The Book of Hope
Mindletter post written by Dr Kitty Wheater
As hinted in the last MindLetter, Return of the 'Vid, I'm writing as a new dogmother. This black-and-white bundle is fifteen-week-old Hope. I promise not to write about her constantly - but this week, I thought I'd share what I've learned so far...
For this week's MindLetter, you may like to try this 5-minute Self-Compassion First Response practice, for difficult moments in the middle of the night - or this longer Befriending, for deeper solace and exploration.
The Book of Hope
On the first night that I have Hope, she lies in the crate behind the puppy gate and cries and whimpers into the dark. Is there anything sadder to hear than the sobs of a beautiful soft ball of lonely fur? It catches my stomach, but I speak gently to her, and eventually there’s a shift, a moment when I sense that she’s only whimpering to see if I’ll keep talking. I go quiet, and she sleeps. I lie wide awake with nerves, wondering if I will ever sleep again.
In the middle of the night, we go through it two more times. The trip out to the garden in the dark, scooping her into my arms to carry her up the stairs, into the crate, a treat, lights out. She cries, and I tell her it’s ok. But is it? In my head I run through the principles of crate training. ‘Stick it out if you can,’ advised my friend, veteran owner of two-year-old Betty the terrier. ‘The more you respond to the whimpering, the more problems you will have later on,’ admonishes the border collie book, sternly, while also telling me that I am not supposed to let the puppy get too stressed. The puppy?
It is during our third episode of sobbing, when I run out of quiet ways to tell her that I am here, and to tell myself that I can do this, that I turn to my metta practice – 'metta' being the Pali word for befriending, or lovingkindness. I lean out of my worry, and into my envisioning for this little dog. I think about how I want her to grow up happy and content, and able to soothe herself while knowing she is loved; how in the years ahead we will have long walks in forest and on beach, quiet cosy evenings in winter, warm ones in summer; how in our new life together, we are stepping into an age-old relationship between (wo)man and dog, something crafted over millennia, a deep and ancient bond; and how sometimes, she will need to be alone, and content in her aloneness.
It is up to me to trust in my hope for our companionship. I stop telling her everything’s ok. Instead I speak to her quietly in the phrases of my metta practice: ‘May you be safe and protected. May you be well and strong. May you be loved and understood.’ And, to my absolute surprise, she goes silent, and sleeps.
The second night, she whimpers a little less. It’s maybe twenty minutes, rather than thirty. I speak to her with metta phrases, and, when I feel I need it, include myself. ‘May we be safe and protected. May we be well and strong.’ On the third night, she whimpers for ninety seconds, and then we are done. That is it. Hope has learned that she is safe and well, and I have learned to trust my hope.
In our first week together we learn these things over and over again. I write the word ‘Hope’ at the beginning of a beautiful notebook, and make notes every day. ‘Met 8 people and 4 dogs.’ ‘Best put in crate when visitors arrive.’ ‘Loves feathers.’ The first time she sees heavy traffic, she turns tail and runs, and I let her, because I am trusting that next time, she won’t run so quickly. Indeed, a few days later, we are sitting happily on the grass by the main road. And she is eating a large feather, methodically, and with great relish.
I teach her to sit, down, and wait, and follow my hand for a treat, and play tug with her Kong hippo (thank you, Victoria). And she teaches me, time after time, that she is calm, and patient, and curious. That I can carry her for half an hour into town, because she cannot put all four paws on the ground until she is fully vaccinated, and that my arms will ache for the weight of her fourteen weeks, but that she will never wriggle or complain. That I can take her to the beach and introduce her to the waves, and – after discovering the joy of digging – she will snooze next to me while I sit on the sand. That a strange child can loom over her with an aggressively stroking hand before I have a chance to stop him, and she will take it. That at night we can sleep well, both of us, and be mutually delighted to see each other, even if it’s three a.m.
She teaches me that hope is about holding the line for what you deeply want, through the aches and pains and whimpers; that to hold that line truly and clearly, you need kindness, or risk becoming brittle and stuck. That the kindness must be for yourself, too, particularly when you spray high-strength extremely-chemical Vanish foam on the patch of puppy wee on the carpet, and turn round to find that she is licking it, interestedly, off her nose. Hope teaches me that hope means listening, and learning, when your instinct is to panic and force. That sometimes you are in a strange crate without your mother, and this cannot be undone; but that when others hold the hope for you, and you listen, you may unexpectedly find rest. I make the notes in the Book of Hope: ‘Met a cat tonight. Nervous but curious.’ I’ll take it.
I wish you, too, adventures with hope.
'Feather from a swan, floating on Hatchet Pond, by John Champion'