Right now, at this very moment, which is 6:54 am on Tuesday, April 27, 2021, our dog is laying in the hallway in front of my office, her bushy tail spilling through the doorway. She has been doing some combination of barking, whining and huffing for going on an hour and a half.
It all started during her after-breakfast run outside when she started barking frenetically while running circles around the yard. This is not normal behavior for this silver-muzzled gal whose get all the supplements to lube her joints. Then, as they do, the huskies across the street joined her barking with their piteous howls (Fun fact: after eight months of living here, our dog has started to learn to whine in a way that sounds a touch like husky howls. Super fun.) and while that would be painful any time of day, it was absolutely not a thing at 5:30 am.
In she came and thus began the whining and grumbling.
Once daylight illuminated our yard and the wooded land across the street, and I could see it was all clear of deer and possums and bears (as was Theresa’s first guess at her strange reaction), I let her out again, hoping her discovery of the all clear would settle her down. But no. She is far from settled.
I feel her incessant whining like a weight in my chest, like I am a cup of water and each squeak of displeasure and want that she utters adds a drop and, I can promise you, the meniscus on that cup of water was dangerously taut a while ago.
Why am I telling you about this? Because this is the time of morning when I write and all I can think about – all I can think about – is wanting her to stop. Even now, with J.S. Bach cranked in my headset, I can hear the piercing decibel of her whine and I just want it to stop.
Life is jam-packed with opportunities to learn about our experiences of reactivity, especially in the midst of an uncontrollable person or situation. Or furry, adorable, absolutely unrelenting dog.
Two hours and counting, friend. I suddenly and deeply regret not keeping the white noise machine that I had at my last public office.
As the friend with whom I exchange the most random daily text updates said, there’s also something unnerving about an unsettled dog. There’s always a part of me that assumes a dog knows something I don’t know, like when we had a person in the house to give us a quote on an update and we thought he was pretty alright but our dog was instantly at his feet trying to herd him back out of the house. Maybe he was untrustworthy; maybe he just smelled like Chihuahua. We’ll never know.
Okay, so this is an opportunity, as all discomfort is an opportunity. In addition to trying (unsuccessfully) to drown her out with classical music (and being on the cusp of closing my office door and turning on my space heater to add layers of distance), I’m also noticing where the tension is in my body (my stomach and chest) and what it’s asking me to do (yell, because that part of me still thinks that would make her stop even though we have solid evidence that, no, she is impervious to yelling.)
The question of whether she knows something I don’t know and whether that something is endangering to us in some way has me checking in with one of my gremlins, Itty Bitty Betty. She’s the inner voice who imagines ever-present physical danger. Of course, she’s almost always wrong. Almost. I’ve learned to check things out when she’s active, to even go so far as to do things I know to be ludicrous like look in closets, just like I would if a little kid told me there was a monster in their closet. This morning, I’ve scanned the landscape a few times, noting grazing deer and one of the neighbor huskies sniffing the perimeter of her yard as she does throughout every day. I can legitimately say to Itty Bitty Betty: “I see nothing that indicates we’re in any sort of danger.”
That doesn’t silence her, but it does settle her.
I also need to tend to Alfie for a moment, my Gremlin of Should. Alfie has been telling me for the last two hours and twenty minutes (not that I’m tracking this) that I shouldn’t get so bent out of shape by a little pup noise, that I’m overreacting, that my visceral sensations of saturation are wrong and shameful. To him, all I can say it, “I hear you, Alfie, and I’m not buying in. I feel how I feel. I don’t like how I feel, but it’s what’s real right now. Also, bub, you’re not helping.”
And then there’s the big question, the one that I sometimes find hardest to remember and most important to ask: Who do I want to be in this moment?
Definitely not a person who yells at her dog. The combo of music, closed door, and space heater are helping but unsustainable; goodness willin’, creek don’t rise, she’ll have settled in another hour when my coaching sessions start and Bach will have to go by the wayside. Until then, I’ll practice accepting this experience of truly unimportant discomfort as a safe though intensive reminder to use my tools.
* * *
It’s 9am. I just finished a coaching session. And there is silence beyond the door, past the space heater. I woke her when I opened my door, a misty spot on the hardwoods evidence of where her head was resting. I pet her gently for a few minutes, moving past my lingering frustration. I feed her a treat.
All experiences past – all behaviors end, all emotions end, all moments end. Sometimes, the best we can do – the best I can do, the best the tools can do – is to stay as centered and calm until the end comes.
Saying the end will come and that we can ride it out is one of those easy-to-say, hard-to-do things. Being coached and all the training I do as a coach are the ways I’ve gathered to the tools to manage – well, at the time, it feels like survive – these moments of intense saturation. If you’re curious about how the tools might work in your life, I’m here.