False Evidence Appearing Real

Last Thursday was haircut day… we have a wonderful, patient lady who, every four weeks, comes to the house for the morning and creates order out of chaos; leaving behind three tidy dogs and an enormous bag of fluff.  (The fluff is much appreciated by the local bird population in the spring, for nest-lining purposes… I would imagine that Lhasa fluff in particular must be very cosy – it certainly all disappears very rapidly.)

For Luna, who adores being brushed and loves meeting people, the arrival of Tracy is one of unrestrained joy and excitement.  Lily is slightly more circumspect, but happy to hang around as she knows there will be biscuits in the offing…  Theo, however, is horrified.  After joining Lily in a traditional (and noisy) Schnauzer greeting, he scurries off at high speed in order to find a hiding place where, he hopes, we will be unable to find him until after Tracy has left… under my office desk is his sanctuary of choice.  If he can’t see us, he reasons, there’s no way we’ll be able to see him.

Unfortunately for Theo, cowering behind the office chair, we somehow always manage to locate him and lift him, by now shivering piteously, onto the grooming table.  Half an hour or so later, when nothing very terrible has happened to him apart from the loss of some fluff amidst lots of cuddles, he’s ecstatic to receive his obligatory biscuit from Tracy and run off joyously into the garden, to forget his fears until the next time.

Our worries and stresses are subjective – it depends what we have going on inside our heads as to how we perceive, and therefore how we experience, any given situation.  When we are anticipating an event, we will have an internal representation of how we think the event will be.  If we are focusing on a positive outcome, then we might feel pleasure, or excitement.  But if we are focusing on what might go wrong, we are effectively playing out a scary movie inside our heads, which will result in us feeling stress and anxiety, even though our anticipated scenario may be far from real, or even likely.

Theo’s Teachings:

  • What we are focusing on has a direct effect on our state of mind.  If you are paying attention to negative things, try opening your mind to the possibility of the positive.  If you look for it, you will find it.
  • Our fears are often just False Evidence Appearing Real.  When you are worried or anxious, ask yourself what other possible outcomes might there be?
  • If you are facing something disagreeable, give yourself something to look forward to after the event, then imagine yourself out there in the future, looking back at the event.  From this perspective, there is no anxiety.
  • If you don’t want to be found, choosing the same place to hide each time is probably not the best strategy.




Eat, Play, Love…

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.

Daisy’s Teachings:

  • However much pain I am feeling now, it is worth it for the love we shared.
  • I know that eventually the joy in the memories will eclipse the pain.
  • Dog cuddles are an essential part of the healing process, however long it takes.
  • Never take for granted the time that you spend with those you love.  Be with them in the moment – eat, play and love with joy and gratitude for their presence in your life.

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The Teachings of Dog – No. 23: When the Gates of Life are left open…

We’ve had a lot of rain this week here in Wydale, and the canine members of staff have not been impressed.  When we open the kitchen door to the garden, instead of their usual joyful and enthusiastic egress, they will look up with an expression which quite clearly reads, “In this weather?  I hardly think so…” and will take mortal umbridge when we insist.

Daisy is particularly funny in this respect – she will wait by the door for it to open, decide she does not like the look of the weather, then continue to wait until we open it again for her – just in case it has magically changed in the intervening 20 seconds or so.  When finally convinced that the weather is unsuitable for a Lhasa Apso of her diminutive stature, she will then cross to the other kitchen door, which leads to the car port and, eventually, the front courtyard, and wait there instead – because it’s always possible that while it is dark and raining in the back garden, it might yet be sunny in the courtyard…

On Tuesday evening, it had been particularly wet and, as John was going out again, he had left the courtyard gates open when he arrived home from work – a state of affairs which completely eluded my consciousness when I absent-mindedly let Daisy out of the kitchen side door, at her request…  She often likes to spend quite a long time pottering around the courtyard, so we didn’t immediately miss her – and actually it was only when an extremely wet, muddy, bedraggled and very happy Daisy wandered back in through the open gate that we realised she had been on a further adventure than we knew!

Daisy’s Teachings:

  • The best adventures can only be found when you step outside your comfort zone.
  • If you really want something, go for it.  There’s always a risk – but sometimes it’s worth taking to avoid the regret later on.
  • When life offers you an opportunity for happiness, take it – you never know when life will leave the gates open again.

The Teachings of Dog – No 14: What If…?

“Do not borrow trouble – the rate of interest is too high.”  – Anne of Green Gables

With five canine members of staff in the household, there is often drama and excitement of some sort, and yesterday it was Daisy’s turn for the spotlight…  Her accidental ingestion of something unfortunate on an empty stomach interrupted our leisurely Sunday morning rituals and resulted in frantic phonecalls to the vet and a speedy drive to the exceptionally kind and wise Stephen Hudson at Grace Lane Vets.

The drive normally takes half an hour – to me, in the driving seat, one hand occasionally straying to caress the tiny, furry head at my side, it seemed to take an age.  My imagination , always fertile, was propelled into overdrive as increasingly creative and disastrous images played out in my mind.  I seemed to be stuck behind every slow-moving vehicle in North Yorkshire, including a large number of classic cars en route to a rally, for whom 40mph was a seldom-attained speed…

When we finally arrived, Stephen greeted me with a smile and the news that his research had revealed it was pretty harmless to dogs, especially in the tiny amount which Daisy had eaten, so it wouldn’t even be necessary to make her sick.  Daisy, cuddled up in my arms, disagreed with her medical advisor and summed up her opinion of her disturbed morning by returning her forbidden snack, with interest, over my shoulder.  Returning home, at a much less frantic pace, she then happily tucked into her belated breakfast and danced out into the garden – her usual, carefree, dandelion-seed self.

Daisy’s Teachings:

  • A problem is often only a problem in our own minds – if we were not thinking about it, would it still exist?
  • “What If…?” can be useful, but what if we imagine something good happening, rather than something bad?
  • You cannot keep five dogs away from something that accidentally falls on the floor at breakfast time (unless it’s a worming tablet, obviously!).

The Teachings of Dog – No 11: Is It Really Real?

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.

Snippets’s Teachings:

  • Just because you believe something, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is true. Is the belief serving you? If not, ask yourself whether it could be time to let it go. What would be a more empowering belief to have in its place?
  • Ask yourself, What If…. today was the most wonderful day of your life so far? What could happen if you start each day with that expectation?
  • Last year’s crocosmia leaves are the best place to hide the squeaky duck.