Thursday, June 25, 2009

Fixing the Problem “Out There”

Our models of superiority and domination have their roots in our modern views of the self and its place in the universal whole. Underlying all that we can think, believe and conceive is the notion that we are separated beings occupying or showing up as distinct bodies or “things.” This individualized view contracts us. It separates and divides us from all else. We are disconnected from each other except through certain associations and affections. We feel no real connection to our earthly environment or to the fullness of perceptible reality.

This doctrine of detachment produces some unfortunate illusions. We see the self as “in here” and all the rest of reality as “out there.” Things seem to happen or be done to us and, as a result, we are ever poised for defense and attack. When we feel threatened, displeased, frustrated or irritated, the source of the problem is immediately considered to exist outside ourselves. The dog gets caught in the trap of this irrational thinking again and again.

At any given moment, dogs are demonstrating the sum total of their genetic possibilities, innate inclinations, conditioned patterns and mental and emotional states – just like humans. But when those demonstrations of an authentic canine reality clash with our standards and expectations, our desires, our beliefs, and what we think of as our knowledge, we consider the dog “wrong” or “bad.” We’ll feel compelled to immediately project force and energy to fix or stop her and to thereby relieve our uncomfortable feelings.

Operating from the perception that the dog has done something to us, we will interpret her actions in a variety of insane ways, especially upon recurrence. We will believe that she is willfully disobedient or spiteful. We will believe that she intends to usurp our power, to be our boss. We will think that the dog exacts revenge or punishes us. We will regard her “failure” as an intentional slight or refusal and as disrespect for our ultimate authority. All of these ideas will make our acts of retribution seem justified and necessary. We will deliver what we like to call a “correction.” Yet, to correct is to “lead straight.” To punish, on the other hand, is to “impose a penalty upon; to inflict with pain, loss or suffering for a crime or fault.” When we look closely and honestly at the unexpected, unpleasant experiences that we give the dog to get her to stop doing things that irritate or displease us, we’ll recognize our “corrections” for what they really are.

In truth, a moment of dissatisfaction with a dog is a signal that, if a mistake has been made, it's ours. We’ve missed something; we weren’t attentive or perceptive enough. Perhaps our standards didn’t match the dog’s nature or reality. Maybe our expectations were too high for her level of understanding. Competing stimuli may have overwhelmed her. Maybe we ignored her emotional state or the fact that we had inadvertently reinforced the very behavior we complain about. If we were to willfully change our perceptions and begin to respond in this way, we would reap a benefit too enormous to imagine. We’d suddenly find that we are fully aware and present in a moment of interaction with a dog – free from the skew imposed by our rational, intellectual interpretations. We would be able to intuit her genuine thinking and feeling reality and the very nature of her being. And we could use what we see in that dynamic experience to know how to correct our errors.


Montana said...

Wow, Madison, I love your insight! Seems to me that your description on becoming "one" with our pets is the same glorious opportunity we have in all our interactions---when we can see it. Yes, the misalignment is ours, the mistakes are ours...and when we're able to change our perceptions and begin to respond in the way you describe...the joy of being connected in consideration and care ... is ours. Then, our pets, our friends and our families are blessed by our presence.

101mutts said...

I'm visiting from the Clicker Expo group.

Wow, great post! I really like your analysis. It reminds me of some of Eckharte Tolle's ideas. I agree that a lot of the dominance comes from thinking it's the dog's "fault" and not looking any further into why.