If there's one thing for which Schnauzers are well known, it's their voice. Loud, joyous, frequent, and sometimes embarrassing, has been our previous experience over the past 30-odd years of sharing life with Schnauzers, so to come across a silent one was odd, to say the least... For the first few weeks of his life with us, Mungo didn't bark.
Maybe he had learned, in the puppy farm in which he had spent the first five years of life, that barking was futile - at best, it could have achieved nothing for him - and even when his new life brought him two little Lhasa sisters, who do bark at such exciting events as The Postman, or Things Outside The Garden Wall, he still never uttered a sound.
In his silence we could read the history of unmet needs; the total absence of any sense of deserving anything - in human terms, he had no self-worth whatsoever. In that previous life, where life itself had no value except price, he had been worth less than nothing. To bark would mean that his voice was worthy of being heard, and clearly this was not the case.
The very, very first time we heard him bark, I almost couldn't believe it... such a little, rusty bark it was, and high-pitched... he was trying to join in with his sisters at the time. Gradually, he began to find his real, authentic voice - little by little, until now it is loud, joyous, frequent and sometimes embarrassing - a true, beautiful, Schnauzer voice.
Mungo came to us in February... he was rescued from a Welsh puppy farm, where he had spent the first five years of his life. Probably his only experience of love in all that time, since being taken from his mother, until he came to us, was the eight weeks he spent in a wonderful foster-home (you can read more about his early journey here).
As human beings, it's easy for us to get stuck in the story we are telling ourselves each day... we will continue to do a particular behaviour, or think particular thoughts, because we've always done it that way. We interact with the world because of the labels we give ourselves - or accept from other people - "Anxious", "Introverted", "Extroverted", "Victim", "Intelligent", "Stupid"... When labels give us permission to limit ourselves, then we don't have to take responsibility - instead we can blame the label, because the label gives us our story... without realising that it's also the story that is "proving" the label. Those "knots of our own making" that Rainer Maria Rilke wrote about.
There's a wonderful poem by Marianne Williamson, called "Our Deepest Fear" (I have it on the wall in my office), and in it she explains that it's our light, not our darkness that frightens us... our deepest fear, she says, is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure...
In my work as a therapist and a trainer, I see many people who do change the stories they have been telling themselves, often for decades - it requires courage, and insight, and self-awareness, and self-compassion to do that, and I'm in awe every single time, because it proves the truth of Marianne's words...
And then I look at this beautiful little soul who has joined our family... every "first time" he does something new - like jumping up next to us on the sofa, or climbing up four steps instead of three, or allowing Luna to share his bed - he is releasing and re-writing a little bit of that old story and it makes my heart melt, because he's letting a little bit more of his light shine.
If he is not afraid to re-write his old story, why should any of us be? In Marianne's words, again, "As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same..." If we are bringing that kind of inspiration into the world, then what can happen? That's another story - what if we were to write it?
Mungo arrived into our lives a few weeks ago... confused and scared, he had been rescued from a puppy farm, where he had spent the first five years of his life as a stud dog - without care, kindness or even a name of his own. His escape from this grim life was probably because he needed some expensive veterinary care, which he was unlikely to receive, unless he was surrendered into rescue - and fortunately for Mungo, this was the path that opened before him, thanks to the lovely folks at Friends of Animals Wales...
Following the removal of 33 teeth, funded by the wonderful Schnauzerfest charity, who supported all his veterinary costs whilst he was in rescue with FOAW, he then spent the first eight weeks of his new life with a kind and patient foster family, who began to teach him what it feels like to be loved...
Fast forward to the end of February, and this little boy had yet another huge upheaval when he moved yet again... this time to his forever home, with two little Lhasa sisters to show him the ropes. However, it is very clear to us that although he is completely free from that old life, the abuse and neglect has deep roots, and he is still beset by the demons of his past...
To begin with, he wouldn't eat. I wasn't too worried at first, because of the stress of his move, but after a couple of days he began to taste - and then he stood back and just stared at me. I suddenly got the message - he didn't like the bowl! I turned his meal out onto a plate, and he devoured it ravenously; so now, Mungo eats from a plate... and not just any plate - he has three rather beautiful Art Deco plates that we bought specially for him.
For all of us, it's a journey of interpreting feelings and needs... the tilt of an ear, the twitch of a tail or the droop of a head can tell us so much when we are prepared to pay attention. Unlike with people, there is no story to listen to, and be hooked by - we can only imagine what he has been through. Just like many people though, when we do not have the self-worth to believe that we deserve to have our needs met, it was clear to us that Mungo felt deeply unworthy of many things in his new life.
It's an incredible joy when he responds... the first time he came towards us and stood to have his head scratched... the first time he lay down next to us on the sofa... the first walk, with tail and ears up, and eyes bright... all of these things mark a small rite of passage for him - the sign that he has given himself permission to accept this part of his new life and, in doing so, hopefully also to release part of the old.
But here's an interesting thing. We chose his name because we liked it, and because it fit with our previous boy schnauzers (Theo, Hugo...). In an idle moment, I looked it up, to find out the meaning. It turns out that St Mungo is the patron saint of those who have been bullied, which is actually pretty perfect, and his feast day is 13 January. As Mungo didn't have a proper birthday either, that seems pretty perfect, too, just like Mungo himself...
Little Matilda joined our family in early April, following the sad loss of our beautiful Theo to lymphoma earlier in the year. She needed us as much as we needed her - her previous Mum had developed some health issues and was no longer able to look after her, so we took Luna to meet Matilda and they were friends at first sight...
She is, as all puppies are, part little angel, part tiny demon... but as Carl Jung once wrote, "The greater the contrast, the greater the potential. Great energy only comes from a correspondingly great tension of opposites."
"The greater the contrast, the greater the potential. Great energy only comes from a correspondingly great tension of opposites." - Carl Jung
She certainly has great energy, as Luna can testify; they play crazy games of chase together - not caring whether they are in the garden, bedroom or sitting room, and then subside in a panting, happy heap. Like Luna, and like Daisy before her, Matilda knows how to bring the joy...
Matilda of course has no concept of self-judgement - she is fearless! She doesn't worry that she is "not good enough" because she likes to roll in pigeon poo, or that she is a "bad person" because she cherishes secret fantasies of catching one of the voles who inhabit the garden wall... she doesn't wallow in guilt because she was sick on our duvet at 4am... she just is as she is, and accepts herself for who she is because she has no idea that there is any other way to be. What liberation! No wonder she is so joyful...
Self-acceptance is a key aspect in developing wellbeing and rediscovering our own joy. To quote Carl Jung once again, "How can I be substantial if I do not cast a shadow? I must have a dark side also if I am to be whole." When we can accept all of ourselves - the light as well as the dark - then we are liberated from others' judgements of us; we realise that what others think of us is not about us at all - it is a reflection of their own thoughts and being.
It doesn't matter what others think of you - it is what you think of you that is the most important thing. Become fearless and spread the joy!
The difference between a bad day and a good day is down to your own inner world of thoughts and feelings... Here I describe a short technique for interrupting negative thinking patterns so that you can begin to have fewer "bad" days and more "good" ones...
A short introduction into how we perceive and construct our own reality, through our individual values, beliefs and thoughts.
A short mindfulness technique to help you regain focus when you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed...
I've always loved undoing knots. I don't know why, particularly, only that I find it a peculiarly satisfying activity. The other evening, when called upon to assist my husband with a knotted shoelace, followed in quick succession by the knotted string on the top of a bag of logs, it brought the pattern into consciousness.
As a child, I always enjoyed the challenge of undoing knots - my father would pass me things to undo; a necklace of my mother's, perhaps - hopelessly tangled - or a tiny chain destined to become part of something he was making or mending. I remember I once spent a happy evening undoing the fine wire encasing a Chianti bottle, just for the joy of it.
As I thought of these things, it occurred to me that even now in my work as a therapist, this is what I do - I help people to untie the "knots of their own making" as Rainer Maria Rilke called them:
"If we surrendered to earth's intelligence we could rise up rooted, like trees. Instead, we entangle ourselves in knots of our own making and struggle, lonely and confused..."
Sometimes we just need somebody outside ourselves to help us see the knots are there... and then to help us to disentangle ourselves so that we might, indeed, rise up as our true, congruent self.
What actually is stress? Stress can be defined as a psychological and physiological reaction caused by a perceived lack of resources; it is also the feeling we get when something we care about is under threat, and it is actually our body's way of giving us the ability to do something about that threat. We do not get stressed about something we don’t care about – stress and meaning are, in fact, inextricably linked; our stress is a reflection of our values.
Stress is a part of life. It's vital to us - stress creates motivation and enables us to adapt to deal with new experiences. The more we can adapt our responses, the less rigid we are in our thinking. If we are very rigid in our thoughts and beliefs, so that something "has to" be a certain way, then we will find it stressful if things are not the way we want or expect them to be. The more flexible we can become in our thinking, therefore, the less negative stress we will experience and the more peaceful we will become.
Events or circumstances are not actually stressful in themselves - it is our own personal perception of the event in that moment that makes us feel stressed or not; which is why some people are stressed about certain things (going to the dentist, for example) and others are not. Stress is therefore a subjective response to a given situation. If an individual believes they cannot cope or perceives they have a lack of personal resources, then they will experience a “fight or flight” threat stress response.
When we are regularly living and working in a “fight or flight” state, our ability to cope with day to day life can become compromised and we can end up feeling overwhelmed and reacting badly in our interactions with other people. We react this way because, in that moment, we believe we have no choice in our behaviour; our resources of calm and consideration appear to have deserted us and left us with negative emotions such as anger, fear or overwhelm as our only way of being.
Understanding how our body's stress response can actually assist us to deal with the situation can be very helpful... What if stress is not actually bad for us? What if it is, in fact, a resource in itself? Stress is far more than just “fight or flight” – it is a biologically appropriate response to a given situation. Depending on the ratio of hormones our bodies produce, we actually have a variety of different stress responses, each supporting a different coping strategy.
Our three main stress responses are:
Recent research has indicated that the way we think about stress itself has an impact on our physiology. If we view stress as a completely toxic state, then everything that engenders that state becomes something to be avoided. However, if we choose to accept that there is a connection between stress and meaning, then it can help us change our mindset and increase our self-belief in our ability to cope with the challenges of life.
Instead of believing stress is bad for us, if we believe that it is our body’s way of preparing us for the challenge ahead, this has actually been shown to positively affect the physiology of the stress response; changing a “fight/flight” response into a healthier “challenge” response. In other words, research suggests that stress is only bad for us when we believe it is.
Changing the perception of the stress response from something that is harmful into something that is a positive resource could have profound implications for health and wellbeing. Whilst the everyday stressors may remain, believing the stress response to actually be beneficial to long-term health could potentially create a much reduced incidence of stress-related physical and psychological symptoms.
1. Lipton, B.H., 2008. ‘The Biology of Belief.’ USA: Hay House.
2. McGonigall, K., 2015. ‘The Upside of Stress.’ UK: Penguin Random House.
3. Crum, A.J., Salovey, P., Achor, S., 2013. ‘Rethinking stress: the role of mindsets in determining the stress response.’ Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 104(4), 716-33.
In our world of fast-developing technology, and the need to stay connected with friends and colleagues through texts, emails and social media, the irony is that in our face-to-face relationships with others we are becoming increasingly disconnected. The need to check messages and emails as they arrive, to scroll through social media just to "catch up with what's going on" means that time spent together is often time spent on phones and tablets, and that means we are not "together" at all. In that distraction, we are not being present with our partner or family.
In my therapy practice, I am seeing increasing numbers of clients who are experiencing "relationship issues" for one reason or another...
Relationships are not about “getting it right”, they are about connecting with another person. The most important aspect of connection is the ability to listen… when was the last time you did that? Really listened, with total presence and with no other distractions at all?
Listening is a skill we all possess; it is a natural, innate ability. However, as we grow and develop, we learn different, adapted ways of listening, which require effort.
What can happen when you just listen…? Listen with no judgement, no effort, and without trying to offer solutions. Even if the other person is in a negative place – what happens if you just be with them, and hold the space, with compassion and empathy…?
Put your phones down, people, and just be present with each other... talk to each other... and, more importantly, listen... it's the biggest gift you can offer.
For any couples who feel they would like to spend some time together to reconnect, you may like to know that I offer a very special course... Because it’s only for one couple at a time, it’s tailored for the individuals concerned, and whatever you want to get out of the day. (You may also like to know that there is absolutely no mobile signal in our training and consultation offices at 'Planet Wykeham'!)
Self-Awareness and Relationships is an experiential workshop-style day, with some bits of NLP – understanding how we think, and how we each do that differently from one another; there are also some bits from other psychotherapeutic modalities too, because the day is all about having fun as well as learning about yourselves and each other within your relationship. It’s designed to be very much a future-oriented day, rather than looking back at whatever has happened in the past – it’s all about developing connection and understanding, and creating your future together.
If you'd like to know more, just give me a call and we can have a chat to see if this is something you'd like to do together.
...and the Canine Members of Staff