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  • Lori K Walters

Lessons from a German Shepherd

I was walking in the woods this morning, following my meandering thoughts. I came around the corner and there she was, standing very still and looking at me warily, a big German Shepherd. Erchhh.

I had decided to walk first thing this morning. It has been raining hard for days and so I took advantage of a break in the weather. I get quite meditative on these brisk walks. As far I was concerned, I was alone in the woods, saying good morning to whichever birds were up and taking in the luscious exhales of the ferns and cedars.

And then there she was.

This dog.

Having been terrified by a dog when I was a child, there are remnants of dog fear woven into my fibers that automatically surfaced. And so I stood still, also wary.

The owner yelled ahead to me that she was just a nervous puppy and there was nothing to worry about. But as I looked at her, I could see her tension and so I spoke to her softly and waited. Even when the man caught up to us, she was too afraid to pass me so I stepped off the trail and into the brush to give her more space. She skittered by and her owner thanked me as we parted ways.

What irony, I thought. A big, broad-chested German Shepherd, who conjures all sorts of images of strength and ferocity. And yet there she was, frozen with uncertainty.

I can relate.

I’ve been doing some deep inquiry and healing this past year of a deeply engrained habit I have developed over my 58 years, a habit of caution. You see, for most of my life, I was uncertain about how to present myself. As a child, I came to understand that there were aspects of me that were not wanted to be seen, things that I should keep hidden to make everyone more comfortable and keep harmony in my family. And so I developed ways of protecting the soft sensitive heart beating in my chubby, freckled body.

One of those tactics was scanning. Scanning for my mom‘s mood and wondering what would be the best way to speak that wouldn’t trigger an explosion. Scanning for what to say that wouldn’t bring on my father’s look of disappointment. Sensing the temperature of any scene and determining the acceptable response. Later as a teenager, I was scanning to figure out what would be acceptable in the cool crowd. And even now sometimes scanning for what words are most likely to keep a friendship intact or prevent my daughter from turning away.

Can you relate? Is there a part of you that is cautious about saying what you really want to say? Do you hold back, hide, accommodate or capitulate to avoid repelling others? Do you have an inner self and an acceptable self?

I did the big trail loop today and found myself coming back the way the German Shepherd had come. I stopped at that point where she first saw me and scanned for threat or kindness. I crouched down and looked out of her canine eyes for a moment and felt that same uncertainty.

I get it. I’ve been there. Lots of times.

What I have developed in myself as an adult is a greater ability to scan within and check what’s happening for me in those moments. It has taken years of practice to be able to notice when I start looking outward for the acceptable answer. My physiological clue is what I call “fuzziness”: my eyesight goes ever-so-slightly blurry, my skin tingles and a fog infiltrates my brain. It’s a response that developed over decades, a clever way my childhood body devised to turn off the internal sensitivity and boost the external radar, disconnected from the parts that need to be hidden and attentive to the subtle energy of the situation.

Of course your story and your body are different from mine. With some diligent self-observation, you will be able to notice the ways in which your body turns down its connection to your inner knowing and switches over to scanning for what might be acceptable. That’s the first step to shifting a pattern: catching yourself in the act. But rather than interrupting, just watch and gather information. When you’re asked how you feel about Indian food, when you choose a movie, when you answer your boss’ request, what actually happens physically? Does your stomach clench, your hands get hot, your throat tighten or your chin point downward? It’s all good information.

What was great about being able to notice when my switch was happening was that it gave me the opportunity to pause – at first, only for one second – pause to check for false assumptions or hasty conclusions. What’s going on? What are the real dangers? So often, I would discover that those sabotaging little voices in my head were not telling the truth. And there was great power in that.

There is also great power in the self-awareness because it gives us more choice. I paused, assessed the risks and then, in that state of presence, I made my choice to connect to my heartwood, that inner divine place where I know that it’s perfectly perfect for me to say what I need to say and behave in a way that’s true to myself.

My fellow travelers, you don’t need to scan like that anymore. You are safe and the whole world is waiting for you to shine at your full brightness. We want to hear your opinion and see your unique way of being.

There will be people who love what you say because they resonate with it deeply and there will be those who are repulsed or triggered by your words. Some will appreciate your courageous authenticity and others will wish you would just do it their way or say the thing they want to hear. No matter how much scanning we do, no matter how much we adjust our words to keep the boat steady, no matter how much we hide what’s really true for us, there will be those who don’t accept or understand us.

And there’s a cost of withholding your words, going along and/or dialling down your light. I was so disconnected from my own opinions that I was often spouting off the views of others. I immediately regretted saying what seemed acceptable but it was completely automatic. I had relationships in which how I really felt wasn’t part of the picture – until my fakery was exposed.

Additional costs were when being on alert turned into anxiety. Big costs. Through spiritual retreats and shamanic ceremonies, I felt deeply frustrated because I just wasn’t comprehending what everyone else seemed to know about being themselves. And worst of all was my sense of disgrace that I wasn’t shining the divine light I was given to shine in this world.

Yes, I’ve been there. I am well acquainted with this kind of pain and have sincere compassion for you if this is where you are. I see you and I believe in you. There’s a road ahead of you that may look steep but, trust me, it is sacred and beautiful – the emergence of You.

And so, dear ones, may we be increasingly able to notice when we’re scanning and shifting away from our honest response. Able to pause, question our assumptions and recognize our motivations. And may we choose to connect with our hearts and trust the light that is always there to guide our words.

Our true words.

With you on the journey,


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