Holbrook: Five lessons I learned from my dog (column)
I woke up this morning to the sound of loud snoring. Sitting up in bed, I looked down at Luke, passed out on his big cushy dog bed. His eyes twitched, his lips flapped and he let out another long, robust snore.
I got dressed in some tights and a sweatshirt and went out into the living room to prepare for the yoga class I teach in Breckenridge on Mondays. A few minutes later, Luke followed me out, heaved himself up on the couch and went back to sleep with a sigh.
“Lazy dog” I scolded him.
The school of yoga in which I trained is an eccentric blend of traditional hatha yoga and Peruvian shamanism. There is an emphasis on connecting to the natural world, as well as to the more mysterious world of spirit, as sources of knowledge, healing and strength. An example of this is the concept of “Power Animals,” spirit animals who are there to assist and protect us.
When thinking about one’s own personal Power Animal, the tendency is to envision a creature that is either strong and ferocious, or crafty and wise. Chance meetings with actual animals (such as a fox darting across your path) may be a clue as to the identity of one’s Power Animal.
As I moved into the yoga posture “Downward Facing Dog” an unwelcome thought occurred to me: What if Luke is my Power Animal? He was not exactly what I had in mind. Neither cunning nor fearsome, Luke is more of a cheerful goofball who, at the moment, was happily muttering “Hhhmmm hhhmmm mmmmm” and stretching out more luxuriously on the couch.
Power Animals, it is believed, may also show up to teach us something.
Several years ago in Florida, just after puppy Luke came into my life, I went through a divorce, spent most of my savings buying my way out of an “underwater” home mortgage and was uncertain about my professional future. I’d wake up in the middle of the night in a panic — and then feel Luke on the bed beside me, poking me with his nose and thump, thump, thumping his tail. I would calm down enough to go back to sleep.
LESSON #1: Everything is going to be OK.
A little later when I’d gotten rid of most of what I’d owned and moved into an apartment with Luke, we’d go to the local dog park to get some exercise. I’d be feeling glum, while meanwhile Luke would be tearing around the park with a palm frond for a toy or excitedly digging in the park water bowl (meant for drinking, not swimming) or rolling his face happily in the mud.
LESSON #2: Dog toys may come and dog toys may go.
Happiness is not dependent upon what you have but is based on your ability to take pleasure in this moment.
On one of my first trips to Summit County, I dropped into the Next Page Bookstore in Frisco. Here, a stately Bernese mountain dog and his small side-kick greeted me at the door, accompanied me as I browsed through the shelves and joined me when I sat down for a coffee. Exploring Breckenridge, I shared the sidewalk with several large, amiable dogs, who seemed to be out on their own private errands. And at the UPS office in Silverthorne, the customer service was — at least in part — attended to by a friendly Boxer.
I thought of my life in Florida with Luke, where there were few places to have fun outdoors, besides dog parks bristling with scary-looking pit bulls. And where Luke was always getting into trouble in other people’s homes for his sloppy water bowl habits. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to live in a place where dogs were part of everyday life? Where there seemed to be an acceptance of slobber, muddy paws and shedding fur, as well as an appreciation for the good-heartedness of most dogs, and that little bit of wildness? When it came to deciding whether to move to Colorado or not, the answer was simple.
LESSON #3: If it’s the right decision for your dog, it is probably the right decision for you.
Settling into our new home in Breckenridge, Luke had a thing or two to learn. On one of our first walks through the neighborhood, Luke, in his usual in-your-face friendly manner, went barreling up to a large, stern-looking Malamute. Not impressed with this over-the-top Labrador greeting, the Malamute gave a big warning growl and flipped Luke onto his back.
LESSON #4: Different cultures have different customs. Some adjustments to one’s usual behavior may be required.
As the weeks went by, we began to meet other neighbors and Summit locals with dogs, and Luke and I have both made some wonderful new friends. Luke has learned to calm down a little — with the help of his favorite toy chipmunk, which he will instantly stuff in his mouth if things get too exciting. He has become more vocal about what he likes, such as having his ears massaged. And maybe because my life, too, has become so much happier here in Colorado, Luke sleeps more soundly. And snores.
The final lesson: The best kind of life is a life with a dog in it.
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