That’s right folks, we are back with another dazzling episode of Life Lessons From My Dog. Like a cross between Nietzsche and Chewbacca, he’s back with more golden nuggets of wisdom to make our lives better, our bodies healthier, our minds stronger, and our coats glossier.
So lets delve into the wisdom that gushes forth from my trusty companion, and let’s ignore the fact that as I write this he is currently licking his own balls.
It’s not the dog in the fight that matters but the fight in the dog
My dog is not big in size, but in his chest beats the heart of a powerful wolf. Many’s the time I’ve seen him front up to a larger, aggressive dog, never backing down, seemingly oblivious to the devastation about to be unleashed upon him, only to see the other dog back down. Does it always work? No. He’s lost his fair share of battles, but it’s never diminished his tough go-getter approach to life.
So his life lesson here is this, you are tougher and more capable than you think. Don’t let the size of a task or obstacle stop you. Unleash the wolf. Get feral on it. Don’t be afraid to become savage when the time calls for it and stand your ground. Yes you might fail, but that is no excuse to not go at it again with even more gusto. Let loose the hound.
Have a paw in both worlds
Human and canine culture have evolved together, a symbiotic relationship whereby we both benefit. As humans we believe that it was us that tamed the wolves we now call dogs, but sometimes I wonder if it was actually the other way around.
Either way, when I look at my dog I see that he still has a paw in both the domesticated world and that of the wild, natural one.
For sure, he benefits from a life of domestication; free food, a warm house, clean sheets to lay on immediately after running though the bog. But when I see him out in nature, it’s obvious that he still retains that wild purpose.
What is a wolf’s/dog’s purpose? To run, to chase, to hunt, to eat, to play, to be part of the pack. When we look at traditional human cultures we see the same priorities.
On our runs in the wild I see him flow effortlessly through the landcape; jumping, leaping, rolling, exploring. It reminds me that for all our ‘civilisation’ both he and I are exactly the same as our ‘wilder’ ancestors. We are designed to move in a certain way, eat a certain way, live a certain way, but at times we move far away from our default setting.
Getting outside in nature, eating wild plants, sleeping with the rhthyms of the sun, and moving my body around the obstacles that nature puts in my way all help me to reconnect to my ancestral self and helps me reboot.
I’m not suggesting turning your back on all the comforts of modern life, just remember your wild origins and reconnect when you get a chance.
The joy of movement
I am yet to experience a time where the dog has shown anything but delight at the prospect of moving his body. My whole family could literally take him for walks as a team relay and he would be up for each and every walk.
Compare this to the typical modern, western human. We can get by in life these days without even leaving our sofas, and as far as moving our bodies go, we see it as a chore.
Every organism follows the same programme, eat as much as you can and rest as much as you can. This makes a lot of sense from a survival perspective, but in our modern age with limitless calories and zero need to move, it’s a potential nightmare.
And this is where my dogs life lesson comes into play. You see, unlike us, he has not lost the sheer joy that comes with moving his body. We see it in young kids; that inability to move anywhere in any other form other than a run. We see them launch themselves down hill, with arms stretched out, feeling the wind flow over their bodies, shrieking with joy and excitement.
This, to me, is the key to a healthy body. It’s not about the destination, nor the distance. It’s not about the numbers, nor the times. It’s about relishing the sensation of your body moving, the exhultation of the journey, the pure timelessness that we experience when we are deep in play. It’s about collapsing in a heap of triumphant exhaustion, laughing so hard you pee yourself but not giving a damn. Your body is a magnificent feat of natural engineering, go celebrate it.
But don’t forget to rest
What does my dog do when he is not eating or playing? He finds somewhere cosy to rest.
If we stop mid run for more than a few minutes, he’ll lay down. The minute we get home he’ll hop up onto one of his favourite resting places and snooze. Some days he doesn’t emerge from his spot in the sun until well after noon.
He knows something that many of us have sadly missed.
If you want to play hard, you have to rest hard.
It seems that nowadays we go one of two ways, either too much rest or not enough.
The dictionary definition of rest is “to cease work or movement in order to relax, sleep, or recover strength”. This definition implies the need for activity to take place for a pause to be classed as rest. Rest without activity is just sedentarism.
The flip side to this lack of sufficient rest- the Type A person who has the ‘go hard or go home’ mindset, which ultimately leads to over-training and injury/illness. Now I don’t really think over-training is a real thing, but under recovering most definitely is. The body can cope with a massive amount of volume provided it is given adequate recovery time.
When my dog rests it’s to ready himself for the activities ahead and to recover from the previous endeavours. He knows that to perform his best and to be prepared for the inevitable squirrel related incidences, he needs to be well rested.
Don’t neglect your recovery. Sleep well, power nap, and allow your bodies to fortify and adapt from all that hard work.
For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.
No wolf chooses to be a ‘lone wolf’. Being rejected from or losing your pack may mean death. It was the same for humans. Life outside of the tribe or clan was arduous at best, a death sentence at worst.
I’ve talked at length before about the need for community. It is one of our 5 Circles of Health, the elements required for optimum health. We live in an age of hyper-connectivity yet people are feeling levels of social isolation greater than ever before. And that was before lockdown. Many people feel like they lack their ‘place’ in our societies, or that society as a whole is just too damn big.
Anthropologist Robin Dunbar suggested that the maximum number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships is 150, the so-called Dunbar’s Number. This is a relatively low number when compared to town/city, a large corporation, or even most peoples Facebook friends list.
Other people suggest that we are the average of the 5 people that we spend the most time with. If this is the case then we really need to be picky about who these 5 people are.
The point is that we need others around us physically, or at the very least virtually, and that these interactions need to be of high quality, not texting and Snap-chat. Like a wolf pack we each have a role in how the pack functions. We help those around us, and utterly unconditionally, we are helped by those in our tribe. There is a huge sense of security in this. My pack consists of my family, but also those brothers and sisters of mine scattered the world over, some of whom I rarely get to see but always know that they are there for me. They buoy me up and lend me their strength, and each one is an integral part of the whole.
So don’t be a lone wolf, find your pack.
Eat a frog first thing in the morning
The dog is an absolute bastard when it comes to frogs. Hunting them in the long grass is one of his favourite pastimes and one that I am far from happy with. I think he actually gets some kind of narcotic hit from it.
Anyway, as he was pointing out to me this morning, the whole frog thing is just a metaphor. If you are anything like me, when there is something you really don’t want to do on your to-do list you find any excuse to put it off. All this does is delay the inevitable and increase the duration of the suffering leading up to it. Yet time and time again I find myself dragging my heels, whimpering about how I don’t want to do it regardless of the fact that I know I must.
Whilst bemoaning some such situation to my dog, he posed the following question to me.
“If you absolutely had to eat a frog, would you rather eat it first thing and then have the rest of the day to eat lovely stuff and get rid of the frog taste, or leave it to the end of the day where it would mar all the meals before it?”
You’d get it out the way first thing right? So with this lesson in hand I now look at my to-do list and identify the worst thing on the list that absolutely has to be done. I then eat this frog first. With that out of the way, all my other jobs don’t see so bad.
So, just eat the damned frog.
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