Walking the Dogs: Embracing Willingness

True confession: I don’t really enjoy walking my dogs.

They’re two male, English Whippets that joined our family as puppies whilst we were living abroad. These gorgeous brothers from the same litter are very sweet boys; a little naughty (a lot, actually) at times but terribly affectionate and loving. Being part of the Greyhound family and sight hounds, they have to be on a lead (“leash” in American) because if they saw something to chase, they’d be off. This instinct is further heightened in that there are two of them and their competitive impulse is simply to run and race. Zoom… they’re gone, fast as the wind. They’d probably come back (providing they didn’t get lost in the forest in their blind excitement and sheer joy of simply running), but having lost a dog once (he was never recovered), I’m not about to risk it. And there is also the danger of occasional cars on the road. So I walk with two leashed dogs, one on the left and one on the right.

At this point of my journey and career, I’m the ‘stay at home daddy’ for these boys. Here on the windward mountain, our daily walk depends on the weather. Usually in the early afternoon, somewhere around tea time, they come and remind that it’s time to go. As if I could forget. A ‘w-a-l-k’ (you have to spell; don’t say it aloud, they know the word) is the highlight of their day and they wait around patiently for it, staring at me with big, brown puppy dog eyes that enquire, “Is it time yet?” So I put on my walking hat and Keen outdoor sandals (and then they know for sure that it’s time), sometimes grabbing a light jacket in case of misty rain, and we head out…. both dogs on their respective lead. It’s very pleasant to be walking ‘upcountry’, enjoying the fresh mountain air, and they’re mostly well-behaved. Mostly. Sometimes, rather than their real names, they end up getting called by their Hawaiian nicknames; Pilikia (‘trouble’) and Kolohe (‘rascal’), respectively.

For the past several years, before these dear little doglets joined our family, my walks were solo time: a quiet, moving meditation and time of reflection and inspiration. Often I’d be gone for a couple of hours. Walks are different with dogs… especially youthful ones. Now my excursions on foot are more about ‘exercise’ with a couple of energetic four-leggeds as opposed to a meandering communion with the landscape and ‘more-than-human’ world… stopping to get lost in a flower, listen to the voices of wind, or observe the shapeshifting of clouds for long periods. It’s a very different cup of tea, so to speak. Their clinking metal dog tags tend to alert the small, spotted Axis deer and wildlife that I would otherwise encounter; then again, they keep the wild boar away, too.

And yet, I’m grateful to the dogs. They get me out of the house when the weather is just marginal enough that I’d be tempted to stay indoors. Of course, when it’s pouring outside and we don’t get to go, they’re so depressed that I feel badly, too… as if I’ve personally disappointed them. Mind you, being sleek dogs with very little fat or fur, they abhor walking in the rain; they don’t even like to get their feet wet (and unfortunately, we live in a temperate rain forest).

“At least it’s not freezing outside,” I tell them, “remember England?”

A couple of times, when I’ve needed a proper solo walk, River style, I’ve left them at home… but their sense of betrayal and abandonment is almost palpable.

How could you not take us with you?!?

So, exercise with ‘the boys’ it is… and it still feeds my soul in its own way. Soul cannot be separated from body (not in a human lifetime), and when we’re engaged in embodied, authentic movement such as walking in nature, the soul thrives. The bodysoul loves to move. These Whippet walks are not as mindful or meditative as my outings once were, but I’m getting exercise and keeping healthy and that, too, benefits my soul. It improves my mood and mental outlook (unless the boys have been especially rambunctious or naughty), and helps me move through any blocks in my writing. If you’ve listened to some of my earlier podcasts, you’ve heard me speak about creativity as a very embodied, ensouled process. All energy is movement, and our creativity and imagination is no different. My life is in a period of transition right now, and walking – even with dogs – helps mind and bodysoul navigate the passage rather than getting stuck, or running aground on rocky shoals of doubt and limitation. Movement is the opposite of holding, the antidote to stagnation or congealment.

In walking my boys, there’s also something for me to lean into around open-hearted willingness. As I wrote in my first SAJ entry, ‘The Blog Frontier’:

… willingness is an expansive state, one that opens us to possibility. I’m talking here about sincere willingness, not a grudging, grumbling, passive aggressive sort where we are really just dragging our feet and carrying a heavy burden. In every moment of every day, we have a choice: we can be open and expansive, or closed and restricted. One cannot be both simultaneously. Put another way, we can’t have growth and security. As evolutionary beings, our primary task is to continually say ‘yes’ to the opportunities that enlarge us, that steer us into places of development and change. Often these passages are uncomfortable and difficult, and yet it is through exceeding our limits and previously held boundaries that we expand and transform into a larger, more authentic version of ourselves.”

In the words of the soul poet, Rilke, “Ultimately it is on our vulnerability that we depend.”

There may be much in life that doesn’t look the way we wish it did, whether that be our work, financial situation, the place we live, a challenging circumstance, our relationship… or maybe all of those (hopefully not). Yet as with our psychological & somatic patterns, things rarely shift until we recognize the hidden gift and grace in them, how they have benefitted and served us, as well.

That’s where I am with walking the dogs, really. My walks aren’t what they used to be or what I wish they were, but I’m still getting exercise and movement for the bodysoul. I’m still drinking in the world outdoors through my open senses and appreciating the tranquil beauty of where I live… and I have the opportunity to take two little souls for an outing each day that brings them unbridled joy. There’s goodness in that.

And I remind myself, at least they aren’t asking to borrow the car.

Here’s hoping that you’ll discover some hidden grace in situations that challenge you on the path to becoming a Soul Artist, and that you’ll be able to open to an expansive sense of willingness… and gratitude.