Man’s best friend. Unconditional love. Health booster. Cuddles. Love. Patient. Playful. Loving. Fun. Happiness.
That’s what comes to my mind when I think of dogs. So much we can learn from them. And none better than my dear friend Guilie–who blogs about dogs at Life In Dogs, and about everything else at Quiet Laughter–to showcase those lessons!
I am privileged to know Guilie and I am thrilled to be part of The Dog Book Blog Tour for her forthcoming book It’s About the Dog: The A-to-Z Guide for Wannabe Dog Rescuers (Everytime Press, April 2018): a hands-on, less-tears-more-action, 100% practical introduction to dog rescue.
Over to you, Guilie!
Here’s an endless supply of coffee ♥
And thank you so much for this grand finale to my April A to Z Challenge, 2018.
THE ZEN OF BEING MORE DOG
Vidya, thank you so much for having me! You were such an integral part of this project from the start, back in April 2016, so I’m honored, and very, very happy, that you’re part of the celebrations of the book’s release. Plus, your blog is an oasis of peace and insight, and the opportunity to contribute to this beautiful thing you and your readers have created is a privilege.
So—Z day! If you’ve been doing the A-to-Z this month, I doff my hat to all of you who accepted the challenge and rode it out to the dazed and sleep-deprived end. In recognition of your sacrifice, I intended to keep this post short, but… Well. Hopefully you’ll find it worth the read.
You must have seen, passing by on social media somewhere, that 2018 is the Year of the Dog. Being the self-proclaimed Crazy Dog Lady of this particular corner of the blogosphere, I have some rather unorthodox ideas about what this represents.
Those of us whose lives have been blessed by a substantial dose of dogs know that they are the bearers of profound wisdom. For millennia, dogs have been the keepers of the secret to happiness, fulfillment, and peace.
So, on the basis of not just transcendental philosophy but also of sheer fun factor, I invite you to join in a maverick, alternative approach to this particular Year of the Dog.
Yes! Be More Dog! Now, I’m not proposing you go out and chase cars (well, not right this minute, anyway), or that you roll in a bank of mud or chew a frisbee to bits (please don’t do that—and if you do, please don’t swallow any of the bits). It’s really rather simple, and it boils down to five things you can start doing right now. This very minute.
Joy. If there is one thing that sets dogs apart, not just from us humans but from most animals, it’s their capacity for joy. Everything is a cause for celebration for them. Car? YES! Yard? YES! Couch? YES! New bed? YES! (And Imma gonna chew it to bits to show how much I love it!) Vet visit and bath are maybe not so big in the YES department, but how about the end of the bath, the exit from the vet’s office? YES YES YES!
The message is clear: everything can be celebrated—should be celebrated. Don’t spend your life waiting for the big things. Stop weighing and debating whether something merits celebration or not; celebrate it all. Yes, even the bad stuff. Even suffering, and pain. Because these ‘negatives’ teach us things—about ourselves, about others, about the world. They make us stronger. They offer a priceless gift: the opportunity to overcome, to help, to make the world a better place.
Lesson number one: Strive for a constant state of joy.
Forgiveness. I live with eight rescue dogs, and I’ve helped to rescue and rehome countless others. Dogs who lived through horrible situations of neglect and abuse. Dogs who bore not just scars but open, suppurating wounds, both physical and emotional. Every single one of them had every reason to never trust another human being again. But guess what? They all do. They trust their new families, they even managed to trust the rescuer who came to get them off the street or out of that decrepit yard. I’m not saying it was easy; it’s a long road back to the bond of trust between canine and human, longer for some than for others—but it does happen. More often than, say, the average human gets past even minor betrayals.
Way, way more often. By far.
How do they do it? How do they find the will, the courage, to put their trust again in humans, this species who has hurt them so much already? How do they let go of all this hurt?
They forgive. In absolute sincerity, in ever-renewed hope, dogs are always keen to start a new day, clean the slate, let bygones be bygones. Dogs are always eager to move forward.
Lesson number two: No grudge is worth holding on to. No hurt is worth allowing yourself to be held back. Practice forgiveness, and keep moving forward.
Live in the Moment. Why do we worry so much about the future, obsess so much about the past? Why do we insist on living in a time that doesn’t exist? Look at dogs: they’re always present in the now, and they’re immeasurably happy, much happier than we are, because of it. Their concept of time is much more elastic than ours, more flexible, more… well, timeless, I suppose. In their minds, it’s always now, never tomorrow or a few hours from now. This is what makes it possible for them to live with such joy, and to forgive so generously. Because of this, they’re able to just be.
I realize it’s impossible for humans to achieve this level of detachment from time; we’d need to revert to a much earlier version of our brains, for one. And maybe eschew civilization and move to the mountains, live a hermit life. (That doesn’t sound half bad, actually…)
But I still believe that, even if we never achieve this detachment, the exercise is worth the effort, and brings valuable benefits. That is, after all, what the entire mindfulness movement is about, so it’s not entirely hopeless, or unhinged, to try. Strive to cleanse our perception from the context of future or past concerns, and ground it in the present. Insert a few moments, even just one, into our days when we endeavor to be free from expectations and hopes and even dreams, certainly from worries and insecurities and grudges and regrets, and just be.
Lesson number three: Your past does not define you; neither does your future. Discover who you are when these two variables disappear from the equation of your being.
Adapt. Survival of the fittest. Back in Darwin’s day, everyone understood fit as strong. As in brute force. Then evolutionary biology became a thing, we learned a whole lot more about all sorts of creatures—dinosaurs, for instance—and we realized that strength is maybe not what we thought it was. That maybe being fit has less to do with the bulk of muscle than with the suppleness of adaptation.
You know who are masters of adapting? Dogs. Stray and feral dogs, especially. Humans, and cohabitation with humans, were key for the dog’s evolution from that wolf ancestor. Their link with us, emotional and practical, has been the defining force in their history—and in ours. They guarded us, alerted us to dangerous predators, helped us hunt, kept us warm on cold steppe nights. Now that we, as a species, have no more practical use for them and have turned our backs on them, they’ve been shut out of our ‘caves’, shoved out into the streets, shunned and reviled like pariahs.
The loss of their habitat in such drastic manner should have spelled extinction for them—for any species, really. And yet here they are. Surviving. Adapting. Carving out a life for themselves in the background of our civilization, the back streets of our cities, subsisting on our trash. They learn to cross busy intersections, to stay away from humans, to run from a raised arm, to dodge fast-moving feet.
Most of all, though, amid all the hardships they face, they don’t wallow. Away from the human eye (and the human danger), they find time to lie in the sun, to roll in a patch of grass. They enjoy every morsel of food they find, drink with pleasure from even a dirty puddle. In short, they refuse to allow adversity to rule their lives.
Adaptability is more than just shrugging one’s shoulders and submitting, passively, to whatever new curve ball life has seen fit to throw our way. It’s about making the best of it, embracing in, knowing that whatever it is, however difficult, we are stronger—and we show it by finding that spot in the sun, that patch of grass.
Lesson number four: A stiff branch will break, but a supple one will bend. Practice suppleness.
Use Your Sense(s). Dogs experience the world very differently than we do. Ours is a mainly visual world. Of the traditional subdivision of the arts (sculpture, painting, dance, poetry, music, architecture, performing), only one—music—does not hinge absolutely on vision. Think of how much our lives pivot on TV and social media, and then try, just for kicks, to use either without your eyes. Try blindfolding yourself and then, say, cooking a meal. Or just finding your way to the bathroom from where you’re sitting reading (with your eyes!) this.
People who have lost their sight report a heightened development of their other senses. Hearing, certainly, but also smell and touch—and a fairly unknown one, proprioception, which has to do with your perception of space and of your body in it. (We have all sorts of senses, far more than the basic five everyone knows. Subtle things, like the ability to maintain balance, or keeping track of our limbs—because no one likes a straying leg or arm!) Take away one sense, especially one as crucial to us as sight, and the rest of the senses jump in to pick up the slack.
But why wait until one of the senses fail? How much are we missing out on through this dependence on sight, this addiction to how things look?
For a dog, the world comes in through the nose—and what a fabulously rich world it is. You might be able to smell the perfume you’re wearing, perhaps now and then a whiff of whatever’s cooking in the kitchen. But can you smell the preparations of your neighbor’s kitchen? Her perfume? What about her mood? Dogs can smell emotions. Fear, joy, sadness. They can smell the passage of time. A scent doesn’t smell the same fresh or a day old. Afternoon doesn’t smell the same as morning, or night.
How much richer would your engagement with the world be if you allowed—trained, and developed—your other senses to contribute to your perception of it?
Lesson number five: Discover your senses. And, through them, rediscover your world all over again.
Thank you again, Vidya, for lending your space to my meanderings! And thank you, reader, for coming by, and for getting all the way through this way-too-lengthy dissertation born of my admiration for dogs and their approach to life. I hope you’ve found a bit of enlightenment here, some food for thought, at the very least something to make you chuckle. And I very much look forward to hearing your own thoughts and feedback in the comments. Have a wonderful, wonderful start to the week!
Well, I am grateful to YOU, Guilie, for the valuable lessons and the fantastic images–made with so much love and care.
My lovely readers, may I hear your applause for Guilie, please?
Guilie Castillo, Mexican expat, writer, and dog rescuer, lives in Curaçao with eight extraordinary rescue dogs and an even more extraordinary man who puts up with them all. Her short fiction has been published both online and in print. Her first book, The Miracle of Small Things, a novel in stories, was published by Truth Serum Press in 2015. Her second book It’s About the Dog: The A-to-Z Guide for Wannabe Dog Rescuers (Everytime Press, April 2018), is a hands-on, less-tears-more-action, 100% practical introduction to dog rescue. It is also her first non-fiction foray. You’ll love her blogs: about dogs at Life In Dogs, and about everything else at Quiet Laughter.
This post is a part of The Dog Book Blog Tour; during April and May, author and book will be making the rounds of dog-loving sites on the blogosphere to talk dogs and rescue—and to give away THREE signed copies! Every time you comment on a tour post your name will be put in a hat. On May 20th, the first-month anniversary of the book’s release, three names will be drawn from the hat and the winners announced at the tour’s closing post the next day. (More about both tour and giveaway here.) Come join us!
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