This is a story, from my personal experience, about how allowing ourselves to experience bad feelings, rather than push them away, can lead us to greater self-acceptance and understanding.
I had a tradesman working for me, helping get our house ready to sell. One of his jobs was painting the eaves. He was keen to update me on his progress
“I’ve done you a favour. I've destroyed the swallows nest that was up there,to stop them nesting”
I was horrified. I wanted to shout. “WHAT!!! But that's their home!. The home the swallows have been coming back to for years. The beautiful, graceful swallows that annually fly 1000s of miles from Africa, from sunning themselves on backs of hippo’s, to come here, to my house, to bring their next group of chicks into the world. .How could you even think that’s a good idea?”
But I didn't. He started to tell me about the damage that can be caused by swallows nesting. He clearly thought he was doing me a favour. For reasons I couldn't fathom it had made sense to him. It was more important to me that I didn’t offend the guy. So I smiled and thanked him and put it out of my head. The damage had been done.
I had tried to forget about it but then one morning I heard swallows outside. There was a lot of screeching, flying low past the window. The commotion was noisier than I remembered. I hadn’t noticed them flying so low before. I had to assume that their behaviour was connected to finding their home vandalised. One of the swallows kept landing on the top of the open kitchen door. They had done this in previous years. I had enjoyed their company. But this time it was different, for me, and difficult.
“It wasn’t my fault” I said “I would never have let him do that if I had known, it was that bad man, I’m so very, very sorry” But I knew I felt guilty because I hadn’t told the perpetrator exactly how I had felt.
I rang the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) Helpline, to see if I could make it better. The eaves were at least 20 ft high. No, I was told, there was nothing I could do, the swallows needed to work it out for themselves. Every time I went into the kitchen I was reminded of my betrayal.
I felt helpless. A part of me felt like I was being blamed for something that I hadn’t done, that I would never have done. But I still felt bad. I work quite a bit on feelings and what they can tell you. I started to notice that I was trying to push these uncomfortable feelings away, blank them out. My mind was trying to get rid of my feelings of guilt and shame, put the blame on someone else. I decided to take a bit of my own advice and just let the feelings in.
Within a few seconds the tears started to well up in my eyes. I realised I wasn’t crying for the swallows, I was crying for my marriage break-up. I was crying because I felt that I had been solely responsible for shattering the family home, for putting my needs before the needs of others. The feelings and emotions that I let through showed me how much I had been blaming myself, unconsciously, for a situation which, when I thought of rationally, I could NOT take full responsibility for. It truly wasn’t my fault. And nobody else was suggesting it was. But somewhere in my mind-body, my own psyche, I was holding onto the feeling that IT WAS ALL MY FAULT.
One of the swallows came into the kitchen shortly after that – maybe just by mistake but I liked to think something more was going on. I cupped him in my hands and took him to the door to help him out. He seemed to have no nervousness. It meant something to me, that he trusted me to hold him. Happily they managed to repair their nest, and spent the rest of the summer swooping around and singing from the roof tops.
This is an example of how paying attention to our own feelings can help us heal, become whole. Initially it was the workman's fault, he was the person responsible for this thing that made me so unhappy. I thought I was worrying about the swallows and their safety, that it was their plight that was making me uncomfortable. What I discovered was that I was holding onto other negative feelings about myself which I wasn’t allowing myself to feel. The situation allowed that to be opened up and be released, simply through the decision to feel my discomfort.
And I believe its those sorts of hidden depths in us that our dogs can feel. I believe if you can follow the discomfort there will be something useful to learn.