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!
Last Thursday was haircut day... we have a wonderful, patient lady who, every four weeks, comes to the house for the morning and creates order out of chaos; leaving behind three tidy dogs and an enormous bag of fluff. (The fluff is much appreciated by the local bird population in the spring, for nest-lining purposes... I would imagine that Lhasa fluff in particular must be very cosy - it certainly all disappears very rapidly.)
For Luna, who adores being brushed and loves meeting people, the arrival of Tracy is one of unrestrained joy and excitement. Lily is slightly more circumspect, but happy to hang around as she knows there will be biscuits in the offing... Theo, however, is horrified. After joining Lily in a traditional (and noisy) Schnauzer greeting, he scurries off at high speed in order to find a hiding place where, he hopes, we will be unable to find him until after Tracy has left... under my office desk is his sanctuary of choice. If he can't see us, he reasons, there's no way we'll be able to see him.
Unfortunately for Theo, cowering behind the office chair, we somehow always manage to locate him and lift him, by now shivering piteously, onto the grooming table. Half an hour or so later, when nothing very terrible has happened to him apart from the loss of some fluff amidst lots of cuddles, he's ecstatic to receive his obligatory biscuit from Tracy and run off joyously into the garden, to forget his fears until the next time.
Our worries and stresses are subjective - it depends what we have going on inside our heads as to how we perceive, and therefore how we experience, any given situation. When we are anticipating an event, we will have an internal representation of how we think the event will be. If we are focusing on a positive outcome, then we might feel pleasure, or excitement. But if we are focusing on what might go wrong, we are effectively playing out a scary movie inside our heads, which will result in us feeling stress and anxiety, even though our anticipated scenario may be far from real, or even likely.
So Luna caught a mole yesterday evening… I’ve no idea where she found it, as there are no evident mole hills in the garden, but she was exceptionally pleased with herself. She refused to relinquish her prize in the garden, and carried it triumphantly into the house, where she was eventually persuaded to part with it in exchange for three biscuits – a deal which she subsequently regretted, if her disappointed searching was anything to go by…
The mole was, sadly, deceased by this point and was decently interred under the hedgerow across the lane. Cat families will often be distressingly familiar with this scenario, but with our dogs it is not so frequent (although certainly not unheard of!).
We somehow forget, when we are throwing the fluffy, squeaky toy in a fun game of chase, fetch and throw-in-the-air before chasing again, that in addition to the joyful interaction we are both having, we are also assisting our little hairy friends to hone their hunting skills…
Dogs are natural predators – it is their essential nature to hunt small, squeaky, furry or feathered things. Why should we expect them to be less dog, and more human, just because we choose to share our lives, our homes and our sofas with them?
It’s just over three weeks since little Luna joined us, and we can’t believe how easily she has just taken everything in her stride… Nothing seems to faze her, and she is abundantly curious about each new experience. “What excitement can I discover here?” seems to be her motto.
She’s deeply fascinated by the numerous bumblebees that frequent the clover flowers in the lawn; having briefly experimented with eating one, she’s now decided that’s possibly a bit too exciting and is contenting herself with sniffing them, and then chasing after them when they fly busily off to the next flower… The fat woodpigeons who sit, apparently in deep contemplation, on the lawn are also good fun to chase – flapping heavily away at the last minute, only to perch on the wall and look down at her in high dudgeon at being so rudely awakened from their meditative trance.
An early exploration of the pond has fortunately not been repeated – no doubt to the collective relief of the newt population – but everything within the garden and without has been subject to her close sensory scrutiny. The paths and lanes we walk must smell astonishing to her; from her previous life in the suburbs of a city she is now surrounded by the sights and smells of horse and sheep, pheasant and partridge, hare, rabbit and deer…
And yet… every new experience is treated as a joyful discovery, enthusiastically widening her previous comfort zone of familiarity.
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.
This is a hard blog to write… last Tuesday morning we lost our beautiful, funny, fuzzy little Daisy, and I am desolate. She was only 7, and she had leukaemia. After nearly a week I still can’t believe that she’s gone, and that I will never hold her close to my heart and kiss her little velvet head again, and feel the softness of her fur… Anyone who has ever loved and lost a dog – or indeed anyone they love – knows the deep, indescribable well of sadness and loss, especially when that loved soul leaves us suddenly, and too soon… there are no words.
My little Daisy was a very constant companion; she would curl up in her bed next to my desk in my office whilst I worked at the computer, every so often demanding that I lifted her onto my knee, which meant I had to type one-handed – a small price to pay for the feeling of holding her. Whenever I sat down on the sofa she would be on my knee (even though she was the smallest, she would unhesitatingly shove a schnauzer out of the way if one of them was there first!), and if I lay down then she liked to sleep on my chest, with her head on my heart. At night she slept between us – one or other of us would often wake to find her tucked up in the crook of our neck, with her little furry face pressed up against our cheek. She was very special.
I have always been honored by, and grateful for, her love and attention – and I honored her in turn by giving her my own. Whenever she asked, I gave (unless it was a request for more food – she did have a passion for roast chicken!).
My clients also enjoyed her presence as “therapy dog” in the room – the schnauzers, although gorgeous and very friendly with folks they know, are also extremely boisterous so they remain in the kitchen when I’m seeing clients, but Daisy presided over my therapy space with a welcoming grace and enthusiastic joyfulness that was appreciated by all who met her.
A dear friend and fellow fan of Carl Jung said to me that she believes that, “…the bond we have with our pets is archetypal and reaches a place deep, deep within us, where our conscious minds cannot fathom”, and I am sure she is right.
There is no short-cut to dealing with grief – for each of us, healing takes as long as it takes. The important thing is to allow ourselves to feel whatever it is we are feeling in the moment, without trying to repress it, or telling ourselves we “ought to be over it by now”. There is no ought; we are individuals, and the waves of grief that assail us after any bereavement are a testament to the love we feel for the soul who has moved on. After a time, the waves may come less frequently, but they will still come; accepting that that is ok can be difficult if we subscribe to the belief that our grief should have a time limit.
It’s important that we give ourselves time to feel our pain – to own it and be with it. If we are afraid to feel it, then it will shadow our life forever until we deal with it. Spending time in our pain is hard – it’s the other side of Mindfulness – accepting what we are experiencing, without judgement, even when that experience is raw and painful beyond measure… and holding the space for our own soul to heal.
Emotions, whether joyful or deeply painful, are not meant for us to hold onto and keep… they are like the weather – they come and they go. If we accept their presence in the moment, and the fact that this too will pass, we can then allow them to move on, and we can begin to discover that in between the waves, and the tempests of wind and rain, there is peace.
That place that my friend spoke about that lies deep, deep within us – that place where our conscious minds cannot fathom – is also a place of deep peace… it is the place that Jung refers to as our “collective unconscious”. It is atemporal – within that place we are forever connected to those we love; past, present and future. The answer to our ultimate solace, therefore, just like all of life’s problems, lies not outside us, but inside. At the end of the day, there is only love.
We’ve got the builders in, and the canine members of staff are really not amused… Even though they have been here over a week now, the dogs still go mad every time one of the builders walks across the courtyard. It’s a boundary issue, and nobody likes it when someone keeps crossing their boundaries. I’ve had to draw all the curtains on that side of the house so the builders can come and go without the attendant chaos.
What do we do when someone crosses (or tries to cross) one of our own personal boundaries? Do we make it known (however lovingly) that this is not acceptable, or do we keep the little yapping voice to ourselves, drawing across the curtain in order to keep the peace?
If you are finding yourself saying “yes” to others at the expense of saying “no” to yourself, perhaps it’s time to start listening to your inner dog…
...and the Canine Members of Staff