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.




Teachings of Dog: No 29 – The Journey is the Destination

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.

Daisy’s Teachings:

  • The present moment is all we have – our lives are just a series of present moments. Taking time to be in the moment is a true antidote to stress – we are not worrying about the past, or being anxious about the future, but just being with what is. Enjoy the journey.

The Teachings of Dog – No 25: What if everything really is alright in the end?

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.

The Teachings of Dog: No 21 – How Not to Worry

Poor Lily recently developed an infection in one of her toes.  We didn’t realise she had a problem at first – it was snowy outside, and so a certain amount of foot licking was only to be expected – but when this graduated to a fairly persistent chewing, we knew something was amiss and investigated…  At first, I applied a “sock” which worked well… until I went for a shower, at which point it was quietly destroyed in order that the licking could recommence.  After this we had no option.  Lily was going to have to wear “The Cone of Shame”.

After the initial period of confusion, during which certain skills such as stair climbing and jumping onto sofas had to be adjusted accordingly, Lily found one or two benefits to her new sartorial adornment.  Whereas before, when chasing frozen peas across the floor, for example, she had to contend with competition from Theo and Daisy, now her cone acted as both a scoop and an effective barrier, so that once captured, her peas could be consumed in peace.

The main purpose of the cone was, of course, to prevent Lily from worrying constantly at her foot, and thereby making it worse.  This is often what happens when we worry constantly about something – the more we choose to focus on it, the bigger it appears in our mind as we return to it again and again.  In Lily’s case the original problem was only very small; yet it occupied her entire being – and as soon as she was wearing the cone, she appeared to forget about it altogether. 

There are a number of tools which we can use to create our own “cone” – distracting the mind from our worry (and thereby allowing it to reduce in size, or even disappear completely) while at the same time allowing our sense of peace and calmness to expand.  Self-Hypnosis, Meditation, Mindfulness – when used regularly, these, and other methods, can be of immeasurable benefit to both our mental and physical health as we leave our worries outside our “cone” and allow our mind and body to heal from the stress we have created.

A week of wearing her cone (and some expert advice from John at Grace Lane Vets) soon saw Lily’s foot back to normal, and her erstwhile neckwear was consigned once more to the top of the cupboard in the utility room, where hopefully it will remain for a long time to come…

Lily’s Teachings:

  • Constantly worrying about something only makes it worse, as what we choose to focus on expands in our mind.
  • Discovering a way to change your focus can have immeasurable and unexpected benefits.
  • Frozen peas are even more fun when nobody else can reach them.

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!).