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.

 

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Dogs will be Dogs…

So Luna caught a mole yesterday evening… I’ve no idea where she found it, as there are no evident mole hills in the garden, but she was exceptionally pleased with herself.  She refused to relinquish her prize in the garden, and carried it triumphantly into the house, where she was eventually persuaded to part with it in exchange for three biscuits – a deal which she subsequently regretted, if her disappointed searching was anything to go by…

The mole was, sadly, deceased by this point and was decently interred under the hedgerow across the lane.  Cat families will often be distressingly familiar with this scenario, but with our dogs it is not so frequent (although certainly not unheard of!).

We somehow forget, when we are throwing the fluffy, squeaky toy in a fun game of chase, fetch and throw-in-the-air before chasing again, that in addition to the joyful interaction we are both having, we are also assisting our little hairy friends to hone their hunting skills…

Dogs are natural predators – it is their essential nature to hunt small, squeaky, furry or feathered things.  Why should we expect them to be less dog, and more human, just because we choose to share our lives, our homes and our sofas with them?

Luna’s Teachings:

  • Accept others for who they are, rather than expecting them to be whom you think they ought to be.
  • Everyone is entitled to perceive the world in their own, unique way.  Others will do whatever they will do – what you do with that is all yours.
  • When you’ve just caught your first mole, hold out for the fourth biscuit before handing it over.

 

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The Magic of Discovery

Joy and Happiness - Luna Small

It’s just over three weeks since little Luna joined us, and we can’t believe how easily she has just taken everything in her stride…  Nothing seems to faze her, and she is abundantly curious about each new experience.  “What excitement can I discover here?” seems to be her motto.

She’s deeply fascinated by the numerous bumblebees that frequent the clover flowers in the lawn; having briefly experimented with eating one, she’s now decided that’s possibly a bit too exciting and is contenting herself with sniffing them, and then chasing after them when they fly busily off to the next flower…  The fat woodpigeons who sit, apparently in deep contemplation, on the lawn are also good fun to chase – flapping heavily away at the last minute, only to perch on the wall and look down at her in high dudgeon at being so rudely awakened from their meditative trance.

An early exploration of the pond has fortunately not been repeated – no doubt to the collective relief of the newt population – but everything within the garden and without has been subject to her close sensory scrutiny.  The paths and lanes we walk must smell astonishing to her; from her previous life in the suburbs of a city she is now surrounded by the sights and smells of horse and sheep, pheasant and partridge, hare, rabbit and deer…

And yet… every new experience is treated as a joyful discovery, enthusiastically widening her previous comfort zone of familiarity.

Luna’s Teachings:

  • Try everything once, and take feedback on board; it’s not a good idea to eat bees, and water lilies do not bear the weight of a Lhasa Apso.
  • Enthusiasm is contagious.
  • If outside the comfort zone is where the magic happens, then stepping outside your comfort zone on a frequent and ongoing basis is a recipe for adventure.
  • Miracles are all around you, if you only pay sufficient attention.

 

 

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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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 28: Hearing the signals

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.

Daisy’s Teachings:

  • Take care of yourself and pay attention to your body – eat when you start to feel hungry, don’t wait until you are famished; drink when you are thirsty; take a rest when you feel tired – even a five minute break can make all the difference.

Teachings of Dog: No 27 – Creatures of habit

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.

The Teachings of Dog: No 26 – What Gets You Out of Bed in the Morning?

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…?

The Teachings of Dog – No 24: Why we believe weird stuff

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.

Daisy’s Teachings:

  • You don’t have to believe everything you see, although if it makes it more fun, then go with your imagination.
  • If something is bothering you, make sure it’s true before you start to shout about it.
  • If you can see something that nobody else can, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not there.

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