“Pay attention to the intricate patterns of your existence that you take for granted.”
(This blog inspired by the every day experiences of life while staying safe at home without horses during a pandemic and Pacific NW wildfires )
Every morning it’s the same drill with our two little dogs. First it starts with Livvy, who sleeps on the floor in her own bed, arising at 6 am with whimpers that repeat like bursts of beeping coming from my phone alarm. Only she doesn’t have a “snooze” button and persists until I get up, let her outside and head back to bed. Benji sleeps with us and restrains himself until much later in the morning when he jumps off the bed and races down the hall to the front door. If my husband is awake and sitting in the living room, I can yell to him to let the dog out. If I get up with Benji and head to the living room, chances are I’ll see my husband in his recliner looking at his phone-checking email, Craigslist and the Washington Post, a 16 ounce mug of coffee on his side table. I make a quick trip to the bathroom, take my morning thyroid med and decide whether I’ll have oatmeal or dry cereal for breakfast. I check my phone for texts, emails and take a quick glance through Facebook. It’s the same routine every morning.
REPEATED RESPONSES START THE PATTERN
We need those patterns and habits. The consistency gives us a sense of safety and trust in what we can depend on. So, if I know that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, then I’ll feel off kilter when there is suddenly an orange ball peeking out of a gray, yellow haze that lasts all day. Regular patterns in our life tell us what to expect and allow us to make choices automatically without stress or strain. For better or worse they show up every day.
There is one negative pattern that as much as I work to change it, has recently reared its ugly head. It starts with a difficult emotion-guilt for instance. Guilt about creating discomfort and distress in the same little dog that wakes me up every morning.
To help Livvy with chronic allergies, I had been giving her an antihistamine once, then twice a day. But the dose was too much and she developed diarrhea. I recognized the guilt only after I had begun to get angry with my hubby for questioning my handling of the condition.
He wanted to give me solutions to the problem of what to feed a dog with an upset digestive system, and I wanted to tell him how bad I felt about making her sick but couldn’t express it. His focus was on taking action, solving a problem, putting things back the way they were. I can depend on him to be there when I need him to build and fix, maintain, manage and protect the daily structure of our home and life. I love that about him. What I needed in that moment, though was empathy and soothing words like, “You were just trying to help her. You didn’t mean to make her sick. I know how much you love that dog.”
OUR PATTERNS TOGETHER
Our occasional negative pattern as a couple is: I want to make meaning of a difficult emotion and he sees a problem that needs a solution. I want a listening, caring, empathetic ear and he wants the difficult moment to be resolved. He wants to hear how things are working and he has faith that if you stick with what is known about the situation, you will come to a rational conclusion. Pushed to respond when I challenge him, he may raise his voice and tighten his expression, easily intimidating me. My pattern in the past has been to avoid difficult emotions-do busywork, organize something or withdraw-play games, binge watch TV. When I felt unsure with the difficult emotion arising about the dog, I went to my default response-stay logical, fight back and then leave, sullen and withdrawn.
Once I recognized my outdated pattern, like a mouse in a maze who just ran into another wall, I stopped and realized I was going in the wrong direction. I headed back into vulnerable territory and admitted I was feeling bad and wanted him to understand those feelings. I didn’t need a solution, I needed a shoulder to cry on, another heart to share the burden of distress I felt in harming my little dog.
REVISE THE PATTERNS
Pay attention to patterns in your life and you will discover where you have created moments that work for you and moments that don’t. Be careful, as the negative patterns may turn into a lifetime of automatic responses. And remember, you always have a choice. As soon as I recognized how quiet the house became after our recent conversation about the dog, I had to do something. It’s not like it was the first time in 33 years that it had happened. There WAS a pattern. I had to be brave enough to recognize it and make a change in my response, to speak up, share my feelings and allow him to share his. He trusts me and I trust him because we know our pattern. Under all the defensiveness and default behaviors are two people who want the best for each other. We need to stay vigilant though-watch for the negative patterns and return to the warmth of honest, consistent communication and connection.
Even when the haze and smoke cover the sky, the sun is still there and with patience, it will return to brighten my bedroom, telling me to wake up and take Livvy and Benji out to start another beautiful day.
What repeated responses do you recognize in your life that have created a negative pattern? How long have you allowed the negative pattern to determine the course of your relationships or the outcome of daily experiences even though they don’t work for you? What will be your NEW response that works to bring communication, understanding and connection to your life?
HORSE WISDOM: Horses desire safety and comfort in their daily life and develop patterns that allow them to feel secure and connected to their herd, the environment and the natural world.
FOLLOWUP: the sky did clear with a little Pacific NW rain and the horses and I now welcome you to join us for another one on one of Life Lessons with Horses. Or you can bring your child to one of our youth programs’ Friday classes.