Life lessons from my golden labrador – meet Dolly

I have been blessed with amazing animals in my life. From the laziest bulldogs, slobbering all over the place to the most aloof cats sparing affection only when they deem it deserved. Then there is Dolly. And there is something different about her. She’s been with us for just over a year now, and has passed on some invaluable life lessons. Amazingly, without needing to be taught. Just natural wisdom about presence, love, openness and friendship.

It’s not uncommon for us humans to be moved by animals. Sure, we may have made it to the position of apex predator, top of the food chain and what not. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that all wisdom rests with us. On the contrary, it could be argued that one of the reasons humans have been so successful, is how perceptive we are to the guidance given by other organisms.

Therefore the title of this blog post is not as surprising as it may initially seem. The impact Dolly has had on me is simply so profound that I decided to spend some time and distil some of these important life lessons. This could be for two reasons: (1) Dolly’s demonstration of the qualities listed below may have been so profound that I couldn’t help notice them or (2) I have become a little more observant of these qualities, without the common overthinking that tends to plague me. The latter would be a pretty interesting one to unpack, but we will reserve this for another time. Let’s just say a delicate combination of one and two has led to the text below.

Why do I find Dolly so special, you ask? Simply put, her energy. Her aura. There seems to be a deep sense of presence that flows from her; a pure love for everyone and everything she meets (which still has space to grow as the relationship develops over time); an ever-ongoing openness to experiences (new and old) and a deep desire to befriend everyone and everything she meets, albeit cautiously, more out of concern for the other than hurt of self.

Life lesson 1: don’t overthink, just be

What not to say to someone who overthinks. Sort of like telling someone who is upset, not to be upset. Or someone who is not relaxed, to relax. Unfortunately though, it’s an important reminder that needs to be repeated.

Dolly best represents this in her transition from sleep to being awake. Never a long face for being woken up. Never the cold shoulder for interrupting her slumber. On the contrary, her reaction is one that asks why you hadn’t woken her up earlier. This is not to say that Dolly is a poor sleeper. She is actually pretty good at it. The observation here is that she immerses herself in whatever the activity is. Her mind is where it is, in the now, not the when or then.

Life lesson 2: love easily and unconditionally, without fear

Reading this one makes my chest tighten up, with my arms folding up in front of my stomach to protect it from the imminent pain that follows the intense vulnerability that easy and unconditional love calls for.

Dolly loves easily. This is because Dolly is happy when she is happy. Dolly is sad when she is sad. And she is totally accepting of both. Her delight of being close to those she loves is palpable when they are close. And her sadness of being apart from those she loves is palpable when they are apart. She embraces the emotion in the moment. She doesn’t question it. She doesn’t fear it. She doesn’t try to avoid the “bad” feelings and embrace the “good” feelings. This enables her to love easily and unconditionally, probably because the joy it brings far outweighs the pain.

Life lesson 3: be open to experiences (new and old)

We are often told to be open to new experiences. We aren’t really reminded to be open to old ones. Is this because we assume since we’ve done something once, we are implicitly open to it. Is it because there is only unfound joy or excitement in experiences not yet experienced?

Dolly does not have this problem at all. She embraces all experiences with the same enthusiasm and openness. Perhaps the lesson here is that it’s not the activity that generates the feeling. Perhaps it’s one’s approach to the activity that generates the feeling.

Life lesson 4: befriend fast, but with caution, not for self-care but care for the other

Building trust. Weird how I think of this process inwardly. What I mean by that is when interacting with someone, we tend to guard ourselves, we tend to wait for trust to be built up by the other person. Perhaps the trick is to approach this process outwardly. Enabling the other person to have no reason to doubt you, giving them the time and space to do that. Being cautious not for self-preservation, but for the care of another.

Dolly is a social butterfly, in the most introverted way. Never meaning to dominate the room, but letting others know she is not only available, but also only too eager to chat. Every single dog and every single human we pass on a walk is approached in the same way. Not with over-aggressive barking, not with an intense pulling of her lead dragging me along behind her. Every single dog and every single human is met with the most amazing humility. Enough forward movement to indicate her desire to connect, but with enough restraint to let them know she is not a threat. Amid all of this generally is the emptying of the bladder, but that’s beside the point (although, be sure to do your best to hold it in your own personal interactions – humans tend not to be as forgiving when this is done by humans).

Where to from here.

I tend to get so caught up in my overly active mind, pondering the what-if’s that seldomly manifest themselves in reality. This tends to result in those feelings of anxiety or depression, as a result hampering my ability to be present. As a result, Dolly’s reminders, not through words, lectures, blog posts or podcasts, but through her consistent actions, are always welcome to aid me transcending from my head into my body and allowing myself to just be.

Overall, this is a tribute to a very special dog. And to all other animals who had a profound impact on my life. Who have taught me that love is not reserved for those like you, but for anything capable of love.

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