I have been struggling with too many balls in the air lately, which leads me to procrastinate. I spend time worrying about how much I have to do rather than doing anything about it.
One of the things I had been worrying about is my time with the dogs. They need to be walked, fed and cared for along with everything else.
I'm starting to notice how I put my dogs’ needs before my own. Then, when I feel overwhelmed I start to feel resentful towards them. This behaviour, of putting others first and then resenting them for it, happens in other parts of my life as well.
The dirty secret
It has taken me a long time to admit this resentment to myself. “Nice people don’t resent their dogs right?” “Its not the dogs’ fault.” “Why have dogs in your life if you don’t want to look after them properly?” These are some of the thoughts that have been aired in the ‘boardroom’ of my head.
Like a child being admonished by a teacher at school, I mentally hang my head in shame, saying ‘No, you’re right, I will do better’. As I retreat I push that resentment into my pocket, like a dirty oily rag. Gritting my teeth I resolve to 'do better'. I won’t let anyone see what a truly horrible, ungrateful individual I am. Stuffed deep in my pocket, no one will ever know.
Our Dogs Know
Except my dogs know. They can smell it, or sense it somehow, this stuck lump of smelly, unpalatable, rotting feeling that is resentment. And, like anything noxious and smelly, they want to get hold of it, drag it out, shake it and roll in it. It seems like the harder I try and shove it down and hide it, the harder they pull it out. They seem to create more situations for me to notice that feeling of resentment. Just like all those other things I try to hide from the world – my dogs focus on them and they drag them out.
Slowing down to notice
Sitting in the sunshine, I'm trying to develop a plan of how to organise myself. Archie, my lab, comes up to me and puts his paws onto my lap. I stop myself from saying ‘not right now, I’m busy’. I don’t push him away, although part of me wants to. He lowers his chest on to my lap, his back legs on the ground and his front legs hanging over my knee, perfectly positioned to stop me from writing.
I notice my resentment and accept it. Sigh. He must need something from me. I resist pushing my face into his fur and hugging him. Ordinarily that would have been my go-to behaviour. I think its my way of compensating for my feeling of resentment towards him. But I know that will get him excited. Instead I stay neutral. I stroke him slowly along his back (check out Kevin Behan's article 'Why Dogs Shake'). I get into a rhythm of giving strong deep strokes and a calmness descends in me. Eventually I stop stroking and we continue sitting there, the weight of his body leaning into my lap. He stays there for a while, air scenting, his ear cocking now and then, responding to distant noises that I don’t hear. I notice how much I had needed that quiet, connected, slowed-down time.
Then Archie gently backed off my lap. With his four paws on the ground he stood for a moment, looking past me. Then he stretched himself out and lay down on the grass in the sun.
What was learnt
If I could put words in his mouth I felt was saying ‘Well done. You have understood. Remember what I have shown you’. But I know he was just going by feel, responding in the moment to me. The understanding was mine.
Instead of resentment I felt calm. Actually I felt gratitude. It was as if that noxious smelly rag had been taken out of my pocket and laid out in the sun to dry.
I see I have a choice. I can continue to screw it back up and hide it away to fester and get smelly. Or I can keep noticing it and ironing it out with my thoughts, getting to know how I can use it, and other unacceptable thoughts and feelings, as a guide to myself.
It was a reminder that there is not him and me, or you and I, but all of us, affecting each other.