August 10, 2021

What Dogs can teach us about Unconditional, Reciprocal Love.

Dakota came into my life five years ago. She is my heart and soul.

I was never a fan of dogs growing up. When people would kiss their dogs on the head or let them sleep in their bed, I honestly thought it was gross.

Until, she came along.

Every single day and night I thank God for her. When I say every day, I mean it: I stop, pause, and let my heart be filled with immense gratitude and love.

People have loved me. I’ve been in love, and I have and do love deeply. But the love of Dakota has completely transcended any human connection I have had.

Before her, I didn’t really know what it felt like—this thing called unconditional love. In Greek, we call it “agape“—the highest form of selfless love, a love that is true, reciprocated and pure.

She’s shown me the depths of this love in a way no human ever has. She’s constant, she’s consistent, she’s reliable. She loves openly, wholeheartedly, and without fear of rejection.

She doesn’t shy away from showing affection, even if I’m busy and pay her little attention. She’s there. Currently, as I write this, she presses her warm body against my leg. She doesn’t worry about my personal space. She’s confident that I will embrace her back.

She may cry and push me to feed her on time, or walk her as soon as she opens her eyes, but her expectations are just and fair.

I remember feeling heartbroken and as I cried, my entire body felt weak and shattered. It was one of those cries where it feels like the ocean pours out of you and everything you have ever felt catapults its way to the surface.

She slowly climbed onto my lap and sat there while I wailed. I felt embraced and loved. She didn’t judge me; she let me cry while gently letting me know, “I’m here—let yourself feel what you feel.”

She has taught me about loving freely without conditions. She doesn’t play games with my heart, she’s selfless, she cares about giving without tallying up anything. She doesn’t judge me, nor does she take things personally.

Every day is a blank slate with us. A fresh morning, another opportunity to grow together, and simply enjoy the presence of one another.

We give to one another equally.

I’ve learned about love in a whole new way since she entered my life. She chose me—that was something I wasn’t used to.

I was thinking about which puppy to take home. She ran out of the litter, weed on the floor, and wagged her tail in her own pee.

I knew—she was the one.

She’s shown me my own limitations when it comes to love, all the ways I have held back in the past, and the missed opportunities to say how I really feel out of fear of rejection.

I thought I loved people unconditionally, but I was wrong. Only in recent years have I learned how to love without conditions. I’m still learning to keep my heart open even when others don’t reciprocate. I grew tired of closing off and started choosing to love no matter what—to keep my heart free from upset, bitterness, and blame.

Maybe, in the hopes that people will come around.

And then there is this strange thing I have experienced by letting go and just loving in the moment.

Through loving her openly, I’ll be overcome with joy, and then, I find myself feeling sorrow at times.

Sometimes, my eyes swell up at the thought of her not being around. I get this sick feeling come over me, a dreaded sinking in my gut, this pit of despair.

The worry of the future visits me—tempting me to forfeit the moment I have, to project me from “one day.”

Fear pervades in the moments when I am totally surrendered to loving her and being loved by her. There’s a temptation to hold back, to quickly escape the moment, to block the reality of her not being here one day. I don’t want to feel that pain in the future. But I know if I worry, I’ll miss out on what we have now.

I know by loving her so deeply without borders, without limitations, I open myself up to future heartache—a pain that will crush me to the core.

It’s bittersweet being in love.

So, I hold her tightly, I kiss her head. I have told her every single day of her life for five years, “You are the most beautiful girl in the world.”

I find myself letting the fear come up and diving deeper into love. I let the thought of loss remind me to cherish her even more.

I never want to go a day without hugging her, appreciating her, and falling asleep with her in my arms. I don’t want to go through life with regret that I didn’t let myself love, and be loved, by the most beautiful animal in the world.

It makes me wonder, though, why I haven’t been able to experience this with others?

There have been glimpses, small beacons of hope where I thought it could happen.

Sometimes, I’ve wished others had the courage to love me this hard. To let go and embrace me wholeheartedly, the same way I love to love.

It has always perplexed me why when love is in front of us, we dismiss it or we walk away without pressing in. We treat people like they are disposable sometimes.

It grieves me deeply that there are people who I love, and who I care for so deeply, who choose the easy road—rather than sharing in a life of love and connection together. I often wondered if my disappointment was due to feeling rejected. But I have come to realise—I don’t feel rejection, although it may disguise itself as such.

I feel loss—the loss of opportunity to go deep, to experience joy, to feel the warmth of embracement with people I thought loved me just as I love them. I’m saddened by their own fears and limitations, and that they would rather stay safe than explore the depths of love together—just like Dakota and I.

I wonder, is there more I can do or do I remain patient in hopes that those I care for will come around?

I think of Dakota. I know it would be easier not to let myself love so deeply because then I wouldn’t feel such loss one day. But I choose to let go of the fear of the future, of loss, because I don’t want to live my life safely on the sidelines.

I don’t want to live forever wondering what it feels like to really love and be loved.

I don’t want to miss out on her.

Because when people or our animals, or anything for that matter, mean a lot to us, we need to be courageous. We need to face the worry and not allow it to dictate how we live our lives. We need to overcome our fear of rejection. We need to accept that part of life is loss, and we can’t run from it. We may as well embrace it as part of the journey.

Love and deep connection requires us to face our own demons too. We are asked to transcend our inner pain and torments, to tap into the oasis of love with others.

None of us are getting out of here alive—our fate is set. Why do we wait around as if people will last forever? As if we will last forever? Why do we put things off and bury our heads in the sand rather than fighting with everything we have for the people who matter to us most?

I understand that to accept love, to let it in, and to love others unconditionally—when everything in life is temporary—is hard.

But I think we limit ourselves out of our desire to control things beyond our control.

We fear the pain of loss will be worse than missing out on love right now.

We fear what people will think of us by exposing our true feelings.

We fear confrontation, criticism, and facing the reality of one another’s mistakes and shortcomings.

We deny ourselves because we are out of touch with the present, and we think “one day” is better than now.

We may also deny ourselves because we worry they will leave our lives—whether by choice or by death. We dislike anything that makes us feel out of control—the unknown seems too scary, too unfamiliar, we’d rather stay in the known.

Even if that means—missing out.

Perhaps some of us fear letting go, because we don’t want to lose ourselves. When we are utterly consumed by joy, and bliss, we know it can be stripped away from us at any moment. We dread the thought, so we would rather not allow ourselves to feel too happy.

We want love, but the price to pay to love and be loved is the acknowledgement that it comes with loss. It comes with heartache. Pain. And difficult, raw, honest conversations.

It’s easier to go through life, experiencing only but small fractions of what true, unconditional love feels like.

But when we choose easy, we are okay with never truly knowing the depths of how far our heart and connections can go. We would rather stay safe and watch from afar.

We pass up on the experience of raw connection—to avoid what may happen in the future.

We pass up the present—the only thing that truly is.

It is our worry that prevents love. Our lack of faith in the unknown, in territory we have not yet travelled.

But when two souls collide, even with our fur friend, willing to love deeply, letting go of worry, accepting the inevitable, and being honest to how they truly feel—there is an unexplainable, breathtaking experience that happens: words simply cannot describe.

In having the courage to surrender to the unknown, you will only know if you dare to let go.

Unconditional love is the ultimate freedom—free from fear of what could be, what might be, what will be.

I love you Dakota, forever my soul.


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