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.
Because It Feels Good
In a chaotic world, here are three things I can count on:
- if the sun comes out, I’ll find my neighbor’s cat, Arthur, sitting in the beam of light that hits my porch chair
- Facebook will make me mad
- Honey will roll in something stinky at least once a week
Two of these things describe sensuous pleasures. One does not.
Why, when I know how good a sun spot feels or the pleasures of an interesting smell, do I cut myself off things that engage my senses? Why do I bother with Facebook when both looking at a face or at a book is far more pleasurable?
Honey doesn’t have the intellectual development of an adult human. She doesn’t read or write to expand her brain. But she keeps her senses in great shape by using them to their fullest.
And she’s even expanding their strength.
This morning, I hid Honey’s food, one piece at a time, and made her find it by scent. It’s amazing how good she’s gotten at this.
The first time we tried Nose Work, Honey couldn’t find anything more than an inch off the ground.
Now she lifts her head and tries to catch scents in the air and on the ground. She picks up the scent where it’s faint and circles in until it gets stronger. If she notices the scent fading, she whips her head around to get back on the right track.
I have no doubt that if I only fed Honey out of a bowl, she’d lose some of her sniffing skills. Just like I’ve lost many of mine.
What We’ve Lost
I used to run 3 miles a day. Every day. At least once a year, I’d over turn my ankle and suffer a bad sprain that left me limping for months.
I assumed I just had weak ankles. I practiced standing on one foot to strengthen them. And I’d curse the potholes in our city streets.
One day I read about the Tarahumara Indians who run barefoot, for miles at a time, through Mexico’s Copper Canyons. Christopher McDougall wrote in Born to Run about his own attempt to run without pain by learning from the Tarahumara. And in reading the book, I figured out why I kept spraining my ankles.
My heavily padded running shoes prevented me from feeling what was happening under my feet and allowing me to correct my footing.
I have run since then but never wearing running shoes. I have yet to sprain an ankle.
The Brain Is Not Smarter Than the Body
Humans are always using our brains to figure out how to get out of using our bodies.
And as we do so, we’re losing the connection with our senses.
I enjoy the feeling of the keyboard under my fingers on my lap top. But it doesn’t feel better than a cool stream trickling over my hand or a breeze on my cheek.
I’m thankful for the fluorescent light that allows me to see on this grey day. But I don’t feel any heat coming from it. And it doesn’t make me sigh with contentment like a sunspot coming in the window.
Living indoors cuts me off from lots of scents. If I remember to pay attention, I catch a faint whiff of dog from the stuffed toy on the couch. But I can’t smell the woodsy scent of the crisp leaves on the front lawn.
I hear lots of different sounds—Christine Lavin playing on Pandora, Honey breathing in sleep, traffic going by outside. But I can’t hear the sound of the wind without going outside.
One of the reasons I first thought about moving onto a sailboat was to recover a connection to a world beyond the computer screen. It’s hard to ignore your senses when you need them to tell you where the wind is coming from and what you need to do to move through it.
But for now, I’ll have to rely on Honey for lessons on fully using my senses.
The Sensuous Walk
Honey has been waiting patiently for her walk.
It’s time to see if those predicted snow flurries are coming. We’ll take the path along the creek with all the shallow tree roots and stones we need to step carefully over. We’ll see if we can catch the scent of fish at the falls.
And, maybe, just maybe, if we feel mischievous, we’ll roll in something stinky and bring the scent with us indoors.