This is my contribution to the fabulous new eBook Heart-Centered Living: with intention, grace and growth, edited by Debra Dane at Home Life Simplified.
My family recently acquired a cattle dog from our local animal shelter. At ten months old, Sally has a lot in common with our three-year-old son. In other words, she is full on.
In case you’re unfamiliar with the breed, Australian cattle dogs, or blue heelers, are incredible creatures. Bred with dingos to suit our harsh climate, these dogs thrive on the chase, have lightening-fast reflexes and are super-intelligent. They are also, in the words of our kennel club director, pig-stubborn.
Despite this, I’ve always wanted a cattle dog. For as long as I can remember, I’ve harboured this image of simple bliss involving walking with my faithful bluey at my heels. Of course, I had no idea how much training this would require. Like most people, I tend to focus on the goal rather than the journey it takes to get there.
Every morning, Sally is up with the distant farmers begging for a walk. Her previous owner had little time for her, so let’s just say her manners are not the best. As we pound the pavements of our suburb, Sally pulls ahead, lunges for cyclists and joggers, tries to eat yapping dogs behind fences and occasionally slams on the brakes and refuses to move one. More. Step.
And that’s on a good day…
But I can be pig-stubborn too. I am not giving up on my dream, nor am I giving up on this dog. So at least oncea day, I stuff my pockets with dried bits of meat and dab bacon grease on my wrists before clipping on Sally’s lead and heading out the door.
Being smart as a whip, Sal learns quickly but training any dog requires absolute consistency and realms of patience. More patience than training human puppies, if you can even imagine it. I didn’t know this level even existed.
It also requires being able to see the world through your dog’s eyes and to do that you have to be in a state of mindfulness – and this is the most unexpected and delightful fringe benefit of having scored myself a cattle dog.
Walking with Sally means hearing the hum of approaching tyres, feeling the breeze lift off the sea and spotting the poo on the sidewalk before she can eat it. My reactions have to be as swift as hers, which means slipping her a treat when a bike goes past unmolested or pulling her up as she inches ahead.
I’ve come to see Sally as a (furry) metaphor for my own happiness. When I’m calm, relaxed and focused, she’s right there by my side. As soon as I follow the rabbit in my mind, she’s snapping at car tyres and dragging me across the footpath.
As we improve, there are times when nothing happens; we simply roll along together. This is it! This is what I wanted: my simple bliss. You’d think I’d be ecstatic but, more often than not, I’m thinking about what to cook for dinner. Bad dog.
Walking with Sally teaches me to recognise happiness when it’s by my side instead of ticking it off and looking to the next challenge.
There are days, of course, when Sally and I simply cannot get our act together, and the more frustrated I get, the worse she behaves. Some days, I feel we’ve achieved nothing at all, but in the back of my mind I know this is just another step on the road to my dream – even if this particular step has left a stink on my shoe.
Another thing Sally has taught me is that happiness favours the brave. The other night, Sally and I set out with one challenge in mind: getting past the Maltese terrier at number 26. That thing yaps like you wouldn’t believe and for half an hour, we marched back and forth until my girl stopped frothing at the mouth and started looking to me for guidance. I can’t tell you what joy that brought me. Let’s just say there were high-fives all round.
I’m not suggesting you rush out and get yourself a pre-loved cattle dog in the pursuit of happiness (actually, I would shriek, “are you mad?”). But be aware that mindfulness teachers come in all shapes and sizes. And some of them have wet noses.
Be sure to download your free copy of Deb’s eBook Heart-Centered Living: with intention, grace and growth. As Deb says in her introduction, there are no rules to finding peace and joy in this crazy life, it’s up to each of us to create our own version of happiness. Within the book, you’ll find essays from a whole bunch of different perspectives on being open to change, finding your path, nourishing YOU and living in the now, dammit. Get your copy here.