21 Jul Rescue Dogs by Vidya
by Vidya, July 2022
I love dogs! I’m the sort of person who crosses the road when I see one on the other side.
I’m the weird lady who will approach a stranger to ask them if I can make friends with their dog. I may not remember your name, but I’ll remember every detail you tell me about your four-legged friend.
For me, dogs are divine, and they bring me immense joy. Whenever I think of them my heart expands and I feel full of love. But more than that, I am in some way identified with dogs. They are loyal, protective and loving – characteristics that I very much value. And if I were to be an animal, I would definitely be a dog.
But I have realised that I wouldn’t be just any dog, I would be a rescue dog! And so I have been contemplating my life as a rescue dog who has been rehomed at The Ashram. The more I think about it the more parallels I find.
First of all, rescue dogs are unique; we’re not like other dogs. When you decide to adopt a rescue dog, you never really know what you are going to get. They have a history, past trauma or heart ache, and they require that little bit more patience and understanding when you bring them home.
When I arrived at my new home at the ashram, I came with all the baggage of my previous life. I wasn’t trusting of others and was always sure to keep my distance, I didn’t like the fact that I had feelings and would often refuse to admit that they existed. When I felt hurt or rejected, I would snap or lash out in anger, much like a dog who was trying to protect itself! On the inside, I was pretty sure that I was inherently unlovable and it was just a matter of time before everyone else figured that out too.
When you introduce a dog to their new home one of the first things you do is introduce them to your home rules. The boundaries offer the dog security and let them feel safe so that they can grow in confidence.
For me this is like the ashram and its daily schedule. When I first moved in this was particularly important for me, but even now, it remains fundamental as it disciplines me to have a structured yogic practice. The daily schedule is the fence around my yard to keep me safe and make sure I don’t stray too far.
Of course, a dog also needs regular walks and activities. This exercise prevents them from becoming bored and destructive. Where a dog might bark incessantly or dig up the garden, I have been more prone to digging up old memories that make me feel bad about myself and turning on myself or others. The exercise Guruji gave me was the mantra. Guruji says that the mantra pushes unwanted thoughts away and soothes negative emotion. He told me that when I feel myself becoming destructive, I should repeat the mantra to engage my mind in something productive and connect me with the divine.
Another thing dogs need is obedience training. This is particularly important for rescue dogs who are more prone to things like anxiety or even aggression. Training helps them learn to become comfortable and navigate the world around them.
I too required training in how to navigate my world – particularly my inner world which to me seemed unpredictable, chaotic and unable to be controlled. Here, Guruji taught me Shiva Process. I learned the rules of my inner world. I learned how to watch my feelings, how to feel my feelings and also how to uplift my feelings. I discovered through skillful use of the Shiva Process that I like my inner world. It became a nurturing place to be and an access point to my inner Self.
And finally, the most important factor in the recovery of a rescue dog is the development of trust through unconditional love and acceptance. Here Guruji and Devi Ma are the ideal rehabilitators. They have been able to show me something that I never would have believed was inside me. They have retrained me to see divinity in myself and in others.
When I am at my best, they encourage me. When I am at my worst, they remain loving, kind and reassuring. Their patience with me is unending. They love me in the moments that I feel most unlovable, and they remind me who I really am.
And as it turns out, I am no longer a rescue dog that needs rehoming: I am a good girl, I am home, I am Shiva.
Vidya on retreat with Swami Shankarananda in Ganeshpuri, India.