Gretchen Rubin wrote in The Happiness Project about the year she spent “test-driving the wisdom of the ages, the current scientific studies, and the lessons from popular culture about how to be happy.” The Puppiness Project is my attempt to learn the same from Honey, my Golden Retriever.
Working with a ‘fraidy dog
With the help of our new trainer, we’re making slow but steady progress on helping Honey confront some of her fears.
But it isn’t easy to watch Honey cower from an unfamiliar object. Or to see her avoid touching two wooden steps on our regular walk through the neighborhood. I feel badly for her. And I feel badly for us.
Sometimes I wish she was a more confident dog.
But then I stop and think about all the ways Honey is just perfect. I can trust her off leash in many situations and know she won’t go bounding (or even meandering) off to explore on her own. She will look to me for help in making decisions. And she never causes trouble—no counter surfing, no nosy exploration of trash, no climbing up on the table just to see what there is to see.
The negative emotion of fear (the curse) is accompanied by a blessing. I just need to remember to see it.
Is there an up side to being down?
I understand negative emotions–despair, hopelessness, fear. They are all familiar friends. Then, of course, there’s the anger that comes from trying to understand why I have a brain that turns to the dark side.
It’s not always easy to remember, but my familiarity with pain gives me a gift—empathy. If someone is trapped in a dark place, experiencing grief, fear, or despair, I get it. Deep in my gut, I get it.
The curse of despair brings the blessing of empathy.
I don’t yet have the emotional maturity to know what to do with this empathy but I hope it will come in time. After all, there has to be some reason for experiencing other people’s dark places as well as my own.
Empathy certainly helps me understand Honey’s fears. Fear is an old, lingering, and unappreciated friend of mine.
Fear on two wheels
Lately, when I ride my bike, my mind holds very dark visions. Every turn I make brings an image of my losing balance at speed and falling hard to the pavement. Riding fast down a steep grade in gusty winds causes me to see myself being blown off my bike and into the path of a passing car. Each pothole makes me wonder if this time I’ll blow a tire and go head first over my handlebars. (And my town has a lot of potholes; you can imagine the adrenaline.)
Can I tell you it takes a lot of the fun out of riding a bike?
And yet, it helps me understand Honey. Every time she conquers a fear and takes a step forward, I realize just how brave she’s being.
Fear on four paws
Something in Honey’s brain is sending her messages that a ramp placed flat on the ground is dangerous. She feels an object that moves unexpectedly could bring her harm. But she is facing her fears and making progress moving forward.
Maybe, in the course of our concentrated work on her fears, Honey will gain confidence. Perhaps she’ll feel comfortable doing things in the future that terrify her now.
But even if she remains scared, I’ll try to remember that the fear might just be the curse that accompanies all the blessings she brings to our lives. And that my own dark thoughts may somehow allow me to bless somebody else.