Meditation has never been a complete success or bust for me. I usually come away from attempts at it with a grocery list and the recollection of where I put those papers I need for filing taxes. Although ‘stillness’ is something I readily attain given a lawn chair and some sunshine, this ‘quieting’ the mind stuff isn’t so easy. Over the years I’ve discovered recreations which may not completely silence my inner chatterer, do slow her down.
White water paddling forces me into the moment in a way other activities do not. The attention that needs to be paid and necessity to make quick decisions, help me focus on what I am experiencing at that moment. There is also a soft gaze at the future, at what is ahead. Should I head left or right around that rock? Where will my choice put me? Should I slow down or find a place to stop and catch my breath and assess what’s coming up next? When on unknown waters or facing a challenging rapid, paddlers will stop and get out of their boats and scout the rapid. They’ll weigh their options, which route will be safest? The most fun? If something goes awry where will that put them? And then what?
I don’t get out on rivers as much as I used to and as much as miss the recreation, I miss the level of attention it forced me to practice. I’ve discovered that working with dogs, especially dogs who are not comfortable with people, require a similar kind of effort. It’s important that I accurately assess their behavior. If I make an error in judgment when paddling down a river, mistaking a ‘keeper hole‘ for a bit of white water we can easily float through, I, and my crew may end up having a swim. If I make an error in judgment when assessing a dog I may end up being bitten, or scaring the dog. As with paddling, I am constantly adjusting my responses as the conditions change. To do this effectively I need to 1) know what I am looking at and 2) know the proper response to keep everyone safe.
Entering into a conversation with a dog is exciting, challenging and potentially humbling. The effort put into understanding what I am being told was worth every minute and dollar spent. The energy required to remain present and flexible enough to quickly adapt to changing conditions is invigorating. When I am working with a dog I know that for that period of time I’m not going to be worrying about the mortgage or what’s next on my ‘to do’ list. If I am we may find ourselves somewhere we don’t want to be and there may not be a way to gather up all the pieces that end up floating downstream.