounded into the hall and he jumped on her. On her hands and knees, she petted and kissed both of us, his fluffy white face and my brown one. Finally she fell over uttering a short word I doubt is Sanscrit or Pali. In the midst of the ruckus caused by Cooper and me, she smiled, and I could see a radiant light around her. Maybe not. But she was happy.

I heard her tell Greg she didn’t talk at Spirit Rock, even to ask the time. After the closing circle when people cried and held each other, she exchanged names with the two dishwashers she had been teamed with for work meditation each morning after breakfast. She gave her name, phone number and email address to a woman she’d loved deeply for 20 minutes while they sat across from each other and gazed into each other’s and their own hearts. My one and only said that those who chose to be part of this closing loving kindness meditation had paired with a stranger, and when the five teachers finished guiding the practice, the room was thick with unconditional friendliness. My one and only said it felt beautiful. Could she have loved this woman as much as she says she loves me? I do not feel jealous in the least. Not even of Cooper, the white dog, when he kissed my one and only and she kissed him back.

Since we’re back in Oakland, my one and only meditates as usual every morning. I will still interrupt her for string cheese or an urgent walk to the park. After we return, she resets her meditation timer. As the sound of three singing bowls settles her, I settle too. We are again a sangha of two.

PictureFoxiebeau in San Francisco
When I see my one and only cart my sleeping crate from its usual spot and place it near the door, I suspect we are not just going to the rose garden. On short trips I lie on the front seat. Long trips mean the crate. This time we are going to San Francisco. When we turn left on Gough Street, I know exactly where we are going. My one and only wants me to hang out with Cooper, a fluffy white dog I like and his companion, Greg. I will eat and sleep there and walk around the block just like I did during the ten years we lived in that building on the second floor.

My one and only is going to Spirit Rock. There she won’t talk to anyone most of the time, except maybe briefly to a teacher. She will sit and walk and sit and walk, eat and sleep. She will be a lot like me. She says she is ready to do that, but she is not ready to go a week without coffee. Even though my one and only goes every morning to Starbucks, she is kind of a coffee snob. She won’t drink decaf or instant coffee. But, she did buy instant coffee to take to Spirit Rock. They won’t serve coffee there, she said.

I know this is kind off topic, but I want to explain why every morning I am walked to Starbucks. My one and only says she really likes coffee from Philz. But at Starbucks she likes the workers because of their kindness training. They remember her only drink, my name, and hers. We are always greeted and made to feel like it matters we are buying from them. It’s not just because we don’t complain and never steal, not even Splendas. For my part, I don’t lift my leg on their displays.

So my one and only has left me, her dog, Foxiebeau, in San Francisco. I will be glad to see her when she picks me up at the end of the week. She has promised to tell me what it was like there. She is hoping not to have too many thoughts, so her briefing may be really brief. In the meantime I will sit and walk and sleep and eat while my one and only goes away to practice what to me comes naturally.   

PictureFoxiebeau on the floor at Starbucks
​Sometime between 5 and 6 in the morning, I hear the clink clank of my harness and leash, and then my one and only asks me if I want to go to Starbucks. This is never a real question. If I answer by crawling back into my crate, she tips it and I tumble out. Sometimes we are the first ones at the store even if we walk the long way around the back of the building. Other times men or women, mostly men, are already sleeping inside or sprawled outside near the door. When my one and only sees this, she tightens her grip on my leash, aware that my past has conditioned me to lunge at pant legs.

On this particular morning, two men are lounging near the entry. We push past them into the store. The coffee people don’t seem too interested in the pair outside, but my one and only says, uncharacteristically, “You have two crooks outside.” She usually isn’t judgmental. At least not outloud. But this day she must have a feeling because while waiting for her coffee, she turns toward the window and sees one of the men approach two bicycles with what looks like a red handled bolt cutter. He is bending over the bicycles. Alarmed, my one and only says “The man is stealing a bike!” Two big coffee workers run outside and stop the theft. Then one of the workers wheels a bike into the back of the store. He thanks my one and only for saving his bike. And the next morning when we went into the store, he thanked her again.

A few mornings after that, a different coffee worker was smoking a cigarette outside before starting her work day, and when we came out she asked my one and only if we weren’t scared to walk around the block in the dark. My one and only said she didn’t think she was scared. (I like to think I am protecting her.) The young woman said that she was always being approached and asked for cigarettes. We don’t smoke, so no one would stop us for that. The young woman went on to say people are crazy. As proof of this madness, she mentioned an almost bike heist right outside the store.

She didn’t seem to know she was speaking to the real hero of that thwarted theft. My one and only filled her in on what happened, not omitting who deserved the credit. She didn’t explain it exactly that way, but I think that was the gist of it. The young woman stubbed out her cigarette in a planter box and went inside to go to work. My one and only and I continued our daily walk around the block. She held her double short one Splenda latte in one hand and my leash in the other. We kept alert for crimes we could prevent, confident our crime-fighting reputation would keep us safe. We also greeted other early morning risers who crossed our path.

National Dog Day


PictureAsleep and it's National Dog Day! A.Rittger
National Dog Day almost came and went without me. We were just not tuned in. But when my one and only read an email from Roverdotcom, I heard her exclaim, "OMD!" and then she leashed me and we took  a walk to celebrate. We even lingered a little longer than usual at a favorite tree. She hinted that we might spend that National Dog Day afternoon streaming dog movies on Netflix. I was willing, but voted no on Lassie. That dog set the bar too high on heroics. Small dogs (like me) especially rescued dogs (like me) often do more cowering than towering acts of bravery. Lassie isn't even aggressive like small rescued dogs.

After mulling over the 12 possible films we could have streamed, we did not watch any movies. In fact, I spent part of the day crated and alone. Don't read this as a complaint. Those who matter most to us need some time apart from us. I have noticed that when my one and only comes back from wherever she's gone, she is totally appreciative of my single-minded attention. Clearly, she doesn't get that from the two-leggeds she spends time with. Except perhaps from her therapist which is only once a week. I have visited this therapist, but never had my trauma treated directly. In a veterinary hospital, I had  hernia surgery. Also the doctor snipped me so I could be adopted. I don't remember this, but I heard talk at Animal Control and guessed it was about me.

I am not the first animal in the family to have been rescued. My one and only's oldest son took in two pit bulls, Leeloo and Otto. Leeloo came from the San Francisco SPCA. Otto was taken off the streets in Oakland and passed around until the news of his needing a home reached that son and his wife via company email. They took Leeloo to meet Otto and nobody bit anybody, so Otto got to go home with them. My one and only's youngest son rescued quite a few animals himself, even when he was growing up and living with my one and only, long before I came on the scene. I have heard stories of him bringing home animals he met while skateboarding as if it he were certain they could move in. I believe several of those dogs were very big. One had seven puppies that chewed through cushions in a room where they were being kept. I would not do that. But I did eat through my duck toy and it had to be restuffed and sewed up several times. The son in the Philippines has a pit bull too, although I am not sure if he was rescued. That son also has a cat. I have met the son but not his animals, although he showed me pictures.

To tell the truth, I have used the fact of my rescue as an excuse for being aggressive. But I sense change is in the air because we watched a rerun of The Dog Whisperer, and my one and only perked up. The dog was a chihuahua with bad biting behavior, sort of like the way I am with other animals, pant cuffs, men moving fast minding their own business. Almost anything launches me.  I am small but untrustworthy. Until Cesar Millan showed up on late night TV, I had no incentive to be any different. If my one and only allows me to be leader of the pack and substitutes affection for discipline, who am I to object? Will she change just because Cesar says my behavior is her fault? What about setting the pace? Going in and out of doors first? Will I not get to stop at every tree and hydrant on our morning walk? What about pulling on the leash to show her where I want to go? Will I have to wait to be invited to sit on her lap?  What will happen next? 

PictureLooking out below! A.Rittger
If I wanted to chronicle my life, I would need to dictate. An iPad is not an iPaw. My life will be in the hands of my one-and-only, and she likes long sentences. I will have to retrain her to honor my short attention span with shorter sentences. Nor should she add or pad with conjecture or interpretation. A dog’s mind is mostly subject/verb.  At least mine is.

I recall in a my last post alluding to loud and sudden sounds like firecrackers or the firing of Smith & Wesson 38 Specials and the terrible effect on my nervous system. And I believe I may have mentioned the sheer joy of a ringing phone. It often means friends are on their way up, or if my one-and-only grabs the leash, we are going downstairs to greet someone in the lobby. Clearly then, booms equals disaster and ring mean camaraderie. That’s just the way it is. No need to go deeper.

When at home, either alone or with my darling, I rarely watch TV. On my own, I would not have the skill to find Animal Planet. I have noticed that when we do turn on daytime TV, Law and Order SVU marathons are our go-to viewing. It did bother me that when my one and only offered me string cheese, she held it out and said in a creepy voice, “Is this the way you like it?” I felt my pelt crawl. But then she laughed. It only happened once.

I have learned to climb from the couch to a tabletop close to the window. From there I can look down on Grand Ave or at Webster and spy other dogs strolling. Low in my throat, I growl. Shushes or commands like “No! Foxie! No!” have no affect on this part of my nervous system. Food, of course, can redirect me, but then I hop back up and recommence my deep-throated growling. I absolutely could benefit from training, but we seem to have given up on that option. In fact, I have not worn nor seen my muzzle in months.

Yesterday I did launch myself at a fuzzy sort of something on a leash. I expected the muzzle to be rediscovered. Muzzle. Oh why do I even mention it here?  The mere memory undoes me. When I’m forced into it, my ears droop. My tail, likewise. I can only hope no other creature sees me thus shamed. It's important to remember that I can “cute” my way out of wearing it. My eyes go soft, and I position my small brown self to highlight my vulnerability. Overcome by my cuteness, my one and only sighs and relents. We go out. Too bad the next dog I see will trigger me once again. Without a dog whisperer, I doubt I’ll ever learn. While Animal Control wasn't terrible, being rescued gives me so much more material for The Life and Times of Foxiebeau le Chien

Have to stop! My body clock is telling me it is time to jump around, to signal a walk or a treat or, best of all, both.

A Foxiebeau Update


PictureFoxiebeau's favorite mural. /A.Rittger
No one asks me about my life what with all the moving we’ve been doing. While it’s hard to account for any particular day in the last several months, we did depart the small slow elevator with all the walkers and canes crowding me and move to a big building with three speedy talking elevators, usually empty when we take them for morning walks or afternoon outings. Lots more people of all ages are here and dogs – more than I like!

Highlights first: Car rides on Grand Ave to Safeway and the walks up Jean Street to the Morcom Rose Garden. Dogs can’t go in the park, so we follow the rules, but we do get to walk past the Ace nursery on our way. We pause at the park opening to read the inscription about red roses and blooddrops. Other times we walk toward Lake Merritt down a side street with lots of murals. The picture on this blog shows my favorite. At home, I like it when my one-and-only tosses treats to me.  I’m never sure where on the rug they’ll land. And it is fun to tear up toys. My new toy is a duck and has one quack in its butt.

When the ladies come for meditation, I do not play with squeaky toys. I leap on each of them while they sit their half-hour, but they don’t seem to mind. Then I lie in the center of the rug and chew on a blue toy that’s supposed to be good for my teeth and breath. I like how my one-and-only takes me downstairs to wait for them to arrive. It is fun to have friends!

Lowlights: All the celebrations! When the Warriors won the playoffs, fireworks, more like bombs I thought, went off for hours and I cowered in corners, shaking like crazy. Not my fault! Then the parade. It came right down the street where I live! More noise and bombs bursting in air. Then it was Fourth of July and the noisy fireworks. By that time, I was on medication. Sedatives they’re called. Finally I was fitted for a Thunder Shirt, which we are trying out. It seems complicated. But if it calms me, it will be worth being tossed around while my one-and-only sorts out the multiple lengths of Velcro straps.

Recently, a friend sent an email describing a circus-like training for dogs so they can do tricks. There’s even one for small dogs like me. I weigh just about 12 lbs. Unfortunately, I am unfriendly to other animals and to pant legs, particularly if they are going by fast. But even slower pant legs are not necessarily safe from my aggressive behavior. I'm lucky that my one-and-only laughs as she picks me up and hides my eyes so I won’t notice another dog. She stays cheerful as I struggle to attack, and she smiles while apologizing to the people at the end of their leashes. We never ride up in an elevator if another dog is in it or near it, even. Sometimes I wish I had a different disposition. I know I am like this from causes and conditions not my fault.

If dogs could meditate, would they tap into canine equanimity? My one-and-only could toss the sedatives, take back the Thunder Shirt for a refund, and buy another squeaky toy. Once I could abide other animals, we might join the circus and learn to jump through flaming hoops. Until then, it's the status quo for us.   

PictureGo Warriors
I’m a happy Golden State Warrior’s fan, one who loved reading the sports page throughout the team’s campaign to take the Western Division. I delighted in rereading the wins and hearing the losses explained. But most of all I liked stories about the players themselves. For instance, sportswriter Rusty Simmons wrote how David Lee, once a starter, pulled a hamstring muscle and by the time he healed had been relegated to coming off the bench. He’d lost his starting power forward position to Draymond Green. I imagined that Lee, a strong player before being traded from the Knicks, couldn’t like not starting. But when interviewed by Simmons, Lee talked about what an unbelievably good job Green was doing. He said, “When you’ve got a full team of guys who want to see the guy next to him succeed, it makes the game a lot easier.”

If David Lee felt envy, and in his heart of hearts hoped that Draymond Green might not play quite so well, that wouldn’t be odd. After all sports is about winning and losing, and we live in a society that believes in winners and losers. Often, we compare our own successes with those of our peers. If Lee viewed Green’s gain as is his loss, he’d be right in step. But no, Lee praises his teammate’s good play and sense of accomplishment.

Wanting to see the guy next to you succeed and feeling happy for his success is mudita in action. As I was following Warrior action, I was also being with this one of the four brahma viharas as part of my practice. Reading about David Lee fit in with my thoughts about this different kind of joy, this way of being that responds to others’ successes not with withdrawal or envy, but with active delight. In Pali, the liturgical language of Theravada Buddhism, mudita means sympathetic or appreciative joy. It is one of the four brahma viharas, or Divine Emotions, which means these four conditions of the heart are good to cultivate – good for you and good for everyone else. The other three brahma viharas are loving kindness or metta; compassion called karuna, and equanimity, upekka.

I have long suspected mudita was not my strong suit and if I hoped to cultivate it, I would have to come to terms with envy, curtail judging, and cut down comparing. Even as recently as my short stay at Hotel Lake Merritt, the place for independent senior living, I would have loved to be wholeheartedly happy for those residents whose adult children came often to visit. But no. Where were my adult children? Didn’t they think I might appreciate a visit?

Several years ago when I was Corky’s girlfriend, I envied her her eight grandchildren, for having been present at the birth of each one. However, I chose to discount the pleasure this gave her by thinking of those eight as eight more excuses for her to go out and spend money. I did not appreciate the joy shopping afforded her. Rather, I awarded myself a one-up star. Good for me, I am not acquisitive. I discounted Corky’s pleasure because it came from an activity or lifestyle choice that was not my preference. Now I am asking myself, “Did her choices really threaten the validity of my own?”

I get to experience appreciative joy during Small Group Ministry meetings at the Unitarian Universalist church when during our gatherings, group members speak about being deeply happy or feeling lucky. And believe me I am grateful for this recent ability because, as I said, accessing mudita hasn’t been easy. I’ve read that it is the most difficult of the brahma viharas to cultivate. Clearly, that’s true for me.  

Not to cultivate appreciative joy goes directly against the UU seventh principle: our interdependence with the world around us. Clearly, another person’s joy does not diminish the supply of joy in the world; another person’s joy contributes to the joy available to all of us. And just maybe, our own joy in response creates even more.

Go Warriors. Sorry, Corky. And thank you, members of Small Group Ministry.