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...
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.
Since the sudden loss of our beautiful Daisy at the end of May, we have been helped by a great many words of comfort and wisdom from friends and family, not least my niece who said that, “…somewhere out there is a little girl just waiting for you to go and pick her up…”, and she wasn’t wrong. The Universe, as we know, abhors a vacuum – and our Lhasa Apso-shaped vacuum was way too deep to be ignored for very long.
It’s been said that the best way to honour the passing of a loved dog is to offer the love you gave them to another who is in need of it. A particularly bad day last week led to a serendipitous meeting of souls…
So a measure of joy has returned to our household in the shape of little Luna – half-past puppyhood at just over a year old – and in need of a home just as much as we are in need of her. She’s only been here a couple of days, and she seems to be a happy little soul – she’s settling in well with the Schnauzers and enjoying the opportunities that new walks and sofas have to offer… They are still looking slightly askance at her attempts to play with them – they are not used to this kind of thing! – but I’m sure it won’t be long before Theo, at least, embraces his own inner puppy and decides to join in.
The waves of sadness still come, but the raw grief is being tempered and I am beginning to find my thoughts and memories of Daisy moving away from the trauma of her final day and returning instead to her grace and elegance – her thousand sweetnesses – the way she used to stand out in the garden on a windy day; face into the breeze and her tail blowing out like a banner behind her… her ‘Daisy Leap’ from the lawn onto the path… her love of the fringes on the sofa throw in my office… As I turn my face to the sun, the shadows are indeed beginning to fall behind me, as the proverb says.
As I was writing this blog, there was another meeting of souls – this time across the worlds… Who knows what passed between them? I am certain something did.
The other day I came across the following story, from the wonderful author and therapist, Bill O’Hanlon.
Some years ago, at the therapy group practice where Bill worked, a couple had sought relationship counselling. They were very embittered with one another, but couldn’t get a divorce because they had a dog that was the centre of their lives and neither of them was willing to give up even partial custody.
When the therapist worked with them, he discovered that the wife resented her husband’s habit of coming home from work, not even acknowledging her when he walked through the door, but heading straight upstairs to shower. By the time he arrived back downstairs she would be so livid that they would get into a terrible argument.
The therapist asked what the dog did when the husband arrived home, which was different from what the wife did. It turned out that the dog would run to the door, greet the husband and get a nice rubbing in return. The wife would wait in the other room for her husband to seek her out, which he didn’t do.
The husband complained that the wife was not physically affectionate. He longed for her to cuddle up next to him on the sofa while they were watching television, and would complain sarcastically that he must have body odour when she sat some distance away from him.
The therapist discovered that the dog was very assertive when he wanted affection; he would come over, sit next to the person from whom he wanted affection and push his nose under their arm if they were distracted or unresponsive, until they gave him a cuddle.
The couple was given this task: they were to study the dog and make him their teacher and guru. When they saw how he got what he wanted from their partner, they were to model that behaviour and try it out with their partner. They had great fun with this and began to turn their relationship around, no longer wanting a divorce.
For any relationship that you would like to shift in a positive or better direction, Bill suggests that you could think of an animal whose behaviour you could model – or, as he says, let Dog be your co-pilot…
...and the Canine Members of Staff