Learning from Dogs
The day before Philip’s appointment with Jonathan, he suddenly realised that if they had set a time he hadn’t made a note of it. He called Jonathan.
“Jonathan, it’s Philip.”
“Hallo Philip, is there a problem for tomorrow?”
“No, not at all. It’s just that if we made a time, I screwed up and didn’t note it down.”
He could hear Jonathan’s laugh over the phone. “Ah, and there I was thinking I hadn’t made a note of the time. Luckily, I was going to be in all day so was pretty relaxed about when you came across.”
Philip replied, “Ah, that’s a welcoming attitude. But how about me coming over early to mid-morning? How does that suit you?”
“Done, I’ll see you at ten-thirty.” He was just about to ring off when he added, “Jonathan, I could leave Pharaoh here at the flat but as it’s not become home to him yet, would it be alright if I bring him with me?”
“Not a problem. Would be lovely to see him again.”
“Thanks Jonathan, see you in the morning.”
The room at Jonathan and Helen’s house was ideal. Ideal, that is, for a large dog. However, just in case Pharaoh couldn’t settle, before leaving the flat Philip had stuck a couple of dog biscuits in his bag. But there had been no need to worry because as soon he and Jonathan sat down and started to talk Pharaoh curled up behind Philip’s chair.
Jonathan opened the conversation by asking Philip, “Why don’t you tell me a little about your life, pick out the things that more often than not come to you when you think back over the years?”
Philip settled back in his chair and allowed his memory of the last fifty or so years to bubble up into his consciousness. The key moments were easy to speak about. His father’s death, his subsequent failure to get any decent exam results at school, then managing to enrol as a graduate electrical engineer at the Faraday House of Electrical Engineering so long as he passed two ‘A-levels’ within the first year; which he failed to do. So he had to leave Faraday House but, miracle of miracles, somehow managed to gain a commercial apprenticeship at the British Aircraft Corporation’s manufacturing plant in Stevenage.
A quiet snoring from Pharaoh showed that he was now solidly asleep. Philip guessed he had heard all this before!
He continued with this snapshot of his past years. Going on to recall how he loved so much his first year at BAC because all apprentices had to spend their first year learning a whole range of engineering skills: cutting, shaping, welding, riveting, and much more. He mused how those skills had given him confidence later on in life to tackle most construction projects; well small ones anyway. Then on to the second year at BAC and the deadly boredom of the commercial office undertaking such gripping tasks as pasting typed amendments over the top of the pages of current Government contracts for hours upon hours. Only made bearable by the kindness of Malcolm Hunt, who was his oversight manager. Leading to Philip offering to cut Malcolm’s grass at his home in the Summer evenings because Malcolm had to constantly wear a neck brace due to severe problems with his upper spine. Then him meeting Malcolm’s lovely Scottish wife, Sadie, and often being invited to have an evening meal with them.
On to that fateful day when he was sitting at his desk, his desk next to Malcolm’s, when Malcolm said, “Philip, Sadie wondered if you could give her a call at work.” He passed Philip a slip of paper on which he had written down Sadie’s office number, a local Stevenage number. He had gone over to the main canteen where there was a public phone box in the lobby.
“Hallo, British Visqueen, how may I help you?”
“Yes, my name is Philip Stevens and I have been asked to call Mrs Sadie Hunt.”
It was but a moment before Philip heard Sadie’s lovely Scottish accent. “Philip, how nice of you to call. Listen we have a vacancy in our sales office, the team that manage the sales of our polythene film products to UK companies, and I wondered if you would like to be interviewed for the vacancy?”
“Oh Sadie, thank you so much for thinking of me. I would love to have a try at the position.”
“Well, that’s grand, Philip. Both Malcolm and I were thinking that your present job was leaving you unfulfilled and something closer to selling would match your skills and personality. I’ll arrange for the usual letter inviting persons to interview to be sent to you in tonight’s post.”
He became conscious that he had drifted away and looked up at Jonathan with some embarrassment.
“Whoops, got a bit carried away there, didn’t I.”
Jonathan replied gently, “You obviously got the job at British Visqueen.”
“Yes, I did and in a funny way that job set me up for life. Of course, that’s only clear to me now looking backwards. But all my life I’ve loved the interaction that selling inevitably requires, and, without wanting to blow my own trumpet, I have been good at it.”
The hour with Jonathan flew by. They agreed the next appointment for a week’s time and he and Pharaoh went out to the car and made their way back to the flat.
Despite that hour with Jonathan almost entirely taken up with him speaking of past times, it had still left its mark on him. He was aware for much of the rest of that Friday that there was something about the atmosphere in Jonathan’s room that made him feel totally safe even though he had no idea as to how that had been achieved. That was fascinating, he pondered. It was not as if he was a stranger to being one-on-one with another person nor disliked meeting and talking with others, far from it. But still it felt so different. He looked forward to next Friday morning.
The morning was soon upon him and, again, much of that next session continued with him talking about the key events in his life, not just in his working life but, for example, the circumstances of his first marriage and how that failed. By the end of the second session he was up to present times.
The third session, a further week on, started very differently because Jonathan started to talk about consciousness. In particular about David R. Hawkins who, apparently, is an internationally renowned psychiatrist and researcher into human consciousness. This all felt a little strange to Philip but as Jonathan showed him a chart, for want of a better term, of the different states of consciousness, a map of consciousness as the title described it, then it did start to fall somewhat into place.
Apparently, David Hawkins had found a way of measuring the human body’s reaction, using kinesiology, to a range of life’s circumstances. Leading to Dr. Hawkins proposing that those reactions were really a window into a person’s consciousness. Hawkins then went on to create a numerical value for those measurements and proposed a mid-way value. Mid-way, as it were, between positive and negative human reactions. Philip found this fascinating from an intellectual perspective. He still struggled to embrace the meaning and relevance of it as part of his counselling. However, from what he had come to observe about Jonathan’s approach to psychotherapy he expected the emotional significance of this to appear pretty soon.
He tuned back into Jonathan explaining how those measurements of the body that scored above the mid-way level of 200 described a range of positive, strong levels of human consciousness and below a corresponding range of negative, weak levels. It was all a little baffling; he had to admit.
Jonathan could see that Philip was struggling a little with the whole idea of human consciousness having levels, let alone that those levels could be measured.
“Philip, think of it as two very broad categories. From a mid-way level of 200 all the upper states of consciousness are described in the general terms of truth, integrity and supportive of life. Whereas, from 200 and down those states of consciousness are described as false, lacking integrity and unsupportive of life.”
Jonathan paused and went on to add, “And did you know that the consciousness of dogs has been mapped?”
That brought Philip immediately to the edge of his seat, the suddenness of his reaction causing Pharaoh to open his eyes and lift up his head.
“Yes, the consciousness of dogs has been mapped as between 205 and 210. They are creatures of integrity.”
Philip knew in that instant that something very profound had just occurred. He slipped forward out of his chair, got down on his hands and knees, crawled behind his chair, and gave Pharaoh the most loving hug of his life. Dogs are creatures of integrity. Of course! So utterly and profoundly obvious. Wow, what a revelation.
He sat back up in his chair, now truly engaged in the subject. Jonathan continued to outline more of David Hawkins’ findings, closing their session by offering to lend Philip the Hawkins’ book Power vs Force.
“See you same time next Friday, Philip?”
“No question. And thank you for a fascinating session.”
On the drive back to Diptford, Philip couldn’t take his mind off the idea that dogs were creatures of integrity and truthfulness. What was that third quality that Jonathan had mentioned? Ah, yes. Integrity, truthfulness and supportive of life. He had no doubt that all Nature’s animals could be seen in the same light but what made it so powerful in terms of dogs was the scale of the unique relationship between dogs and man. A relationship that had been running for thousands upon thousands of years.
As he made himself his usual light lunch of a couple of peanut butter sandwiches and some fruit and then sat enjoying a mug of hot tea, he just couldn’t take his mind off what Jonathan had revealed. Dogs are examples of integrity and truth. No, examples is a pathetic word. Dogs are beacons of integrity and truth. Yes, that’s it. Wow.
Then from a place that he knew not from where, it came to him. Some day he would write about this. About these qualities of man’s best friend. How we should be comparing the integrity of dogs to this modern, dysfunctional world, a world that seems to be descending deeper and deeper into corruption, lies, greed, selfishness and depravity. My goodness, how much there is for man to learn from dogs.
As that last thought passed across his mind, he was hit by a force, a force that was beyond question. He would write not some time in the future but now. Write about how we must, for the future sake of mankind, learn from dogs.
He shuffled his chair across to his computer, toggled it back to life and started looking at available internet domain names. Bingo, it hadn’t been taken! Thus a few minutes later he was the registered owner of the domain name learningfromdogs.
Friday the 22nd came round as regular as clockwork and Philip, once again, was settled into his chair in Jonathan’s room. Pharaoh likewise settled in to the corner of the room behind his chair. He had been looking forward to this next hour with Jonathan because so much had flowed from the revelations of last week’s session.
“Philip, when we had our first session and I asked you to relate the key life events that came to you, the first event you spoke of was the death of your father. Tell me more about that time in your life.”
“To be honest, I don’t have clear memories of my father much before he died that year. He was a lot older than my mother, some eighteen years, and I had been the result of an affair between them; my father being married at the time. They met when they were both members of an amateur orchestra in London during the height of the Second World War. Apparently, my father had had two daughters with his wife and longed for a son. I came along just six months before the end of the war. At first, my father couldn’t decide to leave his wife leading to my mother eventually giving him an ultimatum that if he wished to continue to see his son then he would have to marry her. So despite me being born in November 1944 it wasn’t until 1946 that my parents became married.”
He paused for a few moments, as if having to dip back to that December in 1956 was going to stir up pain.
“I had turned twelve-years-old in early November 1956. Just finished my first term at Grammar School. To be honest, I can’t recall when my father became ill and how long he had been bed-ridden. But on the evening of December 19th, after I had kissed my father goodnight and jumped into my bed in the room next door, my mother came in, closed my bedroom door, sat on the edge of my bed and told me that my father was very ill and may not live for much longer.
It clearly didn’t register with me at any significant emotional level because I went off easily to sleep. But when I awoke in the morning, I was told that my father had died during the night, the family doctor had attended and my father’s body had been removed from the house. I had slept through it all.”
Jonathan quietly looked at him. Nothing was said; not for a long time. Philip was aware of a strange, yet peaceful, presence in the room. Pharaoh softly stood up, came over and laid his head across Philip’s leg. All remained still and quiet in the room. He lost any notion of the passing of time, no idea of how long it was when there was a gentle movement from Jonathan.
“What are you experiencing at this moment?”
“Jonathan, it’s strange but there’s almost a complete absence of feelings. I’ve often tried to reflect on what I truly felt at the time or, indeed, what I feel all these years later whenever I am drawn back to that time. But the best I have ever been able to come up with is that I was never able to say goodbye. You need to know, Jonathan, that it was decided that because it would be too upsetting for me, I wasn’t even at the funeral and cremation thus reinforcing my sense of not saying goodbye to my father.”
Minutes passed afresh before Jonathan asked his next question. “Philip, you have a son and daughter. What are their ages?”
“My son, William, is now thirty-five and my daughter, Elizabeth, thirty-four.”
Jonathan put his hands together fingers-to-fingers and lent his chin against them. “So your son would have been twelve in 1984. That was when you were very busy running your own business, if I recall.”
Philip nodded in reply.
“So Philip let’s say that during that year of 1984 you had been diagnosed with some terminal illness, say cancer, as with your father. You were given a life expectancy of six months or less. What thoughts come to mind?”
“You mean in the sense of what it would have meant for William and Elizabeth?”
“Wow, what a truly terrible thing to reflect upon.”
He idly stroked Pharaoh’s head as he tried to put himself in the position of knowing he was dying back when his children were eleven and twelve.
He looked up. “What comes to mind without any doubt is that I would have walked away from my business immediately. After all, very soon it wasn’t going to be my business. My kids were still living at home, of course. I would have wanted to share every minute of my life with them. Try to let them understand as much about me, who I was, what I believed in, what made Philip Stevens the person he was.”
Jonathan almost breathed the next question into the air of the room, “Translate the circumstances of the death of your father across to your son experiencing the same circumstances from your death. What’s your reaction to that situation? Admittedly one we know didn’t take place, thank goodness.”
Philip felt the passion rise from within. He almost cried out, “To know that I was terminally ill and to have that kept from my son and daughter; that’s terrible, it’s beyond comprehension. Then to compound it by having everything associated with my death and the disposal of my body kept secret from William and Elizabeth.”
He left the sentence unfinished before adding, the pain so clear in his voice, “It’s cruel beyond description. My poor children wouldn’t have had a clue as to why they had been excluded. No, not excluded; denied. Denied from telling their father how much they loved him and, in turn, denied not hearing from their father how much he loved them. Denied for ever more.”
Jonathan allowed Philip’s anger to reverberate around the room.
“Is there one word that says it all to you? If so, what’s the one word that comes to you?” Jonathan asked.
Philip hardly hesitated. “Rejection. Yes, that’s the word.”
He went silent as he turned that word over in his mind. “No, can’t better the word. William and Elizabeth losing their father that way shouts out that their feelings weren’t even considered. No-one in the lives had stopped to think about how these two very young people were dealing with the severe illness, let alone the imminent death, of their father. Their feelings were not cared for. And not caring means not loving. Yes, that’s it. They would see it as a total rejection of them by their father. Not unreasonably, I might add.”
There was a further silence in the room that lasted for, perhaps, five minutes or more. Then Jonathan said, “Philip, we are not quite up to the hour but I’m going to suggest you just sit here quietly with Pharaoh.”
Jonathan looked at Pharaoh who still had his head across Philip’s leg and said, “I was going to say just let yourself out when you are confident of being OK to drive home. But, of course, Pharaoh will be the one to make it clear when you may go home. Bet you anything on that one. Either way, I’ll be next door; very close by.”
He added, “Just let today settle itself in your consciousness just however it wants to. Don’t force your thoughts either way, either dwelling on today or preventing thoughts naturally coming to the surface of your mind. As we have discussed before, pay attention to your dreams. Maybe have a notebook by your bedside so you can jot down what you have been dreaming about. I’ll see you next Friday same time, if that’s alright with you.”
Jonathan left the room whereupon Philip quietly laid his face down on Pharaoh’s warm head and wept. He knew beyond doubt that he had been released from a long, dark, emotional prison.
A few minutes later, he lifted his head, wiped his eyes, just as Pharaoh lifted his own head and indicated clearly that it was time to go. They left the house a few moments later.
When a crossroads is neither a roadway, nor a choice of pathways in the woods or fields, when that crossroads is in our minds, we seldom know it’s there or the choice we made to take one path and not the other until it’s long past. Sometimes, the best one can do is to look for the tiniest clues as to where one is really heading.
Philip had read that in a book a few weeks back although, typically, could no longer remember the name of the book. It had spoken to him in a way that he couldn’t fathom out at the time, yet carried sufficient strength and clarity for him to feel the need to jot it down on a sheet of paper. He had been sorting papers out on his desk on the Sunday following that last session with Jonathan when he came across the sheet of paper. Much more than the first time he read the words, when he reread them now they were laden brim-full of meaning.
Because, to his very great surprise, his sleep on both Friday and Saturday nights had not only been dream free but had taken him to a place of such sweet contentment that it was almost as though he had been reborn. Alright, perhaps reborn was a little over the top, but there was no question that he was in an emotional place quite unlike anything he could ever recall. Almost as if for the first time in his life he truly liked who he was.
Earlier on that Saturday morning when he had taken Pharaoh over to James’ woods, he called in on his sister and shared a cup-of-tea with her. As he was leaving, Diana asked him if he was alright. In querying why she had asked, she said, “Oh, I don’t know. There’s something different about you that I can’t put my finger on. A happiness about you that I haven’t seen in ages, possibly never seen in you.”
He wrapped his arms around Diana and gave his sister a long and deep hug. He softly said, “I miss our father at times, don’t you?”
She answered, “Oh, I miss him too, miss him so much at times. He was such a wonderful, gentle man who lived for his children. He loved all three of us more than anything else. To die at such a young age.”
As the week passed by, Philip became aware of a truth that had been hidden from him for practically the whole of his life. He couldn’t wait to share it with Jonathan. Thus, as he drove across to Torquay on what was the last Friday of June, he was full of what he wanted to say.
Jonathan could tell that Philip was fit to burst. They had hardly sat down when Philip said, “Jonathan, it’s been an amazing week. I’ve at last understood some fundamental aspects of my life.”
“That sounds very interesting, tell me more.”
“Well, when I realised that the consequence of the way my father’s death had been handled was to bury in my subconscious the idea, the false idea, of having been rejected, something struck me smack in the face. Namely, that it explained two ways in which I have behaved since being a teenager.”
Jonathan remained silent.
“The first thing that came to me was the reason why I have been so unfortunate in my relationships with women. This is how I figured it out. Whenever a woman took a shine to me, I would do everything to come over as a potentially attractive spouse. Rather than rationally wondering if this woman had the potential to be a woman I would fall in love with and love as a wife, I have been driven by such a fear of rejection, that I oversold myself and, inevitably, made poor long-term relationships; Maggie being the classic example.”
Philip’s excitement had him out of breath. He took a lung-full of air and continued, “But the positive aspect of my fear of rejection is that throughout the whole of my business and professional life, I have been successful. Because I have always put the feelings of the other person above my own. I can’t tell you what a release this has been for me.”
“Philip, that’s a fabulous example of how when we really get to know the person we are it gives us a psychological freedom, a freedom to be the person we are, to feel happy with ourselves.”
Jonathan continued, “One thing I should mention is this. It’s likely that what happened to you back in December 1956 is not necessarily hard-wired but certainly is a very deep-rooted emotional aspect of who you are. This new-found awareness will be of huge value to you but that sensitivity to rejection is not going to disappear. The difference is that you are now aware of it. Quite quickly you will spot the situations, as they are happening, that stir those ancient feelings around. Then you will be able to notice those feelings without having them pulling behavioural strings. You will be fine; of that I have no doubt.”
4,139 words. Copyright © 2013 Paul Handover