Cultivating calm and stillness – letting go of anxiety as a lifestyle
I recently read “Stillness is the Key” by Ryan Holiday. In the book, the author espouses the Stoic practice of stillness into our lives. We can do that with our dogs. How?
Firstly, what’s the rush? Look at the difference in height between you and your dog. The bigger the difference, the bigger the difference in your stride length. If you are out walking, and walking quickly, your dog is moving very fast in order to keep up. This means no to time to sniff. Imagine going for a long hike and getting to the top of the mountain, a beautiful vista in front of you and your walking companion immediately jags you to start moving down the hill again with no time to enjoy the view. Or if you are reading the newspaper and your wife or husband doesn’t give you the chance or peace to read. We do this all the time with our dogs by not allowing them to stop and sniff on the walk. Sniffing is both enjoyable and enriching for our dogs. It’s how they perceive the world, much like how we perceive it visually. Slow down and stop, allow your dog to sniff. I think there is a very real danger that many of us equate distance with progress on a walk. We have a specific route to walk along and due to our busy lives, we have a certain amount of time to do it. If you have 20 minutes to walk your dog, why not go for a really slow meander through a small part of your neighbourhood and allow your dog to stop and sniff at everything they want to for as long as they want to. If that means 3 minutes on a particular lamppost, let them. Can you give your dog 3 minutes of your stillness? It takes practice but everything worthwhile does. While your dog is sniffing, cultivate an attitude of fascination in what they are doing. Be present with them. Be still. Breathe. Breathe deeply into your belly. Relax your jaw. If you make this a habit you and your dog will reflect this new way of being onto each other.
How do you put your dog’s lead on? How do you put their food out? How do you get them out of the car? I think anxiety plays some role in how we live our daily lives. The constant pressure of time and not having enough of it. The need to get things done quickly and move on to the next thing. Slow down. Take your time. Prepare their meal with care. Even if that meal is a bowl of kibble, think about what you are doing. Tell the dog her dinner is coming and smile. Move slowly and thoughtfully. Put your dog’s lead on and take it off with the same care. Think of a loved one helping you on with your jacket or dressing you when you were a child. Act carefully with love, attention and thought while you do it. Think of what your dog is experiencing and make it as best as you can.
When I’m meeting my clients I ask them to leave their dog in the car and we bring them out this way. I give clear instructions “bring your dog out slowly and silently. Stand still when they come out the car and relax your arms on the lead”. I think many are anxious. Anxious that they don’t know what they are doing, that their dog will bound towards the trainer and jump up, will embarrass them. Shame rears it’s ugly head again as I’ve talked about in previous posts in this series. Despite my requests, many clients rush their dog out the car, repeatedly ask them to sit, sit nice, wait, eh eh, no. So I remind them. I am more practiced at these still behaviours (still a work in progress) so I guide them. The greater care we take at this early stage in the session, the more thoughtful and deliberate and less reactionary we are in our action, the better the session is. By slowing down, we make more progress in a shorter period of time.
As a society, many of us (including me) as so hopelessly emotionally illiterate and everyone around us suffers as a result. We don’t even know what we are feeling let alone able to describe it or identify the causes but it doesn’t need to be like that. We can learn. your dog and everyone around you will thank you for it. Start with being still.
I mixed up parts 8 and 9 in this series. I’ve edited part 8 to reflect that. Last part to come.