Last year I laid to rest a very dear friend and companion—my dog Pistol. Pistol was a rescue from the neighborhood shelter. He was a blend of Pitbull and Labrador. A beautiful blend of loyal and loving. Pistol’s heart was full and open and people who met him felt it. Unfortunately Pistol contracted cancer at the age of 10. It was only four short months before the cancer took his life.
During my grieving process I questioned why Pistol had died so young. He was healthy and our lifestyle was full of activity, fresh air and fun. I wondered how cancer could have taken over his energetic healthy body. One thing that I do know is that stress can be a powerful source of resistance and the body is vulnerable to ongoing emotional stress. This resistance can often show up in the form of illness. I feel that cancer and its allusive nature is one of the most serious byproducts of stress.
Looking at Pistol’s life, one might say it was not at all stressful. But in my reflection after his death, I realized a very significant kind of stress that had gone unnoticed. Pistol was on-guard every day of his life. Pistol protected our home, did his territorial rounds, and barked at any vehicles who drove in. My ah-ha moment came when I realized I never taught him that there was no need to guard. I didn’t realize that was an option. I just assumed that guarding was natural for his breed. Looking back now I feel strongly that the ongoing unconscious guarding actually could have shortened Pistol’s life.
Teach Peace to Have Peace
Now, more than a year later I have another rescued dog who has many of the same characteristics that Pistol did. My new dog Scout is a male Rottweiler Labrador cross. Even as a puppy Scout immediately took on the responsibility of guarding the property, our truck, the female lab Lexi and all of us. Now with my deeper insight to the liability of dogs carrying stress as a daily habit I decided to offer Scout another option. I want him to know that there is no need to guard. Of course, it’s one thing if somebody is actually in danger or there is a situation that calls for such defensive measures. But he does not have to guard me from a ground squirrel. I have made a commitment that I will teach Scout he can have his opinion and be aware of his surroundings from a place of calm resolve. It was simply fascinating to see how fast my dog chose peace.
Soon after I took this project on with my dog, I realized the lesson in it for me. I found myself in a situation where I was becoming silently defensive. I quickly realized that the situation was really quite benign. There was no danger, no risk to my safety. Why did I feel a sense of fearful defense? Much like the ground squirrel was to my dog, I began to see that some life situations had become habitually defensive. My mind and body would take on a kind of silent guarding. They worked in tandem, fueling each other’s responsiveness. I felt a tightness in my body, and the mind began labeling the situation with supporting details of fear. Then the body increased it’s dis-ease and so on. I realized I was settling for feeling a lot of stress that was completely unnecessary. I could clearly see the habit of fear playing out in the shadowy corners of my mind.
Once again, my animals had offered me an invaluable life lesson. Now I am dedicated to shifting my defensive perspective while broadening my awareness in all situations.
After seeing how fast my dog could change how he saw the world, I was excited to do the same. The results of shifting my perspective from habitual defensiveness to conscious awareness were immediate. I used the same verbiage on myself that I used for my dog. I simply told my mind, and body that “there is nothing to guard, all is well”.
This was a new awakening and I had wandered into a brand-new level of seeing my world peacefully. The first time I practiced this simple shift I felt my entire body relax and my mind actually acknowledged great relief. My mind seemed to respond a bit like a grateful child who had no parents and then finally found the loving guidance she always desired. There was a beautiful sense of calm in simply directing my thoughts. This was a life-changing inward perspective.
The ability to re-educate the mind from habitual defense to purposeful awareness will forever be a focal point in my practice. I know that my perspective combined with what I practice is what creates the life I live. And now the life I live can be created through peaceful resolve.
We can shift our perspective and change our world.
How To Identify The Habit Of The Guard
- Tightness in the body-neck, back, belly, jaw
- Accelerated breathing, or lack of breathing
- Adding more and more details to substantiate the story of the situation
- Focusing on the past
- Focusing on the future
- Feeling separate, alone, or different
- Feeling superior
- Feeling inferior
- Feeling helpless or threatened
- Feeling overwhelmed
How to Shift the Perspective and Offer Support to The Mind and Body
- Use a personal mantra such as “There is nothing to guard”, “All is well”, “This reaction has no meaning”, “Am I in crisis?”
- Slow the breathing and relax the jaw
- Direct your focus, such as focusing attention on your hand, or an object
- Acknowledge the slightest relief and realize there is another way
- Repeat all of the above
- Practice this awareness in seemingly insignificant circumstances.
- Be aware of any shifts in perspective that point to defense and choose presence
This shift in perspective can and will change the way we see the world. We will make better decisions, have deeper relationships, and most of all feel a sense of freedom from the unnecessary baggage of our unconscious, habituated, and outdated resistance to life. We can live from a perspective of peace and in turn offer a valuable contribution to our world. We can be part of the cure of needless suffering rather than part of the cause of it. And there is no better way to teach than to show. I know both Scout and I have felt the tremendous freedom in this perfect practice.
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