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Motherhood: How Dogs Helped Me Slow Down

I had a house full of dogs when I was first introduced to the concept of self awareness. This concept was unavoidable for me when I had a house full...

I had a house full of dogs when I was first introduced to the concept of self awareness. This concept was unavoidable for me when I had a house full of animals running on pure instinct. If I stayed in my head instead of trusting my gut instincts, I wasn’t going to succeed with my furry friends.

Realising how I felt in the moment and learning to check in with my body was a completely new concept back then. After spending many years trying to get away from my feelings, it was uncomfortable to say the least. Who am I kidding? Does it ever really get comfortable?

There was no other way to explain why the household would run differently each day. I quickly learnt how to create and adjust the energy between us all. Slowing things down, reading body language, feeling the energy in the room, remembering to breathe and keep my cool while there was external mayhem going on. These were such valuable tools for me to gain. One that helps me everywhere now; especially while raising tiny humans.

It doesn't mean there won't ever be chaos, but it sure helps in certain situations to have the knowledge of what you can control. You see, I was lucky enough to spend a few years of my life as a foster mum for a dog rescue. Over a period of four years, I had 14 dogs and puppies come through my home. My rescue days will always hold such a special place in my heart, as will each dog I cared for.

For anyone who has ever dreamed of volunteering, fostering, or adopting, I wholeheartedly encourage you to do so. You will not regret it.

Many of the dogs who came to me had pretty devastating beginnings, some hadn't. Some needed a lot of love and rehabilitation before rehoming, and some didn't need any work at all. All of them were amazing dogs, worthy of receiving all the love they gave.

My time in dog rescue was a beautiful healing cycle, and a pretty profound way to explain how all things are interconnected. In order to help my dogs and create a safe and stable environment for them to heal and learn, I had to start with myself. 

Slowing down and taking notice of my thoughts, my emotions, and my body had a huge impact on my life. It changed it entirely and opened me up to a whole other way of being. Before that time in my life I can't say I had ever considered that my thoughts may not be facts. It never occurred to me that they may just be thoughts, and that I didn't need to believe them all. Some are true and some are not. Okay, I admit, a lot aren't. Did you know many of our current thoughts are actually made up from our past experiences and conditioning? Our thoughts replay what we've already seen, heard, lived through etc. in fact, some of what our thoughts tell us has only ever happened in our minds.

As someone who, I admit, comes from a long line of over-thinkers and worriers, so when I realised that the majority of things I worry about or spend hours obsessing over, only ever happened in my head, I was shocked.

Yikes! What a humbling realisation.

Not only that, but the likelihood of creating what we fear and worry about increases with the amount of energy we invest in it. Oh, bother.

The dogs would always show me what I wasn't able to see at each moment. I remember some days I would be standing in the living room, or in the yard, while they all ran around like crazy; none of them were listening to me and were not interested in calming down or being cooperative at all. Feeling confused, I would ask them, “what the hell is going on with you all today!?”

It was in those moments that I would have to stop and take a deep breath. I would have to realise how frustrated and tense I was feeling in my body, and that was the reason why none of my canine friends were listening. My tightly raised shoulders. The feeling of overwhelm as everything felt fast and loud in my head. My fast and/or shallow breathing (unless I had been holding it). The feeling of wanting to scream or leave the house. I then realised I had actually woken up this way, or that something small had set me off in the morning, and I hadn't noticed that it had taken me hostage.

I realised that every time I was in this state, or when I was having a bad day myself, my dogs would act up. I would take myself away for a few minutes, practice some slow and deep breathing, and get back into my body. How many times do we take a moment to pause each day and notice our breathing? Breathing is such a simple and largely unconscious action that often goes without any conscious consideration or attention at all, yet it is one of our most powerful resources for connecting with ourselves and our bodies. Where our attention (and breath) goes, our energy flows.

Another thing I would do is connect with my senses. This would help me get out of my head. Before dogs, it was so rare for me to consider my senses at all. Another wonderful and  completely undervalued resource we have at our fingertips, quite literally. Our senses have the ability to connect us with not only our bodies, but with our physical sense of the world. Connecting in this way can help calm the mind and relax the nervous system. This is particularly helpful for states of being and conditions that take us away from our experience, and keep us trapped in our minds; such as anxiety, which is sadly, becoming all too common these days. 

Tuning in to what I can smell, touch, hear and taste always has a way of bringing me back into the present moment.

Children naturally do this incredibly well. Their developing brains haven't been conditioned in the way many of our adult brains have, so they essentially experience life through their senses, feelings and instincts. In that instinctual body-connected way, it is quite similar to the way dogs experience their world (from what we can gather). There is a lot we can learn from those who are so close to nature and in what it means to be deeply connected to all things; both physical and non-physical.

Practising mindfulness is just that, a practice. It isn’t something we do once or something we figure out and then it's accomplished. It takes constant practice. I'm always learning and relearning how to “be present” and each life phase seems to ask for a different level of “being”. 

I’m very grateful to my dogs for introducing me to “full-bodied mindfulness” because right now I’m relearning as the mother of a very spirited toddler and soon-to-be newborn. Once again, I find myself surrounded by those living through their senses, feelings, and instincts who require the calm, stable adult-version of “me”.

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