Chilled-out canines experience a moment of utter calmness
Australian animal photographer Alex Cearns remembers the first Zen dog image she ever captured, a Shar-Pei named Suzi.
“During her photo session, I caught a shot of her with her eyes closed, and a big smile on her face. I called the image ‘Zen Dog,’ and when her owners saw it, they immediately fell in love with the vibe of the image and with Suzi’s relaxed and happy pose,” Cearns says.
“With such positive feedback, I became keen to capture the emotion and moment of being a Zen dog for other dogs who visited my studio.”
Cearns tries to take at least one Zen-like image for every dog photo session she conducts at her Houndstooth Studio, even if the process takes time. She has compiled 80 of these images of meditative canines in her new book “Zen Dogs.”
To get her canine subjects to relax, Cearns makes sure they are authentically calm and happy. Her studio is small, quiet and without many distractions.
“During my photo sessions, I realized that some types of dogs are more likely to close their eyes than others,” Cearns says. “Dogs who were fairly laid back, or who liked to lie about were easier to photograph in a Zen state, whereas dogs overly fixated on toys or treats wouldn’t close their eyes for a second, should the toy or treat disappear. They kept their eyes firmly on the prize.”
Although it might look like the dogs are zoned out or even sleeping, that’s not the case; Cearns has skillfully caught a restful moment with her camera.
“The images capture a split second blink of my dog subjects, freezing the moment in time,” she says. “Sitting only a foot away, I’m able to watch each dog subject carefully to pick up on their blinking pattern, and take a series of images just before I predict their blink.”
The book “Zen Dogs” includes photos of a wide range of breeds, interspersed with Zen-inspired quotes by Gandhi, Buddha, St. Francis of Assisi and others with thoughtful, meditative words to share. There’s this one, for example, from “Unknown”:
If you’re always racing to the next moment, what happens to the one you’re in?
“As soon as a dog visits my studio, I aim to genuinely make friends with them and ensure they are comfortable and feel secure,” says Cearns. “I try to find out what they love most — a certain type of treat, or a particular toy — and then use that knowledge to win them over.”
It’s a wonderful reminder of what is important in our lives.
There’s a science background to being healthy and happy.
Especially as one gets older.
It’s Jean’s birthday today and we are grateful for our lot. I’m 75 now and Jean is a few years younger. But more importantly we are so grateful to have met and, subsequently, fallen in love.
As well as Jean’s love in return we have our gorgeous dogs as well (not to count in addition the two horses, the two parakeets and the cat) and they reinforce the feelings of happiness that surround us.
All of which is an introduction to an article on The Conversation that caught my eye yesterday.
I’m afraid it doesn’t mention dogs but then again we dog owners know for sure how they benefit us humans.
Are you as grateful as you deserve to be?
November 26, 2019
By Richard Gunderman
Chancellor’s Professor of Medicine, Liberal Arts, and Philanthropy, Indiana University
As a physician, I have helped to care for many patients and families whose lives have been turned upside down by serious illnesses and injuries. In the throes of such catastrophes, it can be difficult to find cause for anything but lament. Yet Thanksgiving presents us with an opportunity to develop one of the healthiest, most life-affirming and convivial of all habits – that of counting and rejoicing in our blessings.
Research shows that grateful people tend to be healthy and happy. They exhibit lower levels of stress and depression, cope better with adversity and sleep better. They tend to be happier and more satisfied with life. Even their partners tend to be more content with their relationships.
Perhaps when we are more focused on the good things we enjoy in life, we have more to live for and tend to take better care of ourselves and each other.
When researchers asked people to reflect on the past week and write about things that either irritated them or about which they felt grateful, those tasked with recalling good things were more optimistic, felt better about their lives and actually visited their physicians less.
It is no surprise that receiving thanks makes people happier, but so does expressing gratitude. An experiment that asked participants to write and deliver thank-you notes found large increases in reported levels of happiness, a benefit that lasted for an entire month.
One of the greatest minds in Western history, the Greek philosopher Aristotle, argued that we become what we habitually do. By changing our habits, we can become more thankful human beings.
If we spend our days ruminating on all that has gone poorly and how dark the prospects for the future appear, we can think ourselves into misery and resentment.
But we can also mold ourselves into the kind of people who seek out, recognize and celebrate all that we have to be grateful for.
This is not to say that anyone should become a Pollyanna, ceaselessly reciting the mantra from Voltaire’s “Candide,” “All is for the best in this, the best of all possible worlds.” There are injustices to be righted and wounds to be healed, and ignoring them would represent a lapse of moral responsibility.
But reasons to make the world a better place should never blind us to the many good things it already affords. How can we be compassionate and generous if we are fixated on deficiency? This explains why the great Roman statesman Cicero called gratitude not only the greatest of virtues but the “parent” of them all.
Gratitude is deeply embedded in many religious traditions. In Judaism, the first words of the morning prayer could be translated, “I thank you.” Another saying addresses the question, “Who is rich?” with this answer: “Those who rejoice in what they have.”
Gratitude also plays an essential role in Islam. The 55th chapter of the Quran enumerates all the things human beings have to be grateful for – the Sun, Moon, clouds, rain, air, grass, animals, plants, rivers and oceans – and then asks, “How can a sensible person be anything but thankful to God?”
In his 1994 book, “A Whole New Life,” the Duke University English professor Reynolds Price describes how his battle with a spinal cord tumor that left him partially paralyzed also taught him a great deal about what it means to really live.
After surgery, Price describes “a kind of stunned beatitude.” With time, though diminished in many ways by his tumor and its treatment, he learns to pay closer attention to the world around him and those who populate it.
Reflecting on the change in his writing, Price notes that his books differ in many ways from those he penned as a younger man. Even his handwriting, he says, “looks very little like that of the man he was at the time of his diagnosis.”
“Cranky as it is, it’s taller, more legible, and with more air and stride. And it comes down the arm of a grateful man.”
A brush with death can open our eyes. Some of us emerge with a deepened appreciation for the preciousness of each day, a clearer sense of our real priorities and a renewed commitment to celebrating life. In short, we can become more grateful, and more alive, than ever.
When it comes to practicing gratitude, one trap to avoid is locating happiness in things that make us feel better off – or simply better – than others. In my view, such thinking can foster envy and jealousy.
There are marvelous respects in which we are equally blessed – the same Sun shines down upon each of us, we all begin each day with the same 24 hours, and each of us enjoys the free use of one of the most complex and powerful resources in the universe, the human brain.
Much in our culture seems aimed to cultivate an attitude of deficiency – for example, most ads aim to make us think that to find happiness we must buy something. Yet most of the best things in life – the beauty of nature, conversation and love – are free.
There are many ways to cultivate a disposition of thankfulness. One is to make a habit of giving thanks regularly – at the beginning of the day, at meals and the like, and at day’s end.
Likewise, holidays, weeks, seasons and years can be punctuated with thanks – grateful prayer or meditation, writing thank-you notes, keeping a gratitude journal and consciously seeking out the blessings in situations as they arise.
Gratitude can become a way of life, and by developing the simple habit of counting our blessings, we can enhance the degree to which we are truly blessed.
That reference to Reynolds Price and his challenges make one think. I have been fortunate that nothing really dreadful has happened to me; apart from my father’s death when I had just turned 12. I’m getting a little hazy in terms of certain memories but that’s an old age thing rather than an illness. But to go through what he did; I just don’t know the person that I am, in terms of how I wold react to that.
But to the general tone of the article, I would hope that I can get better and better.
For it’s splendid to cultivate that disposition.
One is to make a habit of giving thanks regularly – at the beginning of the day, at meals and the like, and at day’s end.
I have re-read this post and have choked up. For Pharaoh was the supreme dog for me to have as a companion during this stage in my life. I suspect you will read that clearly in the post that follows.
The concluding part-two of meeting Pharaoh
In yesterday’s first part of my recollection of having Pharaoh in my life for over ten years, I focussed on the early days. Today, I want to take a more philosophical view of the relationship, right up to the present day.
The biggest, single reward of having Pharaoh as my friend goes back a few years. Back to my Devon days and the time when Jon Lavin and I used to spend hours talking together. Pharaoh always contentedly asleep in the same room as the two of us. It was Jon who introduced me to Dr. David Hawkins and his Map of Consciousness. It was Jon one day who looking down at the sleeping Pharaoh pointed out that Dr. Hawkins offered evidence that dogs are integrous creatures with a ‘score’ on that Map of between 205 and 210. (Background story is here.)
So this blog, Learning from Dogs, and my attempt to write a book of the same name flow from that awareness of what dogs mean to human consciousness and what Pharaoh means to me. No, more than that! From that mix of Jon, Dr. David Hawkins, experiencing the power of unconditional love from an animal living with me day-in, day-out, came a journey into my self. Came the self-awareness that allowed me to like who I was, be openly loved by this dog of mine, and be able to love in return. As is said: “You cannot love another until you love yourself.”
Trying to pick out a single example of the bond that he and I have is practically impossible. I have to rely on photographs to remind me of the thousands of times that a simple look or touch between Pharaoh and me ‘speaks’ to me in ways that words fail. Here’s an extract from my celebration of Pharaoh’s tenth birthday last June 3rd; written the following day. It comes pretty close to illustrating the friendship bond.
For many years I was a private pilot and in later days had the pleasure, the huge pleasure, of flying a Piper Super Cub, a group-owned aircraft based at Watchford Farm in South Devon. The aircraft, a Piper PA-18-135 Super Cub, was originally supplied to the Dutch Air Force in 1954 and was permitted by the British CAA to carry her original military markings including her Dutch military registration, R-151, although there was a British registration, G-BIYR, ‘underneath’ the Dutch R-151. (I wrote more fully about the history of the aircraft on Learning from Dogsback in August 2009.)
Anyway, every time I went to the airfield with Pharaoh he always tried to climb into the cockpit. So one day, I decided to see if he would sit in the rear seat and be strapped in. Absolutely no problem with that!
My idea had been to fly a gentle circuit in the aircraft. First I did some taxying around the large grass airfield that is Watchford to see how Pharaoh reacted. He was perfectly behaved.
Then I thought long and hard about taking Pharaoh for a flight. In the Cub there is no autopilot so if Pharaoh struggled or worse it would have been almost impossible to fly the aircraft and cope with Pharaoh. So, in the end, I abandoned taking him for a flight. The chances are that it would have been fine. But if something had gone wrong, the outcome just didn’t bear thinking about.
So we ended up motoring for 30 minutes all around the airfield which, as the next picture shows, met with doggie approval. The date was July 2006.
Moving on again. This time to another flying experience. To the day when Pharaoh and I flew out of London bound for Los Angeles and a new life with Jeannie and all her dogs (16 at that time) down in San Carlos, Sonora County, Mexico. The date: September 15th, 2008. Just ten months after I had met Jean in Mexico and realised that this was the woman that I was destined to love! (Now you will understand why I described earlier the Jon Lavin, Dr. Hawkins, Pharaoh mix as the biggest, single reward of having Pharaoh as my friend!)
There followed wonderful happy days for me and Pharaoh. Gorgeous to see how Pharaoh became so much more a dog, if that makes sense, from having his own mini-pack around him. Those happy days taking us all forwards to Payson, AZ, where Jean and I were married, and then on to Merlin, Oregon arriving here in October, 2012.
I could go on! Hopefully, you get a sense, a very strong sense, of the magical journey that both Pharaoh and I have experienced since I first clasped him in my arms back in September, 2003.
Both Pharaoh and I are in the Autumn of our lives, he is 11 in June; I am 70 in November, and we both creak a little. But so what! Pharaoh has been my greatest inspiration of the power of unconditional love; of the need to smell the flowers in this short life of ours.
Thank you, my dear, dear friend!
Yes, thank you, and thanks to all the dogs that love us and to whom we offer love in return.
Today, as in the 20th November, 2019, just happens to be our anniversary, nine years ago we were married. We met just before Christmas, 2007.
The problem with coming up to the age of 75, and aware that I am close to the average life expectancy in the US, is that one increasingly worries about stuff. Such as it seems like the world is becoming more unsettled. But then it is put down to age!
But this article does imply that it is a more unsettled world and we should take notice. Republished with permission.
5 tips for surviving in an increasingly uncertain world
The U.S. presidential impeachment inquiry has added another layer of uncertainty to an already unstable situation that includes political polarization and the effects of climate change.
As a clinical psychologist in the Washington, D.C. area, I hear people report being stressed, anxious, worried, depressed and angry. Indeed, an American Psychological Association 2017 survey found that 63% of Americans were stressed by “the future of our nation,” and 57% by the “current political climate.”
Humans dislike uncertainty in most situations, but some deal with it better than others. Numerous studies link high intolerance of uncertainty to anxiety and anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, PTSD and eating disorders.
While no one person can reduce the uncertainty of the current political situation, you can learn to decrease intolerance of uncertainty by implementing these scientifically sound strategies.
When unsure how to best proceed with a work assignment, you might either immediately seek help, over-research or procrastinate. As you prepare for the day, uncertainty about the weather or traffic is quickly short-circuited by checking a phone. Similarly, inquiries about family or friends’ whereabouts or emotions can be instantly gratified by texting or checking social media.
Tolerance for uncertainty is like a muscle that weakens if not used. So, work that muscle next time you face uncertainty.
Start gradually: Resist the urge to reflexively check your GPS the next time you are lost and aren’t pressured for time. Or go to a concert without Googling the band beforehand. Next, try to sit with the feelings of uncertainty for a while before you pepper your teenager with texts when he is running late. Over time, the discomfort will diminish.
2. Connect to a bigger purpose
Rita Levi-Montalcini was a promising young Jewish scientist when fascists came to power in Italy and she had to go into hiding. As World War II was raging, she set up a secret lab in her parents’ bedroom, studying cell growth. She would later say that the meaning that she derived from her work helped her to deal with the evil outside and with the ultimate uncertainty of whether she would be discovered.
It turns out that humans are generally resilient, even in the face of very stressful or traumatic events. If a feared outcome materializes, chances are you will deal with it better than you could now imagine. Remember that the next time uncertainty rears its head.
4. Bolster resilience by increasing self-care
You have probably heard it many times by now: Sleep well, exercise and prioritize social connections if you want to have a long and happy life.
Possibly the best tool for coping with uncertainty is making sure that you have an active and meaningful social life. Loneliness fundamentally undermines a person’s sense of safety
and makes it very hard to deal with the unpredictable nature of life.
In spite of civilization’s great progress, the fantasy of humankind’s absolute control over its environment and fate is still just that – a fantasy. So, I say to embrace the reality of uncertainty and enjoy the ride.
When Shauna Darcy first brought Ruby home, the plan was to have Ruby act as a service dog to help her with anxiety, depression and agoraphobia. Ruby was an incredible service dog and companion from the very beginning — and quickly showed Darcy just how far she would go to help her.
“While she was training to be a service dog I noticed that she started picking up on changes in my heart rate and would act funny — for example, paw at me, try to get my attention, get on top of me, etc.,” Darcy told The Dodo.
Picking up on Ruby’s cues, Darcy went to the doctor and discovered she had health issues she hadn’t known about, including a rare heart condition called vascular Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. Ruby had known something was wrong even before Darcy did, and her main focus as a service dog quickly switched to Darcy’s cardiac issues.
Every day, Ruby helps her mom with things like monitoring her heart rate and blood pressure, helping her during panic attacks and retrieving emergency medications. She also carries groceries, picks up dropped items and gets things her mom can’t reach, and is trained in deep pressure therapy.
“When I pass out she gets on top of me and applies all her pressure on me and licks my hands and face until I come around,” Darcy said.
Ruby is there for her mom every single day — even when she doesn’t realize she needs her.
Last week, when Ruby started alerting her mom that something was wrong, she had no idea why. At that point, Darcy was feeling fine, but decided to trust Ruby and call an ambulance anyway, just in case.
“It turns out my heart was going into atrial fibrillation,” Darcy said. “By the time the paramedics came, I was in pain and barely conscious.”
As the paramedics rushed Darcy to the hospital, she realized that Ruby had saved her life that day.
While Darcy was in the hospital and the doctors worked to get her stable again, Ruby refused to leave her mom’s side. Even while Darcy was unconscious, Ruby lay in her hospital bed, pressed up against her, hoping her mom could sense she was there and that her presence would make her feel safe.
During their stay at the hospital, so many people stopped by to meet Ruby. She’s always very popular whenever she and her mom are at the hospital and loves saying hi to everyone — but also makes sure that she’s never too far away from her mom. She loves her so much, and her mom loves her just as much right back.
Without Ruby, Darcy’s life would be very different. Ruby helps her mom stay healthy and safe every single day, and her mom is so grateful for everything she’s done for her.
“I wouldn’t be alive without her,” Darcy said.
“I wouldn’t be alive without her,”
I’m emboldening that last statement.
This is a wonderful story.
For Darcy has articulated what millions of other dog lovers know in their hearts. That the relationship between a dog and a human is extra special!
Associate Professor of Outdoor Education, Montreat College
Today Americans live in a world that thrives on being busy, productive and overscheduled. Further, they have developed the technological means to be constantly connected to others and to vast options for information and entertainment through social media. For many, smartphones demand their attention day and night with constant notifications.
As a result, naturally occurring periods of solitude and silence that were once commonplace have been squeezed out of their lives. Music, reality TV shows, YouTube, video games, tweeting and texting are displacing quiet and solitary spaces. Silence and solitude are increasingly viewed as “dead” or “unproductive” time, and being alone makes many Americans uncomfortable and anxious.
We study and teach outdoor education and related fields at several colleges and organizations in North Carolina, through and with other scholars at 2nd Nature TREC, LLC, a training, research, education and consulting firm. We became interested in the broader implications of alone time after studying intentionally designed solitude experiences during wilderness programs, such as those run by Outward Bound. Our findings reveal that time alone in nature is beneficial for many participants in a variety of ways, and is something they wish they had more of in their daily life.
Reflection and challenge
We have conducted research for almost two decades on Outward Bound and undergraduate wilderness programs at Montreat College in North Carolina and Wheaton College in Illinois. For each program, we studied participants’ experiences using multiple methods, including written surveys, focus group interviews, one-on-one interviews and field notes. In some cases, we asked subjects years later to look back and reflect on how the programs had affected them. Among other questions, our research looked at participant perceptions of the value of solo time outdoors.
Our studies showed that people who took part in these programs benefited both from the outdoor settings and from the experience of being alone. These findings build on previous research that has clearly demonstrated the value of spending time in nature.
Scholars in fields including wilderness therapy and environmental psychology have shown that time outdoors benefits our lives in many ways. It has a therapeutic effect, relieves stress and restores attention. Alone time in nature can have a calming effect on the mind because it occurs in beautiful, natural and inspirational settings.
Nature also provides challenges that spur individuals to creative problem-solving and increased self-confidence. For example, some find that being alone in the outdoors, particularly at night, is a challenging situation. Mental, physical and emotional challenges in moderation encourage personal growth that is manifested in an increased comfort with one’s self in the absence of others.
Being alone also can have great value. It can allow issues to surface that people spend energy holding at bay, and offer an opportunity to clarify thoughts, hopes, dreams and desires. It provides time and space for people to step back, evaluate their lives and learn from their experiences. Spending time this way prepares them to re-engage with their community relationships and full work schedules.
Putting it together: The outdoor solo
Participants in programmed wilderness expeditions often experience a component known as “Solo,” a time of intentional solitude lasting approximately 24-72 hours. Extensive research has been conducted on solitude in the outdoors because many wilderness education programs have embraced the educational value of solitude and silence.
Solo often emerges as one of the most significant parts of wilderness programs, for a variety of reasons. Alone time creates a contrasting experience to normal living that enriches people mentally, physically and emotionally. As they examine themselves in relation to nature, others, and in some cases, God, people become more attuned to the important matters in their lives and in the world of which they are part.
Solo, an integral part of Outward Bound wilderness trips, can last from a few hours to 72 hours. The experience is designed to give participants an opportunity to reflect on their own thoughts and critically analyze their actions and decisions.
For some participants, time alone outdoors provides opportunity to consider the spiritual and/or religious dimension of life. Reflective time, especially in nature, often enhances spiritual awareness and makes people feel closer to God. Further, it encourages their increased faith and trust in God. This often occurs through providing ample opportunities for prayer, meditation, fasting, Scripture-reading, journaling and reflection time.
Retreating to lead
As Thomas Carlyle has written, “In (solitary) silence, great things fashion themselves together.” Whether these escapes are called alone time, solitude or Solo, it seems clear that humans experience many benefits when they retreat from the “rat race” to a place apart and gather their thoughts in quietness.
In order to live and lead effectively, it is important to be intentional about taking the time for solitary reflection. Otherwise, gaps in schedules will always fill up, and even people with the best intentions may never fully realize the life-giving value of being alone.
I would modify that advice from Thomas Carlyle and that is to include a dog.
For in my experience when one is in the mood for a bit of solitary reflection your dog seems to sense it as well.
This doesn’t really have a link to dogs. However, I sense that dog lovers across the world have less of a problem with depression.
In a moving talk, journalist Johann Hari shares fresh insights on the causes of depression and anxiety from experts around the world — as well as some exciting emerging solutions. “If you’re depressed or anxious, you’re not weak and you’re not crazy — you’re a human being with unmet needs,” Hari says.
Hari graduated from Cambridge University with the highest degree grade, a Double First, in social and political sciences. He grew up in London, with a Swiss father who was a bus driver and a Scottish mother who worked in a shelter for victims of domestic violence. Today, he lives half the year in London, and he spends the other half of the year traveling to research his books.
Hari has written over the past eight years for some of the world’s leading newspapers and magazines, including the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Guardian, the Spectator, Le Monde Diplomatique, the Melbourne Age and Politico. He has also appeared on leading TV shows, including HBO’s Realtime With Bill Maher. He was twice named “National Newspaper Journalist of the Year” by Amnesty International. He has also been named “Cultural Commentator of the Year” and “Environmental Commentator of the Year” at the Comment Awards, and “Gay Journalist of the Year” at the Stonewall Awards. Read about what Johann is working on now.
About Johann Hari
I’m indebted to Wikipedia from which I have drawn some of the following:
Hari was born in Glasgow, Scotland, to a Scottish mother and Swiss father, before his family relocated to London when he was an infant. Hari was physically abused in his childhood while his father was away and his mother was ill.
In January 2012, after leaving The Independent, Hari announced that he was writing a book on the war on drugs, which was subsequently published as Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs.
His 2015 T.E.D. talk entitled “Everything you think you know about addiction is wrong” has been viewed over 9.4 million times (as of July 12, 2018), and lays out the idea that most addictions are functional responses to experiences and a lack of healthy supportive relationships, rather than a simple biological need for a particular substance.
In January 2018, Hari’s book Lost Connections on depression and anxiety was published, with Hari citing his childhood issues, career crisis, and experiences with antidepressants and psychotherapy as fuelling his curiosity in the subject.Kirkus Reviews praised the book. Material from the book was criticised by neuroscientist and Guardian writer Dean Burnett, who pointed out that Hari appeared to be reporting as his own discoveries material — such as the biopsychosocial model – that has been common knowledge for decades, and for misrepresenting the medical, psychiatric and scientific establishments as “some shadowy monolithic organisation, in thrall to the drug industry”.