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Saturday, October 03, 2009

Walking Meditation

By Beth Lowell

Nicole, the dog trainer, came the other week. I needed help solving a behavior problem one of my dogs was having. One of the first things Nicole mentioned on meeting us was that neither dog was getting enough walking. I knew that. Dasher at nine has developed an odd fear of sounds and smells that often prevents her from making it much past the front lawn. Bella, my little seven-year-old agoraphobic, had long ago established boundaries in the neighborhood that she would not cross. Both dogs for similar but slightly different reasons are not always comfortable on the leash and will lunge at things like other dogs, cats, wildlife, bicycles, loud trucks and noisy running children.

I had been diligent in walking both dogs since I adopted them, and had learned guerilla survival tactics in the process, from dodging the cyclists who bore down on us, veering closer and closer, oblivious to the fact that I was desperately trying to scramble to get far enough away from them so that the dogs wouldn’t charge, to weaving in and out of traffic to avoid school children, who not knowing any better, insisted on running toward us to say hello despite my repeated requests that they keep their distance, (not to mention their parents who then shot us dirty looks as the dogs barked and strained at the leash) to honing my senses so sharply that I could detect a moving chipmunk from two houses away or sense joggers coming from a block behind.

I also went to several dog training classes and diligently followed the rules I was given, despite the fact that they sometimes seemed to defy common sense. The dogs became worse than they were before and I soon found the mess impossible to undo.

After a few years, I noticed that the dogs wanted to walk less and less, and I realized our world had somehow become quite small. It wasn’t me as lazy owner who neglected the dogs. I wanted to take them. They didn’t want to go. Like a low-grade, chronic condition that had become the norm, I couldn’t pinpoint exactly when it started.

After spending some time observing, Nicole asked me some pointed questions. What was the worst thing that I thought was going to happen? I told her I didn’t want my dogs getting into fights. Neither was actually aggressive when you got right down to it, but the leash changed everything. I didn’t want them traumatizing some other dog, or equally as bad, having another dog decide to take matters into his own paws.

Nicole told me it was okay to be afraid, and then she told me that my fear was irrational. Dogs are very good at communicating with each other. “If some dog wants to act like a fool while I’m out walking my dog and charges us,” she said, “I get between them. I don’t get angry, and I don’t get confrontational. I remain calm, but I let them know they’re acting like a fool. Your dogs aren’t out on a kill mission.” I understood that it was my behavior that was affecting the dogs. My fear and annoyance with distractions was trickling down to them and they didn’t really understand what it was that was bothering me. And my guilt about not being able to fix everything was overwhelming.
Nicole didn’t really tell me anything I didn’t already know, but something about how she told me resonated in a new way. But even though I knew what she told me to be true, I didn’t know what else to do. I had done everything the experts had told me to.

Nicole’s solution was really quite simple. We had to get back to normal. The way we used to be. In order to get back to “normal” I had to re-learn how to act “normal”. I had to pretend that my dogs were “normal” dogs and behave accordingly. I had to lead by example. “I don’t know how you are going to do this”, she said, “but you have to find a way.”

I took Nicole’s advice. I dangled the leash, letting it drag on the ground. Instead of trying to concentrate on a brisk paced walk for exercise, I strolled while the dogs sniffed. When I saw scary things approach, I looked at the sky, like a simpleton. I ambled along without a timeframe. I breathed deeply; my body and mind were relaxed. I saw results quickly.

I was so excited after day one that I couldn’t wait to tell Nicole that Bella had easily crossed her invisible barrier in the park on our first voyage. Once we had crossed the line, I chose a tree in the near distance as our target and we made it all the way to it. I told Nicole that after a few days I’d try to make it to the next tree. But Nicole told me not to do this. Learning, she explained, does not occur in a linear fashion. “Just let it take you and see where it goes.”

Of course, we’re still at the beginning of our journey, but seeing the results are so inspiring that I actually look forward to the challenges instead of dreading them. Bella and I are going places I never dreamed of, and Dasher, who has in the past despised getting into the car to the point of snapping at me, has gotten in quite willingly twice in the last couple of weeks. By taking simple measures I see possibilities I never knew existed.

And, if I start to falter, I know I can just go back to the five simple things that Nicole told me:

Don’t get angry.
Don’t worry
Be honest in your work
Be humble
Be kind to yourself and others

Pretty cool, huh?

New Jersey-based Reiki Master Teacher Beth Lowell works with animals and Reiki. She is a frequent contributor to The Reiki Digest.

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