What my dog teaches me

SAMSUNG CSC

The world is a different place when you have a dog.  Strangers approach to talk.  People greet you and smile.  Walks are punctuated by stops for conversation and new encounters.  A whole community of fellow dog lovers opens up and welcomes you in.  You are no longer invisible to, or isolated from, your fellow humans.  The presence of the dog draws you together, a reason, or an excuse, for contact.

SAMSUNG CSC

Dogs have always guided us.  In mythology, they are liminal creatures, guarding the threshold to the home or the borders to other worlds.  Hecate is accompanied by dogs as she escorts us on our journey from this world to the next.   Dogs represent companionship and loyalty, but they are also the untamed, howling creatures that attend the fearsome wild hunt as it tears across the countryside.

SAMSUNG CSC

I’m a different person when I’m with my dog.  Up at dawn, into the still-slumbering world, I’m able to see the town as it’s tinged with sunrise and hear the morning calls of the birds.  I rediscover my neighbourhood, walking streets and open spaces I haven’t frequented for years.  I fully experience the changing of the seasons, as darkness gives way to light, flowers begin to pepper bare grass and barren branches burst into blossom.  My favourite beauty spots are seen anew, through the eyes and nose of my puppy, as he discovers grass, beach, sea for the first time.

SAMSUNG CSC

My dog lives fully and in the moment.  When he wakes, he is completely awake and excited to meet the day.  He is curious about every sound, every smell, every view.  He greets places we visit every day with the same enthusiasm as if he’d never been there before.  Everything is a potential toy, whether it’s a ball or an old sock.  My dog is a perfect example of not judging a book by its cover.  Every person, and every dog, is a potential friend, including those that I would be tempted to avoid.  He doesn’t know what a grudge is, greeting everyone in the same excited way, even if they’ve ignored or snarled at him before.  Every morning and every time I return home, it’s obvious how happy he is to see me.  And when he finally gives in to sleep, he surrenders to it entirely, twitching and mewling and barking through his dreams.

SAMSUNG CSC

When I’m with my dog, I don’t worry about the usual things that concern me.  When I’m with my dog, I don’t dwell or plan, or become anxious.  When I’m with my dog, I’m focused on nothing but him and the environment we’re in, watching him play, or sniff, or discover new things.  Being with my dog is like a walking meditation, when the world becomes clearer and more present.

SAMSUNG CSC

Since our dog came to live with us, seven months ago, he’s given me the gift of acceptance.  He dispels the need to be more, do more, have more.  Since he came, I’ve changed almost without noticing.  I’m content simply to be with him, to experience life with him.  He helps me to value simple pleasures.  No matter how tired or pressured I am, I’m forced out of bed, or off the couch and out into the world.  My dog refreshes me, giving me a break from the person I sometimes have to be.  He encourages me to do more than exist every day.

SAMSUNG CSC

To live like a dog is to start each day enthusiastically and with curiosity.   To find pleasure and excitement in every simple thing, whether or not you’ve done and seen them before.  To accept and embrace friends and strangers alike, without pre-judgement.  To live with a dog is to walk alongside a creature who can teach you to recognise that life, at its simplest, is about being where you are and cherishing it.

Through a glass darkly

When I want to make sense of my life, I write.  I write lists to organise the thoughts in my head.  I write plans to determine the way in which I want my future to unfold.  I write about big ideas to forge my opinions.  I write about my life to understand my history and my present.  I write stories to experience other people and other lives.  And when I don’t know how I feel or what I want, I write and see where it takes me.

SAMSUNG CSC

This week, I attended the funeral of a woman I knew fairly well as an old friend of my mother, but whose personality I didn’t connect with and sometimes found unpleasant.  I went to her funeral out of duty rather than affection and so the sense of grief I’ve felt at other funerals was absent.  The morning was bright and full of spring.  As the crematorium was filled with traditional Northumbrian pipe music, I became transfixed by the window above the altar.  The window is arched and leaded but made of clear glass, so the light that shafted in was white and clean, casting hatched shadows on the wall.  I thought about the cemetery outside that I’d walked through on my way here.  Daffodils in full bloom, crows hopping grave stones, collared doves foraging and magpies squawking through the trees.  I felt calm and curious in the crematorium as I listened to the summary of this woman’s life.

SAMSUNG CSC

I struggled to begin this post.  Although I have many prompts for future writing, none of them seemed to reflect my current feelings.  Since we returned from the forest, I’ve been unsettled and dissatisfied, yearning for some kind of escape.  My creative ideas have stalled.  I’ve found it hard to focus on reading and my concentration wavers.  Attending the funeral made me reflect on the direction of my own life.

SAMSUNG CSC

Eventually, I decided to write without a destination in mind and see where it led me.  And what I kept returning to, was my belief that it’s through the act of creativity that I can come to understand my life.  Life, in my view, is about exploration.  I believe that the reason we have so many unanswered questions about why we’re here and what will become of us, is because if we knew, there would be no reason for curiosity.  Because I think our true purpose is to discover – to learn about ourselves, our universe and what it is to be alive.

SAMSUNG CSC

And to do this, I think all of us are furnished with certain gifts or skills, which are the lens through which we really see the world.  My gift is to create through art and writing and through these I’ll eventually find understanding.  Others will view life through science, or religion, or physicality or caring and learn those lessons they need to learn.  I see life as a vast web of energy and I believe our discoveries feed that web, spinning new threads and making the universe a wiser (though not necessarily better) place.

Copyright - Mandy Bland

Copyright – Mandy Bland

We become lost, I believe, when we look at the world through the wrong lens – that is, the wrong lens for us.  If we don’t recognise our gifts, or fail to use them, or we’re prevented from doing so by circumstance, that’s when we go wrong.  Of course, even if we do use them, that doesn’t mean there won’t be sadness, or insecurity, or terrible experiences.  But we can see the truth of the bad as well as the good through the lens of our own gift so that we can come to terms with it and learn from it.  And if this is true, it doesn’t matter if we never get published, or sell a painting, as long as we use our abilities to see our lives more clearly.

What is the gift you use to see life clearly and how has it helped you to learn?