As the politicians rave and wrangle, the rest of us continue to deal with the challenges of lockdown, personally and professionally, with our families and our work colleagues. It has been a tough time for me personally over the last 2 months as I am sure it has been for many of you, but I know that I have grown and developed in that time and am learning as I go about how to face in to the uncertainty and ambiguity that seems to permeate my life. Learning lessons is a vital ability and one of the elements that sets successful people apart from less successful people I guess – “remember that life’s greatest lessons are usually learned at the worst times from the worst mistakes!” Anon
Testing and trying times of a different kind in my house with the arrival of Ruaridi, a (now 9 ½ week old) German Wire-haired Pointer puppy. After our Irish Terrier Paddy passed away a couple of months ago I had decided to get a new puppy, a companion for Tiggy and a working partner for future forays to wood and moor, so Ruaridi it was. It seems that the world has gone mad for puppies, thousands of people across the country grabbing hold of the chance afforded by lockdown to take the plunge and get the puppy that they had always wanted or been meaning to get round to. As we remember that a puppy is for life not just for Covid I have reflected on my experiences over the last couple of weeks and I think there are some broader lessons to be learned that I thought I would share.
Appreciation and gratitude for the simple things – I think this has been a bigger and broader learning from the lockdown as a whole, you don’t know what you miss until it is taken away. A pint after walking the dog, a natter with your mates at cricket nets, or in the case of a new puppy, space, peace and quiet to do your own thing. I had forgotten (fortunately) the extreme levels of disruption that a new puppy wreaks on a household. My kitchen is transformed into a puppy creche, the house festooned with toys and cardboard boxes and the kitchen roll and antibacterial spray on permanent standby. Sleep becomes a precious commodity, when you lie awake in bed praying that he will go off to sleep, when you wake early waiting with trepidation for him to start scriking you wish and pray for more sleep. My afternoon sleep catch up (post lunch Ruaridi lockdown) has become the highlight of the day.
Start as you mean to go on – I remember when we picked up Tiggy over 3 years ago now, the last words from the breeder as we loaded her into the car was “don’t let a puppy do anything you wouldn’t want a 30Kg dog to do!” Words that resonated but I still have to work hard to ensure I follow through on, a lesson from last time I am still learning. I thought it was cute (and the girls thought just rewards) for the pup to chew my crocs – cheap, old and fun to chew; but I then came downstairs with my decent running trainers and they got the same treatment. Lesson learned, I really don’t want him chomping on my finest Church Brogues come the return of a real meeting sometime in the future 😊. Being intentional about rules, about commands, about routines and disciplines before you start is better than making it up. He has tiny (but sharp) teeth and can’t do much damage yet, he looks cute and clumsy unable to climb the stairs properly and he is lovely to cuddle when he is tired. BUT – all that will change and soon he can get upstairs, rip the sofa to bits and will be unable to settle without my presence if I don’t start as I mean to go on.
Patience is something you can work hard to develop – I wrote a blog last year about how patience is a necessity not a virtue – and this rings true again in bucket loads. However, accepting that I am not the most patient person in the world has been important to proactively try and build my patience in the face of adversity. Meditation and mindfulness have been really helpful in being able to reframe things that Ruaridi does and allow me to deal with them with more generosity and consistency. I am definitely more patient now than I was 2 weeks ago (despite the lack of sleep) because I am working harder at it, because it is a means to an end, because it is important. Having the ‘presence’ in the moment to recognise the onset of “aarrrrgggghhhhhhh” has enabled me to catch it (mostly) and take a breath, remember that this is part of the process, he is learning, it is what you signed up for Rich.
Learning to go with the flow is important – this is probably a summation of the previous three lessons I guess and has taken me the full two weeks to just about appreciate. It builds on the mindfulness and being present I mentioned above, but in essence I am learning (not cracked it yet) to worry less about the past and the future and focus more about what is happening right now. I can do nothing about the last wee he did in the sitting room, I can do nothing right now about whether he will cry in the night, I can’t guarantee that he will sleep through until 06.00 so stop worrying about things I can’t change and control. Investing emotional energy in thinking about these things means that I am diluting an already depleted resource, I am getting better at focussing instead on enjoying watching him fighting with Tiggy, amusing himself with a toy, sleeping half off his bed or rummaging in the bushes and exploring. That brings me joy, peace and gratitude, which means less stress, anxiety or pressure.
It is easy to reflect on these lessons in the moment, to recognise what we miss, the insights you build as you navigate the challenges and difficulties that you face, but how do you ensure that you start from the next rung of the ladder if you find yourself in a similar situation. ‘Learning is a change in behaviour brought about by an experience’ – I will get through the ‘puppy’ challenge, we will all get through the lockdown challenge – but the proof of whether we have learned anything is whether we would start a new period of lockdown in a different way, take different actions and focus on different behaviours to put us in a better stead. I know that the lessons I am learning from Ruaridi are no different to lessons I am learning from lockdown – only sharper, more immediate and with teeth, wee or howling! I would urge you to find some time (if you haven’t already) to reflect on how lockdown has been for you, what has been great and what could have been better. New normal is slowly emerging and the transitional ‘lockdown’ journey will soon be forgotten; it would be a real shame not to learn something from the most devastating and expensive experience of our lifetime to date.