First things first . . . an introduction to Wali, the gentle, sweet Boston Terrier who recently entered my life and my private practice. Wali is an Arabic word that invokes the divine quality of friendship, and Wali is truly a lovely friend. Animals lend an extraordinary presence to the therapy process, and while their unique gifts vary, animals are wonderful teachers.
What I have noticed most is the opening that Wali creates in the areas of boundaries and needs. Wali is a friendly dog who likes to greet clients when they arrive, allowing them to either meet his greeting or to set a boundary and let him know they would like to have space. Likewise, Wali sometimes gets overstimulated and will retreat to his bed to give himself some space. Animals invite us to get curious . . . how do we let others know when we want them to come close, and how do we let them know when we’d like to be left alone? . . . how do we feel about setting boundaries? . . . how do we feel when our boundaries are crossed?
Wali is also very good at asking for what he needs / wants (usually to be pet and snuggled). He models a form of shameless request, making his desire known and either gracefully receiving pets and snuggles, or moving onto other things (if petting / snuggling are not being offered).
And while I love these opportunities for exploring boundaries and needs, what I most appreciate about Wali is his unconditional loving presence. At the heart of all good therapy is kindness and presence, and Wali embodies these qualities. For clients who love dogs, Wali is a warm blanket across their laps, welcoming the totality of their experience. For others, he offers moments of comic relief and sweetness. I am honored to be folding him into the world of Joyful Balance, and am relishing all of the joyful balance that he naturally brings.
It’s that time of year. We sit in reflection of the year gone by. We imagine ways to shape the year to come. We shine a light on our own beings with the innocence and wide eyes of our own child selves. We make resolutions. We are resolute ~ “admirably purposeful, determined, and unwavering.” The days are waxing. The light is increasing. And in this moment everything feels so . . . hopeful. Our intentions are so very, very pure.
But what happens next month, or next week, or tomorrow, or even (as a friend of mine experienced) 11 hours later (8 of which were sleeping) ~ after defining our new selves so admirably, so purposefully, so determinedly, so unwaveringly ~ what happens when . . . *gulp* . . . we fail? How do we meet our own precious humanness? Is there shame? Anger? Disappointment? Self-aggression? Or is there possibly, even in the midst of a swirl of negativity, is there the sweet, tiny voice of compassion? Is there a whisper of our basic human goodness? A reminder that we weren’t really all that broken to begin with? A remembering that even with all of the _______ that we wish we weren’t, and evenwithout all of the _______ that we wish we were, that we are still and always inherently lovable? Is there . . . ? Maybe . . . ? And how can you tune into the light that is already in you ~ the one that requires no resolutions to shine ~ the one that your child self lived unabashedly, unwaveringly, without resolutions ~ how can you tune into that place of inner brightness and find out?
“You build inner strength through embracing the totality of your experience, both the delightful parts and the difficult parts. Embracing the totality of your experience is one definition of having loving-kindness for yourself. Loving-kindness for yourself does not mean making sure you’re feeling good all the time—trying to set up your life so that you’re comfortable every moment. Rather, it means setting up your life so that you have time for meditation and self-reflection, for kindhearted, compassionate self-honesty. In this way you become more attuned to seeing when you’re biting the hook, when you’re getting caught in the undertow of emotions, when you’re grasping and when you’re letting go. This is the way you become a true friend to yourself just as you are, with both your laziness and your bravery. There is no step more important than this.”