Eat, Play, Love… Part 2

Since the sudden loss of our beautiful Daisy at the end of May, we have been helped by a great many words of comfort and wisdom from friends and family, not least my niece who said that, “…somewhere out there is a little girl just waiting for you to go and pick her up…”, and she wasn’t wrong.  The Universe, as we know, abhors a vacuum – and our Lhasa Apso-shaped vacuum was way too deep to be ignored for very long.

It’s been said that the best way to honour the passing of a loved dog is to offer the love you gave them to another who is in need of it.  A particularly bad day last week led to a serendipitous meeting of souls…

So a measure of joy has returned to our household in the shape of little Luna – half-past puppyhood at just over a year old – and in need of a home just as much as we are in need of her.  She’s only been here a couple of days, and she seems to be a happy little soul – she’s settling in well with the Schnauzers and enjoying the opportunities that new walks and sofas have to offer…  They are still looking slightly askance at her attempts to play with them – they are not used to this kind of thing! – but I’m sure it won’t be long before Theo, at least, embraces his own inner puppy and decides to join in. 

The waves of sadness still come, but the raw grief is being tempered and I am beginning to find my thoughts and memories of Daisy moving away from the trauma of her final day and returning instead to her grace and elegance – her thousand sweetnesses – the way she used to stand out in the garden on a windy day; face into the breeze and her tail blowing out like a banner behind her… her ‘Daisy Leap’ from the lawn onto the path… her love of the fringes on the sofa throw in my office…  As I turn my face to the sun, the shadows are indeed beginning to fall behind me, as the proverb says.

As I was writing this blog, there was another meeting of souls – this time across the worlds… Who knows what passed between them?  I am certain something did.

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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 15: Let Dog be your co-pilot

The other day I came across the following story, from the wonderful author and therapist, Bill O’Hanlon

Some years ago, at the therapy group practice where Bill worked, a couple had sought relationship counselling.  They were very embittered with one another, but couldn’t get a divorce because they had a dog that was the centre of their lives and neither of them was willing to give up even partial custody.

When the therapist worked with them, he discovered that the wife resented her husband’s habit of coming home from work, not even acknowledging her when he walked through the door, but heading straight upstairs to shower.  By the time he arrived back downstairs she would be so livid that they would get into a terrible argument.

The therapist asked what the dog did when the husband arrived home, which was different from what the wife did.  It turned out that the dog would run to the door, greet the husband and get a nice rubbing in return.  The wife would wait in the other room for her husband to seek her out, which he didn’t do.

The husband complained that the wife was not physically affectionate.  He longed for her to cuddle up next to him on the sofa while they were watching television, and would complain sarcastically that he must have body odour when she sat some distance away from him.

The therapist discovered that the dog was very assertive when he wanted affection; he would come over, sit next to the person from whom he wanted affection and push his nose under their arm if they were distracted or unresponsive, until they gave him a cuddle.

The couple was given this task:  they were to study the dog and make him their teacher and guru.  When they saw how he got what he wanted from their partner, they were to model that behaviour and try it out with their partner.  They had great fun with this and began to turn their relationship around, no longer wanting a divorce.

For any relationship that you would like to shift in a positive or better direction, Bill suggests that you could think of an animal whose behaviour you could model – or, as he says, let Dog be your co-pilot…

The Teachings of Dog – No 13: The Art of Giving and Receiving

“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.

The Teachings of Dog – No 12: What sort of seeds are you sowing?

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.

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.

Teachings of Dog – No 5: The Gift of Time

We were granted the gift of a whole extra hour of weekend, thanks to the clocks changing, and I enjoyed Jim Connolly’s excellent blog on this subject yesterday.

Time is a precious commodity and, like water, we tend not to appreciate how precious until there is a shortage of it. Hugo is our oldest dog – at 14 we are now counting his remaining days like pearls slipping gently off a string. I’m not sure what happened to the tiny, fluffy soft-toy puppy we brought home in 1996, or where the glossy, energetic young dog has gone, who used to love the beaches in Guernsey. I remember walking along Vazon Bay one day and John saying he wished we could save a day of “young Hugo” to spend when he was old.

Hugo can no longer walk very far, but still enjoys a potter around the lawn and has a prodigious appetite for fallen apples, which he crunches up with tremendous satisfaction. He can no longer jump onto the sofa, but with a bit of assistance he can make it onto the furry beanbag which adapts itself very comfortably to his arthritic little body. Ensconced in front of the fire, he dreams dreams which make his feet twitch as if he’s running once more along Vazon beach – I think maybe he spends more time as “young Hugo” than we know.

Hugo’s Teachings:
  • Live in the moment – today is a gift (they say that’s why it’s called ‘the present’).
  • When you can no longer do what you used to do, find something better.
  • Even when you are old, the younger you is still in there – somewhere.
  • When life gives you an extra hour, spend it with someone you love.
  • The most important things in life are love, compassion and patience… always.