Sometimes Life Bites Us in the Butt

Sometimes Life Bites Us in the Butt

written by: Dr. Jodie Skillicorn
by: Dr. Jodie Skillicorn
Jodie Jodie

My sweet, loving dog who has never hurt another dog or human (groundhogs and squirrels are another story, unfortunately) bit another dog on the rump today while hiking in the woods. He lurched at the dog and I slid on wet leaves losing control of the leash. It all happened quickly. I felt horribly horrible. As I apologized I heard myself saying over and over, "I don't understand, I don't understand." I take him to dog parks frequently and he gets along with all the dogs and people. It just doesn't make sense. I don't understand. For the rest of the walk I was lost in a trance, my brain desperately trying to piece a narrative together to make sense of what happened, to understand WHY. Trapped in my head and my stories, I missed the beauty of the fall colors, the sounds of the birds and the rustling leaves beneath my feet. My analyzing mind circled around with possible explanations, wondering what I could or should have done differently. Perhaps my theories were accurate, perhaps not. The point is I will never know why my dog did what he did. It simply happened. I cannot read his mind. Dwelling on it will not change the outcome. The other dog might need a couple stitches and some antibiotic ointment and mine is fine. That is it. That is the reality of this moment and no matter how long I dwell on the whys and wallow in the guilt, that reality will not change. Yet that is what our brains love to do. It makes the brain feel safer to have a simple, tidy explanation in hopes of preventing bad things from happening in the future. It is this same spiraling of the brain, this depressive rumination, that traps people in states of depression and anxiety. WIth depression the brain tends to get stuck ruminating about the what ifs and if onlys of the past, unable to let go of past wrongs and mistakes—our own and those done to us. Either way we're stuck. These negative thoughts lead to more negative thoughts and soon we're stuck in an even deeper, darker hole chasing our own tails. With anxiety the thoughts tend to spin out into the future worrying about every catastrophic possibility that may or may not ever happen. What if the dog gets an infection and dies? Can I trust my dog in the future around other dogs? What if a report is filed against my dog? These futile questions are familiar to all of us. What if that mark on my skin or that pain in my stomach is cancer and going to kill me? What if I never meet somebody and am forever alone? What if I do meet somebody and it doesn't work out? What if I never get over this depression? What if I never figure out what I want to do with my life? These what ifs are what I hear daily in my holistic psychiatric practice. I don't have answers for these questions and neither do my patients—no matter how long they talk or think about it. Medications will not answer these questions or resolve the rumination. Instead I encourage my patients to step out of the story and into their own bodies and emotions and simply notice with curiosity what is being held there while breathing into it. Behind that fear of bodily sensations might lie a terror of being out of control and a memory of a sick parent. Behind the fear of never finding a partner lies a deep, aching loneliness and perhaps a belief that one is not worthy of love and acceptance. Behind the fear of never escaping the talons of depression might lie a fear of being weak, helpless and unable to function. We humans so don't like being out of control! As we breath into our pain, rather than resisting and avoiding it, the emotions and sensations soften. Just like a child who has fallen and scraped her knee sometimes just needs a kiss and a hug, we too need to acknowledge our own pains and offer ourselves some kindness. Too often we are busy judging and blaming ourselves for falling short of our expectations. I should have held the leash more tightly. I should have climbed up the hill instead of staying on the narrow path. I should have dived for the leash and gotten him sooner. I should have. ...I should have...I should have... Not wanting to spend the rest of my day obsessing about something I cannot change, upon returning home I immediately sat on my meditation cushion and just breathed into all the stories in my head, the guilt in my chest, the fear in my gut, the tightness across my forehead and even my brain's urgent message that I don't have time to slow down and meditate—I need to get on with my day and be productive. I simply acknowledged all that was there and breathed into it, calming my nervous system and creating space. To create a larger space I added the words of the compassion meditation: "May I be held in lovingkindness. May this family and their dog be held in lovingkindness. May my dog be held in lovingkindness. May all beings everywhere be held in lovingkindness." This is the power of the breath and of meditation. It allows us to move out of our trances, out of our stories, stop biting our own butts, and move on with our day and our lives with a bit more space and clarity.

written by: Dr. Jodie Skillicorn

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