Mungo came to us in February... he was rescued from a Welsh puppy farm, where he had spent the first five years of his life. Probably his only experience of love in all that time, since being taken from his mother, until he came to us, was the eight weeks he spent in a wonderful foster-home (you can read more about his early journey here).
As human beings, it's easy for us to get stuck in the story we are telling ourselves each day... we will continue to do a particular behaviour, or think particular thoughts, because we've always done it that way. We interact with the world because of the labels we give ourselves - or accept from other people - "Anxious", "Introverted", "Extroverted", "Victim", "Intelligent", "Stupid"... When labels give us permission to limit ourselves, then we don't have to take responsibility - instead we can blame the label, because the label gives us our story... without realising that it's also the story that is "proving" the label. Those "knots of our own making" that Rainer Maria Rilke wrote about.
There's a wonderful poem by Marianne Williamson, called "Our Deepest Fear" (I have it on the wall in my office), and in it she explains that it's our light, not our darkness that frightens us... our deepest fear, she says, is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure...
In my work as a therapist and a trainer, I see many people who do change the stories they have been telling themselves, often for decades - it requires courage, and insight, and self-awareness, and self-compassion to do that, and I'm in awe every single time, because it proves the truth of Marianne's words...
And then I look at this beautiful little soul who has joined our family... every "first time" he does something new - like jumping up next to us on the sofa, or climbing up four steps instead of three, or allowing Luna to share his bed - he is releasing and re-writing a little bit of that old story and it makes my heart melt, because he's letting a little bit more of his light shine.
If he is not afraid to re-write his old story, why should any of us be? In Marianne's words, again, "As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same..." If we are bringing that kind of inspiration into the world, then what can happen? That's another story - what if we were to write it?
Mungo arrived into our lives a few weeks ago... confused and scared, he had been rescued from a puppy farm, where he had spent the first five years of his life as a stud dog - without care, kindness or even a name of his own. His escape from this grim life was probably because he needed some expensive veterinary care, which he was unlikely to receive, unless he was surrendered into rescue - and fortunately for Mungo, this was the path that opened before him, thanks to the lovely folks at Friends of Animals Wales...
Following the removal of 33 teeth, funded by the wonderful Schnauzerfest charity, who supported all his veterinary costs whilst he was in rescue with FOAW, he then spent the first eight weeks of his new life with a kind and patient foster family, who began to teach him what it feels like to be loved...
Fast forward to the end of February, and this little boy had yet another huge upheaval when he moved yet again... this time to his forever home, with two little Lhasa sisters to show him the ropes. However, it is very clear to us that although he is completely free from that old life, the abuse and neglect has deep roots, and he is still beset by the demons of his past...
To begin with, he wouldn't eat. I wasn't too worried at first, because of the stress of his move, but after a couple of days he began to taste - and then he stood back and just stared at me. I suddenly got the message - he didn't like the bowl! I turned his meal out onto a plate, and he devoured it ravenously; so now, Mungo eats from a plate... and not just any plate - he has three rather beautiful Art Deco plates that we bought specially for him.
For all of us, it's a journey of interpreting feelings and needs... the tilt of an ear, the twitch of a tail or the droop of a head can tell us so much when we are prepared to pay attention. Unlike with people, there is no story to listen to, and be hooked by - we can only imagine what he has been through. Just like many people though, when we do not have the self-worth to believe that we deserve to have our needs met, it was clear to us that Mungo felt deeply unworthy of many things in his new life.
It's an incredible joy when he responds... the first time he came towards us and stood to have his head scratched... the first time he lay down next to us on the sofa... the first walk, with tail and ears up, and eyes bright... all of these things mark a small rite of passage for him - the sign that he has given himself permission to accept this part of his new life and, in doing so, hopefully also to release part of the old.
But here's an interesting thing. We chose his name because we liked it, and because it fit with our previous boy schnauzers (Theo, Hugo...). In an idle moment, I looked it up, to find out the meaning. It turns out that St Mungo is the patron saint of those who have been bullied, which is actually pretty perfect, and his feast day is 13 January. As Mungo didn't have a proper birthday either, that seems pretty perfect, too, just like Mungo himself...
Tizzie is the newest member of the part-time section of the canine team. At just six months old, she is also the youngest; a fluffy, diminutive Lhasa Apso with formidable reserves of energy. Her favourite pastime during her visits is chasing Theo around the garden until they both collapse, exhausted, in the grass, until one of them decides it’s time for the next round. Tizzie is half his size, but nobody has told her that she can’t win.
Nobody has told her that she’s too small to jump onto the kitchen bench, either – even Daisy, with her balletic leaps, can’t manage the bench – but to tiny Tizzie it’s no obstacle… neither is our big iron bedstead, onto which Daisy and Poppy have to be lifted because it’s too high for them to jump. It took her a few attempts to work out her perfect strategy; but to Tizzie, for whom failure was not failure, but feedback, it was her goal; and she knew it was achievable. She just kept on going until she achieved it.
What would you do in life, if you knew you couldn’t fail? Is whatever has been getting in your way really real, or is it just a belief? Just think… what could happen if the belief was no longer there…?
Beliefs are not real – they are just ideas we have ceased to question. It’s perfectly possible to change a belief that is no longer serving you. So ask yourself – are your beliefs limiting, or limitless?
Here on the edge of the North York Moors it might sometimes seem as if time stands still while the rest of the world passes us by... but of course even here we are not immune from change…
A recent change, which might seem small in the scheme of things, was chronicled in an earlier Teachings of Dog – our full-time canine members of staff are now down from five to three and, it has to be said, things are a lot quieter round here…! It is remarkably interesting how differently the dogs behave depending on who else is around, and this sudden reduction in their numbers has really brought this to the fore. Theo and Lily now play and chase as they used to do before Poppy came along – when Poppy visits, Lily is more or less ignored by Theo. Lily will vociferously defend me against “intruders” (aka “visitors”!) if Theo is around, but without Theo she becomes quiet and welcoming. (Daisy remains pretty much Daisy, regardless of who is there!)
What about us? Do we also behave differently around different people? We certainly do... I was speaking with a new client this afternoon who was wanting help with some problems he is experiencing at work. Most of the time he is fine, but when in the company of certain colleagues he goes to pieces and loses his confidence completely; we’ve probably all experienced something similar at some point in our lives.
In NLP terms, this is known as “Perception is Projection” – in other words, we project our own “stuff” onto other people, which is then reflected back at us. For example, if a person unconsciously reminds us of someone we met in the past who made us feel a certain way, we are likely to recreate those feelings without consciously realising why – we project the attributes of the original person onto the new person and have the perception that they are the cause of our feelings.
Snippets the poodle gave an excellent demonstration of this – when she first came to us she was afraid of men, so any man who came into the house was, in her perception, a truly terrifying being.
When we become consciously aware of an unwanted projection it then becomes possible to do something about it, either by acknowledging that this person is not the same person as the original person who made us feel this way, or by addressing the underlying “stuff” within ourselves (often a limiting belief) that created the feeling in the first place.
Amongst the canine members of staff, however, doubtless Theo will continue to be best friends with Lily unless Poppy is around; Poppy will be very, very quiet when by herself, but act as a noise catalyst (or should that be “dogalyst”?) when with the others; Lily will have to be forcibly restrained until visitors are safely inside the hallway if Theo is around, and Daisy will remain Daisy, regardless of all the rest of us… until such time as another junior canine member of staff arrives, to shake up the mix yet again!
It’s been a beautiful spring weekend here in North Yorkshire. The garden is beginning to come to life and small green shoots are thrusting their way through the bare brown soil – the weeds as well as the garden plants…
Amongst the canine members of staff, Snippets has discovered yet another new joy in life; mysterious holes have started to appear around the base of the fern by the mint bed… Snippets will return to the kitchen with suspiciously muddy paws, tail waving happily and a big smile on her little woolly face.
As the weather improves, the dogs enjoy spending more and more time exploring in the garden. A couple of days ago, this resulted in an exciting and illicit adventure as, unbeknown to me, the back gate through to the adjacent farm yard and fields had been left open…
Theo was the first to return, appearing at the back door with all four legs decorated with a festival of burrs which lent him a rakish and somewhat bizarre appearance. Tutting as to where on earth in the garden he could have collected this unwelcome harvest, I set to work removing them, and only after a few minutes did it dawn on me that the rest of the garden was suspiciously quiet and alarmingly dog-free…
Leaping out of the back door, I found the back gate wide open and, looking through, saw the four other staff members joyfully romping among the stalks of last year’s burdock, diligently collecting the dried seed heads in their fur. They were quite delighted to see me, running back into the garden and bringing with them their sticky velcro harvest for me to remove from feet, legs and tails.
Theo, Lily, Snippets, Poppy & Daisy’s Teachings:
Negative thoughts and beliefs can be compared to the seeds of the weeds that flourish in an uncared-for garden. As these beliefs and thoughts are planted in the mind, so they may grow and flourish, spreading quickly from one mind to another.
Take note of what seeds you are picking up from the world around you – what thoughts and beliefs do you choose to allow to take root in your mind? What seeds are you sowing in the minds of others? Remember that the seeds of happiness, kindness, compassion and love will always bear a good harvest.
Snippets, our newest canine member of staff, has been with us now for just over a week and her personality is starting to blossom as her comfort zones gradually expand. She has discovered the joys of scrabbling excitedly in the scrunchy dead leaves of the crocosmia plant on the terrace, especially when “hiding” from Theo during a game of chase. She was very excited indeed to see Tracy last week for her new makeover, and after a rather drastic short-back-and-sides is now half the dog that she was… the discarded fluff filled an entire carrier bag! A trip to the beach at the weekend with Daisy and Poppy for company raised her to heights of bliss, once she realised that she could safely leave our sides for a run – but even better if we ran with her!
But Snippets has a problem. We had a visit from our lovely business coach, Dr Alun Rees, yesterday, and when he arrived Theo gave his usual vociferous and enthusiastic schnauzer welcome, aided and abetted by the rest of his team. All except Snippets whom, after a spot of loud and horrified barking, shot up the stairs and retreated to the safety of our bed, from where she refused to be moved. We managed to have her in the same room during the evening, when we were all in front of the fire, but even the sight of Theo and Daisy cuddling up next to Alun on the sofa was not enough to convince Snippets that he is really a friendly and gentle dog-loving soul.
Something in Snippets’s unknown past has created for her a belief that all unknown men are to be feared. For the other dogs, this is not their reality; they experienced the same situation and were more than happy to relax in Alun’s company, but Snippets believes it with all the fervency of her little doggy heart and, to her, the fear is very real in her mind because of that belief.
We all have our own worries and fears; most of us are extremely good at the game of “What If?” and can create easily for ourselves some quite scary future “realities”, because reality is subjective. Next time you find yourself doing this, stop for a moment and consider whether or not your fear is really real. Is it actually true, in this moment, or is it just a belief or a thought of something that might happen? What happens if, instead of your “What If” being a negative possibility, you change it to be “What If… something positive”? You may find your fears are less real than you thought they were.
For Snippets, of course, the only way to prove to her that her old belief is not true is with time, patience and a lot of love. Fortunately we can offer her all three of those in abundance, so that hopefully when Alun is back again in April, Snippets will be competing with the others for a place next to him on the sofa.
...and the Canine Members of Staff