In praise of play

31 05 2020

One of the joys of bringing up young animals is watching them play. Every morning Teio greets me with an affectionate nuzzle and within a few minutes he is searching for someone or something to play with. If Max, the senior collie who lives downstairs, is up and about, Teio will run down to engage in play, chasing the older dog around the small square of parched grass in our shared garden.

Witnessing the old collie grunting with pleasure and rolling about on his back and the bright-eyed young whippet delicately pointing his paw to keep the game going, I forget that I’m up an hour earlier than usual. I forget I haven’t had coffee yet. I’m awakened by the energy of their play and for a moment nothing else matters.

When dogs play they are truly in the moment. They aren’t wondering if they should be doing something else more important or getting on with the serious business of their life. In a young dog’s world, play is his life.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been wondering about the place of play in my own life. I know that I feel happiest when I’ve spent time sharing a simple walk with family and friends with the dogs running through sunlit trees up ahead.

Even though I’m enjoying the moment, there’s also a part of me, though, that whispers: this can’t last, take it while you can. When I tune into the warning, my happiness continues, but as if through a perspex screen. I can see it, but I can’t touch it.

My young dog knows nothing of these conflicted feelings. He can’t feel two different feelings at once the way we can. Why are dogs happier than humans? Possibly because their lives are less complicated, but also because dogs are more generally affable then we are. Put it simply: they are friendlier.

The friendliness of dogs is, of course, one of the reasons we love them so much. The sight of a shining eye looking up into our face and pink healthy tongue lolling from a happy dog’s mouth is enough to melt the most miserable of souls.

I was touched by the comment of a young man on one of our outings to a local park this week. The young man looked to be in some sort of difficult or chaotic place, disheveled and anxious, but he stopped for a moment when Teio bounced up to him. Hearing that the young whippet was friendly, he crouched down and offered his fist for Teio to sniff. After a minute of friendly greeting the young man looked up. ‘He’s a nice dog – a good dog,’

The young man’s body language softened. ‘I’m trying to attract more good things in my life.’

‘Well, this morning you certainly have.’

We smiled at each other and I saw through the chaos to the place of worry and fear that I recognised like a familiar friend. We went our separate ways, but the young man’s words stayed with me.

We all want to attract more good in our lives. But so often when we find the good, we are afraid to fully take it. We are suspicious of goodness because it requires us to open our hearts and be grateful or glad or uplifted. When you’re used to being afraid or insecure, your own happiness can startle you as much as a threat.

It’s tragic that we are like this, and I wish it weren’t so. I wish we could be more like affable dogs, bounding across the social distance restrictions to playfully reunite. Of course, after months of social isolation many people will be pleased to see one another and there will be parties and barbecues and gatherings again.

But in those very social occasions there will be mixed feelings. There will be laughter and banter and there will be fear; there will be insecurity; there will be wondering what comes next; there will be questions: how to pick up the pieces, how to repair the damage, build the business, mend and start afresh.

This is how we are as human beings. We survive crisis, we come through disaster and chaos. We emerge shaken and changed and more vulnerable than we are perhaps aware. May we remember, too, that we also know what we need to help us on our way. A good dose of the good is good for us. And enough time to put our worries away for a while and remember how to play.





When we aren’t looking

25 05 2020

Good things come to us all by themselves and with a sense of rightness for the moment we’re in. This is the gift of the unexpected. Some call it serendipity.

I wasn’t looking for a dog to take on right now. There were tons of practical reasons not to, especially in a period of such fragility and uncertainty. But the heart doesn’t listen to reason. Intuition doesn’t respond to cold logic. All I know is that my heart leapt when I heard he needed a home. Then, when a saw a picture of young Teio – pronounced TeeeOh – it set something in motion that I needed to follow.

The yearling whippet is living with me now and we’re getting used to sharing a space. He’s getting to know my rhythms and routines. We’re learning each other. His energy is most undoglike. Soft, curious, very alive. He can stretch out his limbs and take up the whole length of sofa. He’s tall and lithe with almond-shaped melting brown eyes. It’s like having a lovely young gazelle to stay.

Except he has surprising outbursts of puppy behaviour. My work room appears as if a crowd of three-year-olds have just finished a rip-roaring birthday party. Shredded bits of paper, plastic and twigs everywhere. Furniture askew. Rugs rumpled and a disorderly play bed bang in the middle. I look at the mess and my heart heaves with happiness.

In his first hours, Teio followed me everywhere, moving from room to room, checking, checking, checking, his jittery claws clipping the wood floor. I wondered what I had done. Would he ever settle? Would I ever get any work done?

I put his soft bed on the floor next to mine. He jumped into it and looked up at me. I wished him goodnight and turned to my book. The next moment he leapt in one smooth movement to the space at the foot of my bed. There he now sleeps soundly, dreaming, a mushroom coloured velvet bolster, slender white legs twitching as he remembers – what does he recall in his sleep, I wonder as I watch him, thinking how strange it is that he should leap into my life almost when I wasn’t looking.

This gift of new young life is both messenger and metaphor. I think this young hound has come to show me how to be happy. How to trust. How to hope. How to love no matter what is happening in the uncertain world. How to remember to dream.





Magic in the Moment

3 05 2020

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Some mornings we arrive and the horses are busy grazing and barely acknowledge us. Other mornings, they are waiting by the gate. And on rare, magical mornings, they are both lying down and allow us to spend moments of wonder and stillness in their presence.

I arrived at the meadow yesterday to find Jo settled between the two horses. Returning with my camera, I captured this special moment on film. As you will see, the horses have very different styles of interaction. Dragonfly is calm, relaxed and grounded throughout. Even when Sheranni goes through his attention-seeking comedy routine, Dragonfly remains unruffled. They are aware of each other, but not drawn into the other. Each horse makes space for the other horse to be as he is in the moment. This doesn’t seem like much, but making space for another, especially someone you know very well, is an art.

As humans, we find this extraordinarily difficult. Imagine that you’re having a quiet morning sleep-in and your companion suddenly decides to get up and put on some loud music and start dancing around the bedroom or practising their juggling moves. How would you react? Would you allow your companion some space to do their thing, or would you tell them to ‘get lost’ as you burrow under the duvet in a clenched bundle of righteous annoyance?

As humans, we are very adept at being still and serene when things are going our way, when our companions are tiptoeing around us, holding our space and keeping our peace, but what happens when they are not? What happens when they do their thing at full volume? The tendency then is to accuse them of being selfish, of having no consideration, of being insensitive. Who hasn’t thought this when confronted with noisy neighbours?

The horses show us how we might hold space regardless of what is happening around us. We might not enjoy the intrusion – and let’s face it most of us would prefer to lie-in undisturbed – but when disturbances come, as they will and do, we might choose to remain in a state of presence, as Dragonfly is demonstrating here; we might choose to stay in our space and breathe more deeply into it, knowing that the present contains everything we need, expanding our awareness to include the annoying little clown in the background. It won’t make him go away, but it might make it easier for us to live with him.

Something to start practising anyway…








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