Tag: NaNoWriMo

Continuing Book Two

The memoir continues!

I am somewhat embarrassed to say that I am still working on Book Two. As I announced in November, 2017!

However, I decided to type up the comprehensive notes that I took during 1970 when after touring the outback of Australia I then spent a few weeks travelling through Asia and Japan before boarding the Trans-Siberian Express as a way of coming to Helsinki in order the file my stories.

I also have changed the name. From The Dog and I to A Letter to a Grandson. Simply because my grandson wasn’t yet born when I left the UK to arrive, via Mexico, in the USA. Morten, that being my grandson’s name, when he is of the age where he is curious about his grandfather, will hopefully want the full story.

Thus once again I am using National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) to guide me along the path.

All of which is an explanation why for the month of November things may be a little quiet on the Learning from Dogs front.

Because I am very focussed on writing a further 50,000 words in November rather than blogging. I’m sure you understand.

Book Two!

November is book-writing month for me.

Thus, good people, I shall be distracted for much of the month because despite the fact that book number two is a non-fiction book, as was my first, I am still using National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) as my motivational tool to achieve 50,000 words before the 1st December. Ergo, November’s focus is on writing an average of 1,666 words a day, not blogging.

Last time, with my book Learning from Dogs, I did share much of what I was writing each day both in 2014 and 2015. This time I will not.

However, I would like to share the draft Introduction to this second book that I wrote yesterday.



It was a beautiful late-October evening. Not a breath of wind stirred the branches of the tall pines that soared up into the night sky around our house. Even a half-moon high in that sky out to the South didn’t diminish the mystery and magic of the stars that seemed to go on forever. It never ceased to fascinate me how wonderful it was to lose one’s mind in a dark night sky and ponder on the fact that in that instant, in that moment of my life, I was seeing the light from a star that had been travelling for hundreds or thousands of years.

Thus it was this evening around 9:30pm when I had gone outside with all our dogs for their nightly leg-stretch before bedtime. Our six most beautiful dogs: Ruby; Cleo; Sweeny; Pedy; Oliver; and Brandy. There I was utterly oblivious to the sniffing and rustling in the piles of newly fallen Autumn leaves that were everywhere because so quickly once outside the house I had looked up above my head to that night sky and become lost.

But to be returned to this very sweet present moment when ever so gently I felt Brandy’s soft shoulder touch my lower left thigh and then lean into me in what was so characteristic of him.

I lent forward and placed the side of my face alongside Brandy’s warm, furry face and became as lost as I was in that starry sky. Now, however, it was as real and tangible a loss, if one could describe it as such, as that night sky above was as unreal and mysterious. For it was me being lost in the love that Brandy was sending me, in his breathing, in his posture, in his closeness to me, in his whole demeanour and in my own deep emotional loving reply to Brandy.

Then it clicked. A philosophical click that was as bright and clear as that fabulous half-moon.

This is how I would introduce my book. The book that I had committed to write in the month of November. The book that I was going to start writing the next day but hitherto hadn’t a clue as to how I was going to set the scene.

For my next book was an exploration into the relationships that dogs and humans form with each other.

Brandy’s story since he had been part of my life, and the life of my sweet, dear Jean, was a story of just how incredible, glorious and special the love between a human and a dog can be. How the weeks and months since that fateful day on the 9th April, 2016 when we first met Brandy had given me the inspiration to go as far as I could in describing and understanding what having a dog in one’s life truly meant.
Welcome to The Dog And I.


So hope all you good people will understand if my blogging activity is varied and replies to responses likewise a bit ‘up and down’. It is likely I will be re-posting quite frequently items that have previously been shown on Learning from Dogs.

Book Two – Clarity at last!

This is where you all come in!!

From time to time I have let it be known that I had a second book stewing on the back burner. The title that had first come to me was: ‘Of Pets … And Of People’. The book idea and initial title had come to me from visits to our local Lincoln Road Vet Clinic where I had sat in on both Dr. Jim Goodbrod and Dr. Russel Codd as they saw pet patients. As I described it in my original post when I introduced the idea in June:

Some time ago, when we were visiting Lincoln Road, it struck me that the detail of what takes place ‘behind the counter’ of a busy vet clinic is most likely not commonly appreciated by those that visit said clinic.

I asked Russel one day if I might be allowed to spend time watching and listening to what goes on behind the scenes; so to speak. Russel said that he would be delighted for me to do that.

Dr. Jim at work



I subsequently started publishing posts under the general title of Visiting the Vet.

Back to the book.

Recently it came to me that the title was wrong. Because it didn’t speak directly to the potential reader about dogs.

So I came up with a different name: An Insight into Dogs and Owners.

Here is the Vision for this next book:

An examination of the world of the veterinary clinic including those who care professionally for our dogs and an insight into those people, from many varied backgrounds and circumstances, who have dogs in their own lives.

The first section, dipping into the extraordinary work that goes on in a modern vet’s clinic, is inspired by my belief that the majority of dog owners have very little idea of such work and the skills displayed by DVMs.

But let me move on by sharing with you the Introduction to the book. Firstly, these paragraphs:

There’s a tiny amount of domesticated wolf in all of us. The relationship between canids and humans goes back nearly 40,000 years, when dogs split away from wolves. With our dogs, we have traveled the ancient track from hunter-gatherers to modern humans. That track that in this 21st century sees us having untold numbers of dogs in our lives. In the USA alone there are: “In 2017, a total of about 89.7 million dogs lived in households in the United States as pets. In comparison, some 68 million dogs were owned in the United States in 2000.” 1

Yet a surprising number of those who have dogs as pets and are lovers of those same dogs admit to not really understanding what goes on behind the scenes in a busy veterinarian clinic. Yes, they know what happens when they take their dog to their vet but that view is almost certainly from the perspective of that dog and the specific reason why that animal had to to be seen by a vet.

An Insight into Dogs and Owners seeks to broaden the understanding of the reader to the range of treatments and procedures that are undertaken in a modern veterinarian clinic.

OK! More or less what I explained earlier on in this post.


But here’s where I do believe (fingers tightly crossed) many of you dear readers can help.

Back to the remaining part of that introduction:

But just as dogs do not live in isolation then nor do we humans. So the book sets out to explore the range of relationships that humans have with dogs. Perhaps better put as the book exploring the range of human circumstances that have led to people having a dog in their life. The homeless, those disabled persons who care for their dog, the service dogs that are, for example, the eyes and ears of the partially sighted and the hard-of-hearing. But not excluding exploring the relationship between police dogs and their handlers, those who work with cancer-sniffing dogs, and all the way through to Mr. and Mrs. Joe Public having a pet dog or two.

1The Statistics Portal

.. explore the range of relationships that humans have with dogs.

If, dear reader, you fancy working with me and can comfortably reply to the following questions, then I want to hear from you!

  1. Where were you born?
  2. Were there dogs in your family home from an early age?
  3. When did you first have a direct relationship with a dog?
  4. Describe that relationship.
  5. Do you presently have a dog in your life?
  6. And if so, what is the name of your dog and how did this dog come into your life?
  7. Finally, can you articulate more or less in a single sentence just what having a dog in your life means to you?

These questions can apply equally to persons who have a dog in their life as part of the family and to those who work with dogs in their professional lives, those who train dogs, hunt with dogs, and those who care for dogs.

If all of this hasn’t put you off then email me at paulhandover (…at…) gmail (…dot…) com putting ‘Book Two’ in the email title. I will then contact you directly looking at the best way to listen and record your answers to those questions.


November writing alert!

Normal service may not be possible for the next few weeks!

learningfromdogs_3dbook_500xAs many of you know last December I published my first book Learning from Dogs.

That book had been the result of me getting my head down in the Novembers of 2013 and 2014. Why November? Because that is the month of NaNoWriMo, or to use the long-form: National Novel Writing Month.

Having brought book number one the light of the day, it was only natural that my mind started to turn to a sequel. At first, I thought of another book about dogs; perhaps Learning About Dogs? But for a variety of reasons I just couldn’t get started and it all came to a head last Wednesday during one of our regular group cycle rides. As follows:

Jim Goodbrod, he who wrote the foreword to my first book, asked how book number two was coming along.
“Oh Jim,” I replied, “I have left it far too late to contact the many academics that I have come across, to seek permission to quote their works and to find out if they have more scientific information of potential interest.”
“I have this terrible feeling that I’m setting myself up to fail!”

Jim then opened a wonderful window for me; metaphorically speaking. But before describing what Jim went on to say I should explain to you, dear reader, the connection between Jim and Janet, his wife, and Jean and me. Jim and Janet live about half-a-mile from us in Merlin, Southern Oregon, and right from the moment when we moved into our home back in 2012 they have been very good friends indeed. That friendship built upon Jim and Janet sharing very many similar outlooks on life to Jeannie and me. Plus Jim is a professional veterinarian doctor at a vet’s practice in Grants Pass, our local town some 12 miles from home, but has frequently given us advice ‘out of hours’ when one of our pets at home has gone down with something beyond Jean’s extensive experience.
So the four of us have spent much time together socially and I am embarrassed to admit that quite a few of my stories from past years have been told by me.

Back to that conversation during that bike ride. “Paul, Janet and I were only saying the other day that we would really love to see your next book being something autobiographical. You have had so many interesting experiences in so many parts of the world that we truly believe that they would be of interest to many others.”

It felt slightly uncomfortable to hear that. Uncomfortable in the sense that immediately responding by saying what a good idea that was carried too much egotism, was too self-indulgent. But at the same time I knew that Jim and Janet would offer a genuine recommendation and that it would most certainly get me out of my present difficult situation. I thanked Jim profusely. Jim then went on the describe the style that he and Janet would enjoy: “Janet and I have long loved reading books where each chapter was a self-contained story. In other words, a book that one could pick up and dip into and still feel that it was a good read.”

When I returned home and spoke about this to Jeannie she immediately said that it was something that she had been urging me to consider. An hour later I was speaking on the phone to my sister Eleanor and she, too, encouraged me to go down this route.

So that’s how it has come about that book number two is going to be semi-autobiographical, and it already has a name: Four Dogs On My Bed.

Or as the byline reads: On Life; On Love; and On Dogs.

All of which is a rather wordy way of saying that from now until the end of November my first priority is going to be book writing. How that will impact my attention to this blog and all you wonderful readers is uncertain. But if you see a string of re-posts from earlier times, if I don’t provide the most fulsome introduction to a guest author that they deserve, if my replies to comments are not as quick as I normally try to be, then you will know the reason why.

Thank you!

The power of words.

Junot Díaz reflects on the novel.

Communicating with written words may be older than we can possibly imagine. Yet, despite the very modern world of digital communications, the power of communicating with written words is probably more widespread than ever before. Let’s just dip into the world of blogging, or more accurately put, let’s dip into the world of WordPress blogging. The quickest of web searches revealed that:

74.6 Million Sites Depend on WordPress

Yep, you read that right. 74,652,825 sites out there are depending on good ol’ WordPress. That’s one site per person in Turkey.

Around 50% of this figure (close to 37 million) is hosted on the free WordPress.com.

Or try this amazing fact:

6 New WordPress.com Posts Every Second

That’s right. Every second, close to 6 (the actual figure is 5.7) new posts are published on WordPress.com blogs. That averages out to 342 posts per minute. Just above 20,000 per day. And a grand total of 7.49 million annually.

If you are wondering what brought on this rash of discovery, it was me wanting to find a way of introducing a talk that was recently given by Junot Díaz. Wikipedia explains that:

Junot Díaz (born December 31, 1968) is a Dominican American writer, creative writing professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and fiction editor at Boston Review. He also serves on the board of advisers for Freedom University, a volunteer organization in Georgia that provides post-secondary instruction to undocumented immigrants. Central to Díaz’s work is the immigrant experience. He received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, in 2008. He is a 2012 MacArthur Fellow.

Junot Díaz
Junot Díaz

Recently, the Big Think blog had an article by Díaz that I wanted to share with you dear readers of Learning from Dogs. For it struck me as a wonderful reminder of the power of writing and, especially, the power of writing fiction.

For reasons that I don’t understand the video in that Big Think piece is longer than the version that is on YouTube. So, watch the YouTube version coming up now, and if you want more then click the link just below that YouTube insertion.

Literature, explains Pulitzer-winning writer Junot Díaz, is the closest that we’ve come to telepathy. It’s through literature that we educate our souls by transporting ourselves into some other character’s mind. It builds empathy. It allows for new perspectives. It triggers provocation in all the best ways. Novels aren’t as popular a medium today as something like Twitter, but that doesn’t mean they’re not still hugely important.

The summary posted above was taken from the Big Think site, and if you go there you can read more, and watch the full 4-minute version of the video.

Finally, this coming Sunday is the 1st November, and November is the month for National Novel Writing Month. Whether or not you wonder if you have a full novel inside you, even if you have the slightest curiousity, pop over to the NaNoWriMo website and get involved!

The book! Embracing death

Not forgetting:

And shows us the way to embrace death

I’m sure that the human psyche lives in a bubble of delusion. Not always and not extremely so; of course. Clearly, if the level of delusion were abnormal then we couldn’t function properly as social animals. However, just take a quiet moment of self-reflection to muse over the ways that you ‘shelter’ from reality. In directing that last point to you, dear reader, trust me I don’t exclude myself!

There are times when going beyond the self, going out of oneself, is the only way to see the reality of who we are and the world around us; to be able to brush away our delusions. Perfectly expressed by the author, Aldous Huxley: “Experience is not what happens to you; it’s what you do with what happens to you.” Wise words, indeed!

But these fine expressions representing the peak of common sense have one grinding, searing fault. They do not assume the end of a person’s life. I am speaking of death, of the inevitability of our death! That largely unspoken truth no better expressed than through the words[1] of Sharon Salzberg in her book Faith.

What does it mean to be born in a human body, vulnerable and helpless, then to grow old, get sick and die, whether we like it or not?

Anyone who has lost a loved one knows that it is tough; incredibly tough. It is full of pain and anguish amidst a great churning of emotions, all in a very deep-seated and personal manner. That’s the perspective from the loved ones left behind with more life ahead of them. But if one thinks of it in reverse, turns it on its head, what are our fundamental wishes with respect to those we love; what we would want to leave behind when we die?

Fond memories, naturally, but they wouldn’t be our fundamental wishes. This is what those fundamental wishes would be. That our death does not leave pain and anguish in the hearts and souls of those left behind. That it doesn’t leave a pain that cannot be dealt with in a healthy way. Our wishes would be that those whom we loved and who loved us may embrace their loss and move on.

Anyone who has loved a dog has most likely been intimately involved in the end of that dog’s life. It is, to my mind, the ultimate lesson that dogs offer us: how to be at peace when we die and how to leave that peace blowing through the hearts of all the people who loved us.

Our beloved dogs have much shorter life spans than we do, thus almost everyone who has loved a dog will have had to say goodbye to that gorgeous friend at some point in their lives. Very sadly, perhaps, saying goodbye to more than one loved dog.

I see the most precious of parallels in the tragic death of a loved dog and our own death. The parallel between coping with our grief for the loss of a loved dog and reaching out to our loved ones so that they may cope with their grief at losing us.
In other words, knowing what to expect in emotional terms at the loss of our loved dog is helpful, very much so, to us helping our loved ones when comes our time to die.

There are five stages of mourning[2], of dealing with our grief, when we lose our beloved dog: Denial; Anger; Guilt; Depression and Acceptance.

Compare those stages to the five stages of mourning[3], perhaps of dealing with the knowledge that oneself is dying, or a person is dying who is very emotionally close to us. Those five stages are: Denial and Isolation; Anger; Bargaining; Depression and Acceptance.

The parallels are almost perfect.

Whether it is the impending or actual death of a loved dog, a loved person, or ourselves, the similarities between embracing the loss of the loved dog, or the loved person, are powerfully obvious. So, too, are the many different ways each of us embraces the death of a loved dog or a loved person. Let me expand on this last point.

Namely, that each of us will experience each stage of mourning at varying levels of intensity, for varying lengths of time, and sometimes in a different order. Some of the stages may converge and overlap each other. But however you experience the mourning, it is incredibly important to remember that your feelings are completely normal.

As the website of the American Animal Hospital Association points out, on their webpage entitled Life after Dog[4], “… we almost always outlive our beloved companions. Learning to live with loss is an essential part of life.”

That webpage imploring us to honour our emotions, to honour the memory of our dog, and critically, when a child is involved, to help that child cope with the loss of their loved dog. For all, young and old, helping to ease the pain through learning to cope with the loss. Easing the pain through changing one’s schedule, moving furnishings around to help distance the memory of your dog’s favourite sleeping spots, or creating a memorial in one form or another, even writing a letter (or blog post!) to your dog in which one describes all the feelings you have for your recently departed, loved dog.

I was born in 1944. I am therefore the ‘wrong’ side of seventy years old. I was born an Englishman and, according to life expectancy tables from 2012, a male Englishman’s life expectancy is 79.5 years. I am living happily in the USA and, according to those same tables, a male American’s life expectancy is 77.4 years. My mother is alive and an amazingly fit and healthy ninety-five-year-old, at the time of writing this book. My father died at the age of 56 just 5 days before Christmas in 1956. I do not believe in any form of spiritual life after death.

So take your pick!

All that I do know is that loving our dogs, welcoming all the wonderful qualities that our dogs possess, striving always to live peacefully ‘in the present’, just as our dogs do, and, ultimately, as with our faithful companions, taking that last breath in the knowledge that ours was a beautiful life, is what learning from dogs is all about.

Thank you.

1,059 words. Copyright © 2014 Paul Handover

[1] page 34.
[2] http://dogtime.com/dealing-with-grief-of-loss-aaha.html#
[3] http://psychcentral.com/lib/the-5-stages-of-loss-and-grief/000617
[4] http://www.aahanet.org/blog/petsmatter/post/2014/05/20/929363/Life-after-dog-Support-and-resources-on-pet-loss.aspx

The Book! A way into our own soul

To my dear readers.

The final two parts of the book, How the dog offers us a way into our own soul, and, And show us the way to embrace death, are offered today and tomorrow.

I can’t tell you what it has meant to me to have the many ‘Likes’ and comments along the way; just take it from me that it has been enormously inspiring and motivational and part of me can’t believe that the project that started in November 2013 under the NaNoWriMo-2013 umbrella was completed this November just gone, for a draft word count of a little over 104,000 words!

Come the New Year and the real work starts, that of the Big Edit.

So let me close by just saying, once again, thank you!


Not forgetting:

How the dog offers us a way into our own soul

Happiness resides not in possessions, and not in gold, happiness dwells in the soul.

So wrote the philosopher Democritus. Democritus, born in 460 BCE, although according to some in 490 BCE. He acquired fame with his knowledge of natural phenomena, and preferred a contemplative to an active life, spending much of his life in solitude. The fact that he lived to beyond 100 suggests he lived out what he philosophised about!

Now the last thing I am going to attempt is any rational, or even semi-rational, explanation of the soul; of what it is; of whatever it is. Despite the familiarity of the word, especially within religious circles, the notion of the soul remains an enigma. Indeed, it reminds me of that very clever quotation attributed to the German philosopher, Martin Heidegger: “Making itself intelligible is suicide for philosophy”, that with a little poetic licence might be rewritten: “In making itself intelligible does the soul become soulless.”

Thus having ‘bared my chest’ in terms of failing the test of knowing what a soul is, in any rational manner, I shall, nonetheless, continue to use the word. Simply because there will be sufficient bonding between me writing the word ‘soul’ and those reading the word ‘soul’, for those same readers to sense where I am coming from.

I’m going to stay with this wonderful concept of soul for just a little longer before adding our beautiful dogs into the dream. Staying with it courtesy of the writer; John O’Donohue. John’s name is not one known to the masses. Yet his writings are, without fail, beautifully moving. John’s first book was called Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom., Anam Cara means ‘soul friend’ in Gaelic. The following passage, taken from Anam Cara, represents to my mind the most exquisite understanding of the human soul.

The secret heart of time is change and growth. Each new experience which awakens in you adds to your soul and deepens your memory. The person is always a nomad, journeying from threshold to threshold, into ever different experiences. In each new experience, another dimension of the soul unfolds. It is no wonder that from ancient times the human person has been understood as a wanderer. Traditionally, these wanderers traversed foreign territories and unknown places. Yet, Stanislavsky, the Russian dramatist and thinker, wrote: “The longest and most exciting journey is the journey inwards.”

There is a beautiful complexity of growth within the human soul. In order to glimpse this, it is helpful to visualise the mind as a tower of windows. Sadly, many people remain trapped at one window, looking out every day at the same scene in the same way. Real growth is experienced when you draw back from one window, turn and walk around the inner tower of the soul and see all the different windows that await your gaze. Through these different windows, you can see new vistas of possibility, presence and creativity. Complacency, habit and blindness often prevent you from feeling your life. So much depends on the frame of vision – the window through which we look.

Those are so wonderful words from John and a brilliant example of his exquisite creativity of thought. They also offer the most perfect ‘window’ to seeing how the dog offers us a way into our own human soul.
What do I mean by this?
When we have dogs in our lives there are many occasions when there is a link between us and our dog; a link that defies logical explanation. Let me offer some examples.

Let’s start with this one. As a human, that is you and me, out of the blue, with no rhyme or reason, you will surely experience finding your day a bit tough from time to time. The odds are that it doesn’t show to your loved ones and, you are pretty sure, that it is entirely an experience that is well hidden inside one. But you and I know you can’t hide it from your dog. You slump down in a chair and your dog comes over and lays its warm snout across your legs or offers a head for you to scratch. In any one of many familiar ways you have a caressing and loving contact with your dog. And you know, you know beyond doubt, that your dog is attracting the angst away from you.

Or how about the time when you might be standing somewhere in or around the house, trying to think how best to approach a task, and your dog comes up next to you and softly leans against you.

Or that most special of links between us and our dog. I have in mind the times when our dog links ‘eye-to-eye’ with us, when those beautiful, deep unblinking eyes of our dog look so deeply inside of us. Those are the times when you and your dog know, you both sense in a clear, unwritten language, the thousands of years of relationship, the very special relationship, that man and dog have had with each other. That at that moment of held eye contact there is a real, tangible connection between your two souls.
We know beyond doubt that dogs have emotions, that they are full of natural goodness and feelings, and that there is some part of a dog’s inner being that links to us and, in turn, that there is an inner being within us that links us back to our dog.

Let me return to the power of that eye-to-eye bond between us and a dog.

In humans, that part of the brain in which self-awareness is thought to arise is called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. That just happens to be located behind the eyes. Ergo, we learn[1] to associate the identity of others with our eyes. Then as we mature, our eyes take on more importance because we develop awareness and a better understanding of the social cues that other people convey with their eyes.

Therefore, is it any surprise that dogs, such intuitive creatures that they are, young and old, soon learn to read us humans and the feelings and emotions that we give out via our eyes. There’s a knowing in my mind, albeit an unscientific ‘knowing’, that dogs, too, give out emotions and feelings from their own eyes.

That loving a dog and, in return, being loved by that dog truly does offer us a way into our own souls.

Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains un-awakened.
~ Anatole France

1.089 words Copyright © 2014 Paul Handover

[1] Refer Christina Starmans and Paul Bloom of the Mind and Development Lab at Yale University.

The book! Part Five: Stillness

The last quality that I want to write about, as in the last quality that I see in our dogs that we humans should learn, is about stillness. There was a very deliberate reason to make it the last one. But, if you will forgive me, I’m not going to explain why until near the end.

Stillness! The dog is the master of being still. Being still, either from just laying quietly watching the world go by, so to speak, or being still from being fast asleep. The ease at which they can find a space on a settee, a carpeted corner of a room, the covers of a made-up bed, and stretch out and be still, simply beggars belief. Dogs offer us humans the most wonderful quality of stillness that we should all practice. Dogs reveal their wonderful relationship with stillness.

In the August of 2014, TED Talks published a talk by Pico Iyer. Despite the uncommon name, Pico Iyer was not a person I had heard of before. A quick search revealed that he was a British-born essayist and novelist of Indian origin. Apparently, Pico is the author of a number of books on crossing cultures and has been an essayist for Time Magazine since 1986. Pico Iyer’s TED Talk was called: The art of stillness.

It was utterly riveting. In a little over fifteen minutes, Pico’s talk touched on something that so many of us feel, probably even yearn for: the need for space and stillness in our minds. Stillness to offset the increasingly excessive movement and distractions of our modern world. Or to use Pico’s words:”Almost everybody I know has this sense of overdosing on information and getting dizzy living at post-human speeds.

Now Pico has clearly been a great traveller and the list of countries and places he has visited was impressive. From Kyoto to Tibet, from Cuba to North Korea, from Bhutan to Easter Island; a man having grown up both being a part of, and yet apart from, the English, American and Indian cultures. Yet of all the places this man has been to he tops them all with what he discovers in stillness: “… that going nowhere was at least as exciting as going to Tibet or to Cuba.

Here are Pico Iyer’s own words from that TED Talk. Firstly:

And by going nowhere, I mean nothing more intimidating than taking a few minutes out of every day or a few days out of every season, or even, as some people do, a few years out of a life in order to sit still long enough to find out what moves you most, to recall where your truest happiness lies and to remember that sometimes making a living and making a life point in opposite directions.

Then a few moments later, him saying:

And of course, this is what wise beings through the centuries from every tradition have been telling us. It’s an old idea. More than 2,000 years ago, the Stoics were reminding us it’s not our experience that makes our lives, it’s what we do with it.
And this has certainly been my experience as a traveler. Twenty-four years ago I took the most mind-bending trip across North Korea. But the trip lasted a few days. What I’ve done with it sitting still, going back to it in my head, trying to understand it, finding a place for it in my thinking, that’s lasted 24 years already and will probably last a lifetime. The trip, in other words, gave me some amazing sights, but it’s only sitting still that allows me to turn those into lasting insights. And I sometimes think that so much of our life takes place inside our heads, in memory or imagination or interpretation or speculation, that if I really want to change my life I might best begin by changing my mind.

Emails, ‘smartphones’, telephone handsets all around the house, television, junk mail on an almost daily basis, advertising in all its many forms, always lists of things to do; and on and on. It’s as if in this modern life, with the so many wonderful ways of doing stuff, connecting, being entertained, and more, that we have forgotten how to do the most basic and fundamental of things: Nothing! It’s as if so many of us have lost sight of the greatest luxury of all: immersing ourselves in that empty space of doing nothing.

Thus it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that more and more people are taking conscious and deliberate measures to open up a space inside their lives. Whether it is something as simple as listening to some music just before they go to sleep, because those that do notice that they sleep much better and wake up much refreshed, or taking technology ‘holidays’ during the week, or attending Yoga classes or enrolling on a course to learn Transcendental Meditation, there is a growing awareness that something in us is crying out for the sense of intimacy and depth that we get from people who take the time and trouble to sit still, to go nowhere.

Even science supports the benefits of slowing down the brain. In an article[1] posted on the Big Think blogsite, author Steven Kottler explains what are called ‘flow states’: “a person in flow obtains the ability to keenly hone their focus on the task at hand so that everything else disappears.

Elaborating in the next paragraph, as follows:

“So our sense of self, our sense of self-consciousness, they vanish. Time dilates which means sometimes it slows down. You get that freeze frame effect familiar to any of you who have seen The Matrix or been in a car crash. Sometimes it speeds up and five hours will pass by in like five minutes. And throughout all aspects of performance, mental and physical, go through the roof.”

The part of our brain known as the prefrontal cortex houses our higher cognitive functions such as our sense of morality, our sense of will, and our sense of self. It is also that part of our brain that calculates time. When we experience flow states or what is technically known as ‘transient hypofrontality’, we lose track of time, lose our grip on assessing the past, present, and future. As Kotler explains it, “we’re plunged into what researchers call the deep now.

Steven Kotler then goes on to say:

“So what causes transient hypofrontality? It was once assumed that flow states are an affliction reserved only for schizophrenics and drug addicts, but in the early 2000s a researcher named Aaron Dietrich realized that transient hypofrontality underpins every altered state — from dreaming to mindfulness to psychedelic trips and everything in between. Sometimes these altered states involve other parts of the brain shutting down. For example, when the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex disconnects, your sense of self-doubt and the brain’s inner critic get silenced. This results in boosted states of confidence and creativity.”

Don’t worry about the technical terms, just go back and re-read those last two sentences, “For example, when the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex disconnects, your sense of self-doubt and the brain’s inner critic get silenced. This results in boosted states of confidence and creativity.”

All from stillness!

Back to Pico Iyer’s talk and his concluding words:

So, in an age of acceleration, nothing can be more exhilarating than going slow. And in an age of distraction, nothing is so luxurious as paying attention. And in an age of constant movement, nothing is so urgent as sitting still. So you can go on your next vacation to Paris or Hawaii, or New Orleans; I bet you’ll have a wonderful time. But, if you want to come back home alive and full of fresh hope, in love with the world, I think you might want to try considering going nowhere. Thank you.

At the start of this chapter, I mentioned that I would leave it until the end to explain why I deliberately made this one on stillness the last one in the series of dog qualities we humans have to learn.

Here’s why. For the fundamental reason that it is only through the stillness of mind, the stillness of mind that we so beautifully experience when we hug our dog, or close our eyes and bury our face in our dog’s warm fur; it is that stillness of mind, that like any profound spiritual experience, that has the power to transform our mind from negative to positive, from disturbed to peaceful, from unhappy to happy.

The power of overcoming negative minds and cultivating constructive thoughts, of experiencing transforming meditations is right next to us in the souls of our dogs.

Sanctuary is where you go to cherish your life. It’s where you practice being present. And it may not be that many steps from where you are, right now.” The Rev. Terry Hershey.

1,523 words. Copyright © 2014 Paul Handover

[1] http://bigthink.com/think-tank/steven-kotler-flow-states

The Book! Part Five: Adaptability.

Thanks to the wonders of the modern dictionary, I am able to understand that about two-hundred years ago, sometime around 1790 to 1800, the word ‘able’ that I just used was added to the word ‘adapt’ to make the word ‘adaptable’. I read that the word is an adjective and that from that comes a related word, a noun: adaptability. That same dictionary informs me that the meaning of adaptability is: “capable of being adapted” or “able to adjust oneself readily to different conditions: an adaptable person.

Now I would be the first to accept that the history of man, the long history of man, reveals a species, namely us, that is incredibly adaptable. Yet, (and you knew there was a ‘yet’ coming!) my sense of how adaptable any one person might be is inextricably wound up with change, and change is often a bitter fruit to taste.

You may recall that I closed the chapter on The process of change, in Part Four, with a snippet quotation from the film Interstellar: “We all want to protect the world, but we don’t want to change.”

That sentiment could be applied to so many aspects of our lives, especially to any form of change that heralded perceived uncertainty, or potential vulnerability; indeed anything that might be regarded as taking us outside our ‘comfort zone’. Granted not everyone, all of the time, yet not no-one at any one time.

Dogs, just like us humans, love routines. However, what strikes me from having lived for a number of years with a great many dogs in the home, variously from sixteen to the nine we have at present[1], is how amazingly easily a dog will adapt to new circumstances, both temporary and long-term changed circumstances.

Somewhere in my research, and I regret not being able to quote the reference, I came across a review of the author Jean Donaldson[2], in connection with her book Culture Clash. This book has shaped modern thinking about the behaviour of dogs and the relationship between dogs and humans.

The reviewer, in discussing the adaptability of dogs, proposes, “Maybe it’s the simple way they view their world. Each thing in their lives seems to fall neatly into its place in their world view. Things to seek out, things to avoid, things to keep, and things to leave behind.

Then a couple of sentences later, the reviewer adding: “I would guess that scavengers need that kind of mind set. Take it as it comes, deal with it, and move on. Dogs seem to have developed a sense of adaptation. They see what needs to be done and simply find a way to do it no matter what the impediments might be.

That last sentence describes an attitude towards adaptability that, in my opinion, would be very rare to find in a person.

I am going to devote the balance of this chapter to a true story. The true story about an Akita breed of dog that lived with its owner in Tokyo back in the first quarter of the 20th century. I included this account, despite the main theme of the story being about the extreme loyalty of the dog, because the dog’s ability to adapt is equally as impressive.

In 1924, Hidesaburō Ueno, a professor in the agriculture department at the University of Tokyo took in an Akita breed of dog as a pet and named him Hachikō. During his owner’s life, Hachikō not only saw Professor Ueno come out from the front door each morning but quickly learned to greet him at the end of the day by going to the nearby Shibuya Station. Hachikō continued this daily routine of going to the station until a day in May 1925, when that evening Professor Ueno did not return on his usual train. The reason being that the professor had suffered a cerebral haemorrhage at the university that day, had died and, therefore, never returned to the train station where his doggy friend was waiting.

Kind persons found Hachikō another home after his master’s death but he routinely escaped, showing up again and again at his old home. Eventually, Hachikō in some doggie manner realised that his master, Professor Ueno, clearly no longer lived at the house. So Hachikō went to look for his master at the train station, where he had accompanied him so many times before. Each day, Hachikō waited for Professor Ueno to return. And each day he did not see his friend among the commuters leaving the station.

Now almost a permanent fixture at the train station, Hachikō inevitably attracted the attention of other commuters. Many of the people who frequented the Shibuya train station had seen Hachikō and Professor Ueno together each day. They now brought Hachikō treats and food to nourish him during his long wait – Hachikō waiting at the train station at the end of every single day.

That same year, it happened that another of Ueno’s faithful students, who had become something of an expert on the Akita breed, saw the dog at the station and followed him when he went back to the home of the former gardener of Professor Ueno: Kikuzaboro Kobayashi. There the student learned the history of Hachikō’s life. Shortly after this meeting with Kikuzaboro, the former student published a documented census of Akitas in Japan. His research found only 30 purebred Akitas remaining, including Hachikō from Shibuya Station.

Professor Ueno’s former student returned frequently to visit the dog and over the years published several articles about Hachikō’s remarkable loyalty. In 1932, one of these articles, published in Tokyo’s largest newspaper, threw the dog into the national spotlight. Hachikō became a national sensation. His faithfulness to the memory of his master impressed the people of Japan as a spirit of family loyalty that all should strive to achieve. Teachers and parents used Hachikō’s vigil as an example for children to follow. A well-known Japanese artist rendered a sculpture of the dog, and throughout the country a new awareness of the Akita breed grew.

Hachikō was so loyal that every day for the next nine years he waited, sitting there amongst the town’s folk, appearing precisely when the train was due at the station.

Hachikō died on March 8, 1935. He was found on a street in Shibuya. His heart was infected with filarial worms and 3-4 yakitori sticks were found in his stomach. His stuffed and mounted remains are kept at the National Science Museum of Japan in Ueno, Tokyo. Hachiko’s legendary faithfulness became a national symbol of loyalty. There is a memorial statue of Hachikō in front of Shibuya Station.

This tale of Hachikō is an astounding tribute to the adaptability of the dog.

1,123 words. Copyright © 2014 Paul Handover

[1] December, 2014
[2] http://www.jeandonaldson.com

The book! Part Five: Acceptance.

When I was pondering this part of the book, namely Part Five and the qualities we can learn from dogs, and before I started into the writing, when I was building the list of qualities of dogs that we humans need to learn, I was unsure if this chapter on acceptance, together with the previous one on openness, and the one coming up on adaptability, weren’t all too close to the same idea. But after having thought about it some more, I decided that these three qualities are sufficiently different to warrant them being three qualities that we should learn!

For openness is all about offering to others, whereas acceptance is, in a sense, the reverse current, allowing the outside world to flow in to one without too many mental and emotional ‘filters’ corrupting that inward flow and, finally, adaptability is all about change.

Let us start with what our dogs offer us when it comes to acceptance. Almost immediately comes the answer: dogs accept the humans around them and the human world, accept their life as a pet, and accept their world as a domesticated animal; accept it all as it is for what it is.

Just think for a moment of the vast range of life experiences that our dogs are embedded within. From the tiniest poodle who rarely is separated from its owner, to the sheepdog that ‘works’ the land and spends its nights outside in the barn, all the way to the German Shepherd guard dog that is hardly a pet. Dogs are authentic; in the full meaning of the term. They respond, react may be a better word, to their environment and to their natural instincts but totally within the human world in which each particular dog has been cast.

That is a level of acceptance that we humans can only dream about.

Nevertheless, even if that level of acceptance of the world outside us is most likely beyond reach for us humans, there is still an important lesson to be learnt.

Let me elaborate.

The quality of the relationships that we have with others revolves entirely around how we view those other people. And nowhere is that more important than how we view those close to us; our family and our spouses and partners.

If we use the wonderful way in which dogs accept the outside world and, most notably, the way they accept other dogs, as a model for that being the way we accept our partner, there is much research to underpin the fact that we will enjoy wonderful relationships.

If we quietly admit to ourselves that we do not accept our partners as fully as we should, then learning fully to accept them will transform our relationship miraculously.

For the acceptance of the person you share your life with is the biggest gift of respect you can give them. It underlines how much you love them and how much you respect them. It demonstrates that you know that the decisions your partner makes, from small ones to large ones, are based on what they believe is right. It doesn’t at all deny you offering support and guidance, of course not, but what it does guarantee is that you don’t stray into criticism of them, especially the genre of criticism that has its roots in your (false) belief that the other person is not thinking like you, not seeing something as you see it. For one very obvious reason: they aren’t you!

There is no question at all that acceptance is the greatest gift you can offer someone, especially someone emotionally close, because it is the greatest sign of respect. And respect is the cousin of trust and without trust there is no relationship. It applies equally to humans and dogs! Just because we accept our dog unconditionally, that our dog is completely authentic, because we know that it is a dog, and never expect them to be anything other than a dog, doesn’t in any way mean that the same approach, the same unconditional acceptance of a person in our lives, should not be our way of living with that other person.

691 words Copyright © 2014 Paul Handover