This is a hard blog to write… last Tuesday morning we lost our beautiful, funny, fuzzy little Daisy, and I am desolate. She was only 7, and she had leukaemia. After nearly a week I still can’t believe that she’s gone, and that I will never hold her close to my heart and kiss her little velvet head again, and feel the softness of her fur… Anyone who has ever loved and lost a dog – or indeed anyone they love – knows the deep, indescribable well of sadness and loss, especially when that loved soul leaves us suddenly, and too soon… there are no words.
My little Daisy was a very constant companion; she would curl up in her bed next to my desk in my office whilst I worked at the computer, every so often demanding that I lifted her onto my knee, which meant I had to type one-handed – a small price to pay for the feeling of holding her. Whenever I sat down on the sofa she would be on my knee (even though she was the smallest, she would unhesitatingly shove a schnauzer out of the way if one of them was there first!), and if I lay down then she liked to sleep on my chest, with her head on my heart. At night she slept between us – one or other of us would often wake to find her tucked up in the crook of our neck, with her little furry face pressed up against our cheek. She was very special.
I have always been honored by, and grateful for, her love and attention – and I honored her in turn by giving her my own. Whenever she asked, I gave (unless it was a request for more food – she did have a passion for roast chicken!).
My clients also enjoyed her presence as “therapy dog” in the room – the schnauzers, although gorgeous and very friendly with folks they know, are also extremely boisterous so they remain in the kitchen when I’m seeing clients, but Daisy presided over my therapy space with a welcoming grace and enthusiastic joyfulness that was appreciated by all who met her.
A dear friend and fellow fan of Carl Jung said to me that she believes that, “…the bond we have with our pets is archetypal and reaches a place deep, deep within us, where our conscious minds cannot fathom”, and I am sure she is right.
There is no short-cut to dealing with grief – for each of us, healing takes as long as it takes. The important thing is to allow ourselves to feel whatever it is we are feeling in the moment, without trying to repress it, or telling ourselves we “ought to be over it by now”. There is no ought; we are individuals, and the waves of grief that assail us after any bereavement are a testament to the love we feel for the soul who has moved on. After a time, the waves may come less frequently, but they will still come; accepting that that is ok can be difficult if we subscribe to the belief that our grief should have a time limit.
It’s important that we give ourselves time to feel our pain – to own it and be with it. If we are afraid to feel it, then it will shadow our life forever until we deal with it. Spending time in our pain is hard – it’s the other side of Mindfulness – accepting what we are experiencing, without judgement, even when that experience is raw and painful beyond measure… and holding the space for our own soul to heal.
Emotions, whether joyful or deeply painful, are not meant for us to hold onto and keep… they are like the weather – they come and they go. If we accept their presence in the moment, and the fact that this too will pass, we can then allow them to move on, and we can begin to discover that in between the waves, and the tempests of wind and rain, there is peace.
That place that my friend spoke about that lies deep, deep within us – that place where our conscious minds cannot fathom – is also a place of deep peace… it is the place that Jung refers to as our “collective unconscious”. It is atemporal – within that place we are forever connected to those we love; past, present and future. The answer to our ultimate solace, therefore, just like all of life’s problems, lies not outside us, but inside. At the end of the day, there is only love.
We’ve got the builders in, and the canine members of staff are really not amused… Even though they have been here over a week now, the dogs still go mad every time one of the builders walks across the courtyard. It’s a boundary issue, and nobody likes it when someone keeps crossing their boundaries. I’ve had to draw all the curtains on that side of the house so the builders can come and go without the attendant chaos.
What do we do when someone crosses (or tries to cross) one of our own personal boundaries? Do we make it known (however lovingly) that this is not acceptable, or do we keep the little yapping voice to ourselves, drawing across the curtain in order to keep the peace?
If you are finding yourself saying “yes” to others at the expense of saying “no” to yourself, perhaps it’s time to start listening to your inner dog…
I am fascinated by the different approaches that the dogs have to their walks. Theo is excited by everything – and if something excited him on the previous walk, then he will remember and get even more excited as we approach the same place in the walk, obviously hoping that the same pheasant, hare or whatever will leap out again at the same spot (and if it did, he would probably explode with joy). He has a constant air of anticipation – “what excitement will happen next?” seems to be his motto.
Lily is mainly concerned with keeping her eye on us; if we stop for any reason, she will hurry across, jumping up and putting a paw on our leg, gazing up in mute, gentle enquiry with her beautiful black eyes.
Daisy, on the other hand, is a keen student of nature and takes her research seriously. When she finds something worthy of study, it will occupy her entire attention so that she becomes completely deaf to our calls, or to the fact that we are now a considerable distance ahead. Eventually, one of us will be forced to hurry back and encourage her on her way – at which point she will look up at us in amazement that we are not sharing her fascination. She will then dance along the path until, a few yards further along, she comes across the next object worthy of study… To Daisy, the journey truly is the destination.
Somewhere between 5.01pm and 5.05pm every day, Daisy will start to bark. It’s an occasional “woof”, sometimes interspersed with the odd “grrr”, designed to attract attention, and it means simply – “It’s now officially supper o’clock. Feed me.” I’ve always been fascinated by how accurately her little body clock can tell the time; even the hour change doesn’t seem to confuse her.
In our modern world, it seems that people often forget to pay attention to their bodies; many even lose the ability. How often have you found yourself tired, irritable and grumpy because you didn’t have time for lunch – then as soon as you eat something you realise you are not tired and grumpy at all; you were just hungry!
Our bodies have a natural rhythm and we can re-train ourselves to listen and pay attention to the signals we are sending ourselves from our unconscious mind. The Hawaiians have a saying that if we don’t pay attention, then we will pay with pain – and this is certainly true for our bodies.
It is interesting how we all become creatures of habit. The very act of doing something over and over in the same way creates a neurological pathway in our brain, so that the behaviour becomes automatic, and a habit (or ‘strategy’ in NLP terms) is born. We all develop our own routines and ways of doing things – and this is no different for the canine members of staff.
For Theo and Lily, breakfast is not complete unless they have been offered at least one blueberry (or possibly raspberry – they are quite happy with either) and will gaze at us with vaguely affronted expressions if this offering is not forthcoming for any reason. Daisy quite likes to be offered one so she can sniff it and decide she doesn’t actually want it… A piece of toast crust is also a necessary part of the breakfast routine (a not inconsiderable drain on one’s toast resources when we have all six dogs in the house!) before their actual breakfast, followed by a leisurely bimble around the garden…
When we go out, it is essential to provide a small gift in recompense for the loss of our company – a biscuit will suffice – but there is generally much fuss made over the possibility that we might just forget, as we prepare to leave… calm is restored by the lifting of the biscuit jar lid!
It is interesting how quickly a new part of the routine is accepted and becomes habitual (particularly if it involves food!). Not so long ago, we introduced those chewy dental sticks to the suppertime regime, and it only took a couple of days for this to become an accepted fact, and for Daisy to start demanding one immediately after finishing her supper.
So, what if we decide we would like to create a new and useful habit in our own lives, such as using a new stress management skill, or improving oral hygiene by daily flossing…? Sometimes the idea of making changes to our existing lifestyle can just seem too big. Conventional wisdom says that it takes 21 days to make or break a habit – but we can reduce this dramatically through setting a positive, specific goal, and then attaching our new “habit” onto something that we already do. For our oral hygiene patient, for example, it’s easy to add flossing onto an existing habit of brushing (provided that habit is already in place!).
Small change is always easier to achieve than big change, so the smaller the habit you want to create, the easier it is to incorporate into your life. Small habits are things you can do at least once a day, in perhaps less than a minute, without too much effort. You can design them to take place after an existing habit that already happens in your life – and if you congratulate yourself after each time you successfully complete your new habit (in other words, a metaphorical pat on the head and a dog biscuit), this also means that your new habit is associated with positive emotions in your mind, which helps to reinforce it.
So easy, and so simple… after only five days of successfully performing your new small habit, you will have set in motion the possibility of a whole new way of being. Small change really does lead to big change.
From time to time, we allow all three of the canine members of staff to have a sleep-over in our bedroom… Daisy and Lily like to sleep in the middle of the bed (although I have occasionally woken in the night with Daisy lying across my neck like a scarf) and Theo sleeps in his bed in the corner of the room… or at least he is supposed to. In practice, he will wait until we are asleep and then climb stealthily onto the bottom of the bed, hoping that we won’t notice.
Daisy is usually the first to awaken (generally before the alarm goes off), and likes to start her day with her morning exercises of upside down rolling, accompanied by tiny growls of pleasure. If we make the slightest movement to demonstrate that we are awake, however, this will then send Lily and Theo into ecstatic transports of delight, involving much leaping around and general joyousness at our appearance from the realms of sleep.
What are your first thoughts when you awaken in the morning? The thoughts you choose to have in your head will colour your entire day…. If you start off believing you will have a bad day, then your unconscious mind will obligingly provide you with evidence throughout the day to support this belief – and you will have created a self-fulfilling prophecy.
What if, instead, you decide to start your day with enthusiasm, gratitude and curiosity…?
At about 5pm every afternoon, the canine members of staff begin to anticipate their supper… I don’t know how they know it’s 5pm (because they seem to know it even if the clocks have just changed!) but within five minutes of the hour they will waken, stretch and look at me with liquid, expectant eyes. If I’m working in the sitting room they will sometimes attempt to claim my attention by trying to climb on my head. I also don’t know why 5pm is their chosen time – they have never had an absolutely fixed supper time – but 5pm always signals the beginning of the suppertime anticipation… They don’t just believe that supper will arrive – they absolutely know it.
What if we were to apply this philosophy to our own lives? We know that we tend to get what we focus on, so if you have a firm and unshaken belief that everything will be alright in the end, despite what challenges and opportunities for learning that the universe offers you along the way, then where do you think that belief will take you?
When you set your life goals, focus on them and believe in them with the passion of dog suppertime – you might not know exactly when it’s going to happen (although you can feel when it’s getting close!), and you absolutely know that it will.
At the end of the day – if it’s not alright, then it’s not the end.
Daisy is a perennially happy little soul. Her beautiful, long tail, as soft as dandelion seeds, is carried high over her back and streams out in the wind as she dances up the garden path; just about anything can cause a wag of this gorgeous appendage. After a haircut, however, Daisy often experiences some consternation when the wagging tail tickles her back, causing her to turn in circles trying to ascertain the cause.
Daisy’s tail chasing reminds me of a lovely story I heard… One day, Mother dog comes across one of her puppies chasing her tail and asks her what she is doing. The puppy tells her mother that she has just come back from Puppy Philosophy Class, where she learned that a dogs’ happiness is stored in its tail, which is why dogs wag their tails when they are happy. “If I can catch my tail,” says the puppy, “then I will have the secret to eternal happiness!”. Mother dog smiles, “I learned that at Puppy Philosophy Class too,” she says, “but what I have learned since then is that we don’t find happiness by chasing it. Like your tail, once you get to where it was, you find it’s moved on!” The puppy turns big eyes on her mother. “So how can we reach our happiness, then?” she asks. Mother dog smiles back at her daughter. “You don’t have to try to reach it,” she replies, “you already have it; happiness is always within you. When you know that, then as you move forward in the direction of your dreams, wherever you go, happiness will always follow behind you.”
One of Daisy’s self-imposed missions in life is to chase visiting birds from her premises. In our garden, she has plenty of opportunity to indulge this desire as it is the haunt of woodpigeon, pheasant and partridge, to say nothing of a host of sparrows who reside in the cyprus tree, from where they can tease her from the safety of its impenetrable branches. Of all of the canine members of staff, Daisy is the only one who watches birds flying, or sitting out of reach on the top of the garden wall (which, as far as Daisy is concerned, is clearly trespassing and therefore not permitted). Earlier this week, this created a small problem…
Being of a very diminutive stature, Daisy likes to stand on the small wall next to the pond when she is addressing the birds who sit on the top of the high garden wall – being 18 inches higher off the ground is not inconsiderable when one is less than a foot high to start with. An unusually prolonged episode of barking alerted us to the fact that something was amiss – generally the birds will stand only so much abuse before taking offence and departing. This time, however, there was nobody sitting on the garden wall at all, yet Daisy continued to bark. Bringing her back inside didn’t help – she simply waited to go back outside, returned to her station by the pond and continued her vigil, staring up at the top of the empty garden wall and barking with increasing vexation at a trespassing bird whom she could see quite clearly, even if we could not.
Eventually we worked out what it was… behind the garden wall, a large laurel bush has grown up and this year’s new growth had just reached the point where the topmost leaves had become visible to a small Lhasa Apso standing on the wall by the pond, whose job it is to guard the garden from the predations of trespassing sparrows…
The interesting thing is that we all do this… We are programmed to notice and recognise patterns in things (remember when you saw the shape of a creature in the clouds, or faces in the curtain fabric?) and in NLP we call this “deletion, distortion and generalisation”. In other words, we see what we believe and we believe what we see – and we will quite happily “disregard the rest”, to quote Paul Simon’s lyrics. A trick of the light, a different angle, a mis-heard or mis-read word, coming across something unexpectedly – these can all transform “reality” for us.
“Even after all this time, the sun never says to the earth, ‘You owe me’. Look what happens with a love like that – it lights the whole sky.” – Hafiz of Persia
Lily and her canine colleagues are all masters of the art of unconditional giving – and of receiving. Lily will happily spend long periods of time patiently cleaning Poppy’s eyes, or Theo’s ears – and they, in their turn, will happily let her. As a puppy, when teething, Theo would chew enthusiastically on his mother, Lily’s, ears, while she lay patiently, not seeming to mind the soggy outcome, or the subsequent crispiness of dried, licked fur.
What happens when we give somebody a gift, or an offer of help… Do we expect something in return? Are we offended if the person receiving it doesn’t like our gift, or chooses to give it away again to somebody else? The Aborigines would say, if we have that sort of attachment to a gift, then it is not a gift at all, it is something else. If it is a true gift then it is given unconditionally; we should not mind at all what the other person chooses to do with it, and certainly have no expectation of receiving anything in exchange.
And when somebody offers us a gift, do we receive it graciously and with gratitude – or do we feel beholden to the giver and consider that we have to reciprocate in some way? When we accept a gift with genuine gratitude we are already giving something back to the giver – the gift of true appreciation.
...and the Canine Members of Staff