Creating Space

Front cover image of “A Hidden Wholeness” by Parker Palmer

Recently I came across the writings, the books of Parker J. Palmer.  Maybe you have read him too.  He has a number of books out.  Has been nice to read something that additionally validates what I’ve been seeking, working towards, trying, feeling for the past few years especially.  Mostly I think because it often seems to be alien to what ‘the outside world’ portrays.  The finding of self, of who one really is, being true to wholeness.  Finding away from the divided life many of us, myself included, are indoctrinated in from near infancy.

In part his writings are also helping me realize why I struggled with compassion fatigue a few years back.  And why the particular boundaries I tried to put up to emotionally protect myself at the time, made it even harder.  For me the boundaries I put up and ones I experimented with at others encouragement, simply served to make me feel increasingly disconnected from my clients.  That in order to continue I had to keep them at arms length.  In order to continue I had to care less.  Which I couldn’t do and keep going.  Reaffirming it was the best decision at the time to take a leave of absence.  To stop and reevaluate.

For me, part of my struggle and emotional toil when I was seeing a heavy behavior case load was so often what I was tasked with was people wanting their dogs to conform to a society or lifestyle that wanted dogs to fight against their inner dogness.  I was tasked with owners and with a society that wanted me to give them tools to make their dogs conform.  To give owners the means to convince their dogs to live a divided life.  To give owners ways to tamp down their dog’s essence and find a way to get the dog to bury deep down who they really were.

“My dog barks and lunges at people/dogs/bikes on our walks.  I need him to stop doing that.”

“My dog chases squirrels/rabbits/deer. I need him to stop doing that.”

“My dog bit me when I took the trash out of his mouth.  I need him to not do that ever again.”

“My dog growled at my kid when he gave the dog a hug.  I need him to not do that ever again.”

“My dog barks out the window.  I need him to not do that.”

“My dog……….. I need him to not do that.”

It was an emotional, and moral nightmare for me.

It felt like hour to hour I was struggling to find the balance between honoring each dog for who they were and what they needed within the bounds our human society here had set.  Struggling with the ‘supposed tos’ of dogs that so many humans seemed to walk into my office with.  While struggling in my personal life as a very human to find the same balance.

Often I found myself having to pause and just breathe for a little while.  Trying to sort out how to explain to a client in a way they could hear what their dog was saying he or she needed.  Trying to sort out how to open the door for a client to set aside ‘supposed to’ for ‘what is’.

The level of filtering was exhausting.  On so many levels.  Often I simply wanted to say, “Yes, you have a dog.  That’s what dogs do.”  Often in the situations the client was upset about, the dog was right.  Yup, your dog had every right to bite you when you grabbed him like that.  Don’t invade another’s personal space without mutual agreement.  Yup, your dog had every right to growl at your kid when he hugged him.  Teach your kid to ask first before invading another’s personal space.  Yup, dogs like to chase stuff, they are predators.  Yup, your dog is bored, he’s going to find something to do.  Your dog is being an excellent dog.

I had (and have still today) lots of clients, thankfully, who embraced the approach of celebrating their dog for who he or she was and striving to honor that while helping the dog succeed in the boundaries of our world.  The clients who didn’t embrace that, I found myself heartsick, and often we didn’t have a very long working relationship.  I still think about those dogs often, hoping who they were was finally seen as a positive.

And I realize much of that approach comes from my own experiences.  Being asked by society, as I think many of us are and have been, to be someone different than who we are.  To wear different masks.  To be chameleons.  And when we are being who we are, to explain ourselves, to justify our right to be ourselves.  Feeling that being expected and asked to live so divided was harmful.  It seems so backwards.

I struggle with the whys of human practices often.  Why do we so often seem to operate from a place of fear, yet be unwilling to recognize that?  Why do we so often seem to reject the inherent -ness of any individual?  Why is there so often this seemingly desperate need for conformity at the expense of who we each are?  Why do we so often seem to spend years teaching each other that our very selves are wrong, we need and should be hiding that, becoming someone not ourselves?

Create space for people to be people.  And dogs to be dogs.

Doing what I was doing for work wasn’t creating that space.  Which contributed to why it became unbearable for me to do.

At the present moment, I’m working my way back to that path.  Here in my home I try to create a space where dogs can be dogs.  Which fills me with joy.  Modifying environments so each dog who comes through has an opportunity to be themselves safely.  To learn in ways that work best for them.  To be loved for who they are.  And working toward setting aside learned ‘supposed tos’ to create a life where I am undivided.

Create space for people to be people.  And dogs to be dogs.

Letting that be my intention for the present.

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