Yet another fabulous example from dogs.
This is a guest post from Joelle Jordan. Let me broadcast my gratitude for this lovely story. For two reasons. The first is that Joelle is very generous in sharing her fine work and the second is that at the time of me putting this Blog post together, 4pm yesterday, I really needed a helping hand – have been short of time all week-end. So thank-you Joelle. Here’s her story.
Joy is a difficult commodity to come by these days. I don’t mean entertainment, I don’t mean a good laugh, I mean pure joy, where, even just for a single moment, all worries and doubts, frustration and anger are lifted as though by Atlas.
Like so many other humans in our world, I often find myself in a constant state of stress. There always seems to be something to worry about, whether it’s money, job fulfilment, the state of my relationships, getting the house cleaned, finding time to get to the market, and more. If given the chance, I know we all could spend nearly all of our waking hours (and some of our sleeping hours, too) worrying about something. We spend so much time on the many things that inevitably work themselves out, and so little time on things that will create a memory and a crystal moment of joy.
My little dog Charlie spends his time in the completely opposite fashion; spending his waking hours seeking joy, and committing less time to things that worry him.
Charlie seems to exist normally in three states of being; content, happy and utterly joyful. When I see him in an emotional state other than these, it nearly breaks my heart. I wonder why this little carefree being who brings such happiness to my life should be anything less than blissful at all times.
I notice something about how Charlie handles his stressful moments, however few and far between they may be. A recent example just occurred. My partner and I are teaching him how to behave on a leash. He has generally not given us any problems on a leash and took to the activity rather quickly. My partner can easily walk him to the corner and back, and he happily accompanies her, listening to her commands and responding, exploring his world in the safe company of his mama, creating a nice outing for them both.
However, his behavior closer to the house is less than stellar, barking at people (especially children who are frenetic and loud) and other dogs, generally forgetting that he is neither a big dog nor in charge of everyone, and just acting rather rude. A change in behavior from his human friend and he learned quickly that running after something and barking while on the leash earns him a very sudden and not so gentle stop, all powered by his own momentum, his harness jerking him off his paws and backwards. After the first incident or two, he ran back to me, the little boy that he is, placing his paws on my leg as I squatted down to him, burying his head in my chest. I assured him that he was fine and stroked him, and told him, “You can’t do that, buddy, see what happens?”
Here is where the story could turn into his utter contempt of the harness and leash. Rather, though, after a little stroking and encouragement, he became ready to try again. This time, instead of running and barking after the children at play in the neighbor’s yard, he calmly walked with me to the end of our driveway and then sat quietly and watched them shoot hoops. When it was time to go in, we walked back to the front door, accompanied by the cheering compliments of “Good job!” and pats from my partner. I saw him begin to walk a little taller and prouder, somehow understanding about a job well done and lesson learned. He trotted through the front door in search of his brother, our Chihuahua Jordan. His happy tongue dangled in wait for the promised treat. The stress he’d been seemingly engulfed in was simply released, gone. It was experienced and then just let go.
Perhaps I’m slightly jaded; after all, it was just a simple leash lesson. In truth, this little animal has no responsibilities except to be cute, not to pee in the dining room and not to chew on things. He has no bills to pay; his only worry is probably something vague about his supper. Sometimes, when letting them out of their crates, Charlie is less happy to see me (master, mama, food giver, spoiler) but is nearly bursting to get at and play with his big brother Jordan. Personal feelings (hurt and otherwise) aside, isn’t there a lesson to be learned here? He continues to teach me.
I watch his eyes. I have since I’ve known my little guy; I find them to be fascinating. In Merle’s Door, Ted Kerasote describes Merle as a “four eyed” dog; a dog that seems to have eyebrows (darker fur over his eyes ) that help express his feelings. Charlie is also a four-eyed dog.
Stanley Coren, the astute canine psychologist from the University of British Columbia, has also noted that these “four-eyed” dogs obtained their reputation for psychic powers “because their expressions were easier to read than those of other dogs. The contrasting-colored spots make the movement of the muscles over the eye much more visible.”
Case in point: the other morning Jordan had burrowed under an Indian blanket for it was a little chilly. Charlie, on the other hand, was in simple need of something: play. Jordan, however, was warming and had no interest. Charlie looked up at me, and held a conversation with me with only his eyes: Mom, make him play!
“He doesn’t want to play, bud, I’m sorry.”
He’s under the blanket! That’s the best time to play!
“But he doesn’t want to play right now, Charlie.”
Distraught. His eyebrows were high but off to the side, the classic cartoon expression of distress. If his lip could’ve quivered from holding back tears, it would have. A soft whimper.
How can that be?
It was a less than joyful moment for Charlie, but it was something out of my power to control. All I could do was redirect him. I enlisted him to come help me with the laundry. This is a favorite past-time of his because there are dryer sheets to be rooted out and torn to shreds. As I moved the clothes from the washer to the dryer, I saw that my boy had found his joy again but not in search of dryer sheets: he had jumped into the basket of dirty laundry and discovered a plethora of good and interesting smells, one of my t-shirts now covering his head like a scarf.
He was in heaven for probably the fourth or fifth time that morning.
Joelle in speaking about joy echoes a part of yesterday’s sermon that I hope to write a little about before the end of the week.