It’s funny how the most unlikely, and seemingly meaningless events in life, can teach us the most profound lessons.
My parent’s recently got a new puppy from the humane society. This puppy had spent the first 11 months of his life locked in a crate 18 hours a day. Needless to say he has some anxiety and aggression.
My parent’s also have a 1 year old german shepherd, Red, who can be a little hyper sometimes and loves to get in barking matches with the neighbour dogs. Needless to say, this gets the new puppy, Benji, a little wound up.
Well Red was outside barking away, and I managed to distract her and get her to stop, but Benji was still wound up and anxious. So I thought, if I get him to lie down, he will relax.
Well the problem with that idea was that, of course, a wound up dog doesn’t want to lie down. So the situation devolved really quickly into me chasing him around the house barking orders at him, and Benji running around and getting more and more anxious and wound up!
Well finally I realized how ridiculous I was being, and I stopped and thought, “what is the path of least resistance here?”.
I immediately left Benji and went to the kitchen and got out the “cookie” jar. As soon as I got out that jar Benji immediately came over to me. I pulled a cookie out of the jar and said “Benji sit”, and what do you know, Benji sat.
So then I said “Benji lay down”. Well he didn’t lay down right away, so I put the cookie down near the floor, and Benji lay down. Then I gave him the cookie. Then we did it all over again a few times, each time I waited a little bit longer before giving him the cookie, and each time I backed up a little bit farther. Well, by the end of this little exercise, Benji was relaxed and so was I.
All that was in Benji’s awareness was that cookie, and that if he lay down, he would get the cookie. He no longer cared about the other barking dogs, or people walking outside, all he was thinking about was getting that cookie. After that he was relaxed because we had broken the momentum of anxious thoughts and feelings.
Later that night I laughed at myself for running around after this dog, thinking I was going to boss him into being calm, and I realized something pretty significant. I realized that I sometimes do this very thing with myself when I am stressed out or anxious. I tell myself I HAVE to relax! I may try to force myself to sit still and meditate.
I chase those anxious thoughts around and around my brain trying to pin them down and eradicate them in some way.
“I don’t want to think that thought, I don’t want to think that thought, I don’t want to think that thought, I need to relax, I need to relax, I need to relax…..”
And all that effort and trying just makes me anxious and stressed over being anxious and stressed!
So, what I really need to do is give myself a cookie.
It could literally be a cookie.
Or it could be a beautiful song. Or a cup of tea. Or going for a walk and hugging some trees. Or petting my dog. Or going to a coffee shop and watching people walk by on the street.
Just give your mind a cookie. Give it a distraction, something that makes it feel good, something that you can focus all of your awareness on to break the momentum of those anxious thoughts!
Well, you could gain a few pounds with all those cookies, but then you’d be a happier, more relaxed you with a few more pounds. Plus it wouldn’t take you long to start to break the momentum of those anxious, negative thoughts. And I don’t mean sit there emotionally eating, stuffing your face with cookies WHILE you stress out over those thoughts.
What I mean is, get the cookie, look at the cookie, think about how wonderful that cookie is going to be, take a bite out of the cookie and really savour that bite, chew it slowly and really enjoy every moment. Then take a moment and see how you feel. Then repeat, until all anxiety is gone. Make eating that cookie into an exercise in mindfulness.
Because, when I got that cookie out, Benji had no other thought, nothing else in his awareness but that cookie. He was totally focused on cookie. No he didn’t take his time and savour it, he’s a dog! But he did relax. He did forget all about what he was anxious about.
Of course you probably have a greater attention span than a dog (well you did make it to the end of this post), but you also have an incredible ability to focus your mind. You focused enough to get yourself that wound up in the first place, so you can focus yourself out of that anxious place too, you just need to give your mind something else to focus on, some incentive.
Love to you all,
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