Sticking to life – by Nick Potter
Sometimes the universe just wants us to throw a stick
A few weeks ago I was sitting on a Gisborne beach. It was a calm summer evening. The sea breeze had ceased exhaling. Sunlight skimmed the surf. My toes explored the lingering warmth in the sand. I had just farewelled some friends so I was feeling slightly lonely.
Then a shaggy little fellow with flapping jowls and mischief in his eyes decided to break the peace.
Dogs and I often befriend one another. This one was a bit too salty for my liking though. His coat was rough and frothy from playing in the surf. He carried an air of decomposing seaweed. He was very much one with the beach.
Shaggy smiled (some might say panted) and sat before me. Eye to eye, he seemed to check me out. Then Shaggy turned to face the waves. We sat together for a while. It really was very shanti. Then something else got Shaggy’s attention. He sprung up and bounded down the beach.
The thing in Shaggy’s attention was a stick. Or more accurately—it was the idea of a stick.
He roamed the beach for a while, looking for his ideal piece of wood. Occasionally he’d pick one up between his teeth and give it an exploratory chew. Eventually he found a stick that met his dogged standards.
Shaggy brought me his Ideal Stick. He placed it at my feet. He knew what he wanted. And he knew that I knew what he wanted me to do. And so I lingered. I watched the stick patiently, playing a game of my own. I was unsure if I really wanted to go down this road with an old salty sea dog.
Then Shaggy barked. He really barked. It was part howl, part growl, and full force. He didn’t need to make his intentions any clearer.
We were playing. And I better hurry up and realise it.
So I picked up the stick and threw it. Shaggy whirled around. He ran off to retrieve it, trotting with delight. He collected his stick in his big mouth… and then ran around in circles. He looked totally mad. He dragged the stick around the sand. He buried it. He showed off how good he was at finding it again. Then he returned and placed the stick by my feet.
I paused. We faced off once again. If dogs could roll their eyes, Shaggy would have done it. Then he barked his awful bark and I picked up the damn stick and threw it. He chased it. Repeat cycle many times.
I soon gave in to Shaggy. His joy was infectious.
Looking at all the froth around his mouth, I hoped that he wasn’t infectious with anything else (I was glad that dogs don’t have rabies in New Zealand).
Shaggy and I played together for half an hour. His owner was nowhere in site. I probably looked a little mad myself as I tried to trick him with different sticks and buried his Ideal piece of wood.
Eventually we went our separate ways. He had left me with an air of joy (and a little bit of seaweed). This set the tone for the rest of my evening… and my week…and I’m still feeling joyful a month later. I’m not suggesting that Shaggy did this. But the Joy Factor is definitely riding high right now.
This encounter also reminds me of a time when I was not so joyful.
When I experienced depression many years ago, dogs were often in my dreams. Two days before I had a crash, a dog would appear in a dream. The dog would bite me. I’ve never had a bad experience with dogs in waking-life, so this really freaked me out. But I began to recognise the pattern. The ‘black dog’ of depression was making me take note.
At some point I realised that the dog attacking me in my dream was really just part of myself.
I was hurting myself. I needed to take better care of myself. And after I realised this—and made changes in my life—I had another dream about a dog. It ran towards me. I felt a rush of terror, fearing the old cycle. Then the dog stopped and licked my hand. I relaxed. I woke up, relieved. And I knew that something had totally shifted.
Playing fetch with Shaggy reminded me of how much I enjoy life now.
And I’m curious that the word “fetch” comes from the old English word “fetian”, which means to touch or grasp. Shaggy wasn’t the only one who’s good at fetching. I’ve grasped how good life can feel when we really open ourselves to different ways of being.