Walking through Central Park one morning, as I do every morning on my way to work, I went in amongst the trees – something I also do every day. I’m often in the same areas where off-leash dogs run and play, so I’m used to having dogs appear seemingly out of nowhere as they explore their very large playground.
When I first began to commute across the park, some 20 years ago now, my body had to unlearn some early programing that constantly caused me to experience a startle response when a dog would either come toward me or suddenly show up behind or near me. This response came from grammar school experiences of being chased by a neighborhood dog where I was not at all amused, as were the boys who encouraged the dog to chase me.
On this particular morning, my attention was with the trees, as it usually is when I walk in certain areas of the park, and I suddenly felt something nip at the heel of my shoe…
“Nip” isn’t quite the right word, as this something, which turned out to be a quite large golden doodle of some kind, seemingly wanted to take the back of my shoe into his or her mouth. For whatever reason, the dog let go and ran off back behind me, no doubt on to the next interesting thing to explore.
What surprised me was that my body didn’t have the age-old startle response and no automatic flash of fear. As I continued to walk along under the trees, I marveled at the healing that seems to have taken place over these years. I hadn’t realized that I somehow have unlearned the body-based fear that dogs are dangerous. My conscious mind hasn’t thought that for most of my adult life, but my body would never before agree to be relaxed in the presence of a large dog. To put a fine point on it, as I walked along on this particular morning, another quite large dog rushed toward me to push its nose onto my hand—no doubt looking for a treat. Again, my body didn’t respond in the old ways I would have expected.
I was kind of astonished at this shift in my physiology, even as I was also reminded of the power of healing that lives at the core of all of us. In Somatic Experiencing, a trauma resolution model which I teach, we constantly speak to, and draw on, the “blueprint for health” and the innate wholeness of people as we engage their healing journey. My experience with the dogs spoke to me of that fact—that we are all wired to heal and may already be healing in ways we don’t consciously recognize until we find ourselves responding in new ways to previously-activating situations.
For this week’s practice in conscious living, I invite you to notice if there are places in you where you’ve shifted old responses, habits, beliefs, fears, ways of being that you hadn’t fully realized or recognized have shifted in some healed way. There may be obvious ways that you knew you were actively working to heal, which you have consciously noticed. For this week, the process is a bit more subtle. It’s an invitation to pay attention to places where you may have changed but haven’t brought awareness of that change into your everyday consciousness.
As with all these practices, there’s really no “right” way to do this one. Rather, it’s another opportunity to bring mindful presence to how you move through your world on a day-to-day basis, and to notice the responses you have as you do so. Remember to bring along curiosity as your constant companion and to notice, and then not engage, any judgments that may arise. Allow them to float through and float on, registering the fact that you have a response that you may or may not have noticed before. Pay particular attention to how it is for you not to fight with your judgments, but rather to simply notice them. They offer information into those places in you that may still need healing, and that’s good information to have.