Have you ever stood outside while it’s snowing, just watching the world disappear under a white blanket?
Living in Virginia – born, raised, and still loving it – I noticed at an early age that as snow falls, the sounds of the environment also become muted. Birds, critters, any rustling in the trees, flowing water—all tucked under that same blanket covering the ground. I can’t even hear traffic on the roads or in the sky. Just a white cocoon of comforting silence.
I also notice how that cocoon seems to wrap itself around my mind, muting the chatter in my head until I’m as silent as the world around me. It feels like sinking into a warm bath, water the same temperature as my body. When I close my eyes, I can’t tell where my body ends and the water begins.
You’re probably wondering what any of that has to do with dogs and dojos.
I started training in martial arts right after high school—let’s just say that was a while ago—starting with karate and Zen Buddhism, then kung fu and Shaolin Ch’an Buddhism (basically Chinese Zen), and, for many years now, tai chi with its Taoist influences. Fighting isn’t the draw for me. Learning how to react in uncomfortable situations with a calm, balanced mind is.
Early observations in the snow introduced me to how it feels to have a calm, quiet mind. I could fairly easily translate that into the dojo.
Day-to-day life pressures, however? Not so much. Bad drivers, rude people, hiccupping technology, bad hair, office politics … the list of life’s mundane ways of pulling my trigger goes on and on. I couldn’t make the leap from calm martial artist to calm person.
Not until I met these two characters.
Meet Rico (left) and Roxy (right), R&R, my adopted pups. They look chill here, but I used to cry after every walk when we first became a family. They pulled me like two desperate children wrestling over a wish-bone before Christmas.
I fought back, pulled, yelled, sweated, swore, and almost gave up.
Then one day I decided, “To hell with this. I’m going for a walk and they are coming with me.”
This time, I didn’t visualize the perfect walk first. I didn’t brace myself for another round of tug-of-war. I intended to walk. They needed to follow. That’s it.
And that’s when I felt it. By focusing on walking at the expense of all other thoughts, I suddenly became aware of a silence in me, and it wasn’t even snowing.
They tested me by playing ring-around-the-human. But I kept going. Eventually, R&R fell into the same rhythm. Like sharing the silent cocoon or feeling one with the warm water, Rico and Roxy both appeared to become submerged in my silence.
Now, don’t get me wrong. This picturesque walk didn’t last the entire time. If a thought crept in, even just to mentally congratulate myself, a supersonic boom went off and whipped R&R into a frenzy.
With that cue, though, I would simply breathe and walk. And they would fall back in line.
That’s when I realized the power our pets have to help us gain an important skill. They help us develop the ability to perform from a place of calm, peace, and single-minded focus. And if we don’t, they make us pay. A lot like martial arts training.
So I’m dedicating Dog and Dojo to these two complementary practices in my life. With this blog, I’d like to share how I manage my two knucklehead dogs using what I’ve learned in martial arts. As I’ve used this approach more and more, I’ve started seeing the gifts my dogs have been trying to give me all along.