We have over 15 dogs in our neighborhood, easily.
In Laos, the dogs roamed free for most of the day, having negotiated their territories and boundaries, laying in potholes on our dusty roads. Occasionally they had wild pack meetings that went on for hours, mostly in the middle of the night, when their “masters” were sleeping. Their howling and growling had awoken us on many of an evening, and we often wondered how our neighbors can tolerate the noise. As a precaution, before we went to sleep, we put on a fan in our bedrooms that created white noise to deafen out the cacophony of yaps, yelps, and barks that would drift into our dreams and stir us awake.
One night I had this odd dream in which I had asked one of my counterparts to take a group of students outside to work on a writing task. My teaching counterpart said to me, “But Ms. Judy, it’s so loud out here with the dogs–do you think this is good for the kids?” To which I retorted, “No, I think it’s a great opportunity to work on their focus skills“. However, after a while, I came back outside to the group and said to her, “No, you are right. It is too loud. Please bring them in.”
This dream made me laugh. These nighttime dog pack-chats were invading my dreams.
But then I tried to imagine its purpose. What is the message here? Don’t dreams contain hidden messages.
I came to realize that these “dogs” are metaphors of the real “noise pollution” that infiltrates my mind and stymies my concentration on goals. These are the real “barking dogs” in my mind:
- Argument is war. The hate speech is hard for our bi-racial family to continue to ignore. If I challenge my family’s politics and opinion of Trump, I will start a Civil War and likely will severe our relationship, perhaps permanently.
- Change is hard. I am the sum of my habits. How can I really break “bad” habits and be the best version of myself? The challenge may be too great and require too much effort.
- Time is Money. Should I care more about money than I do? I am getting older now. Perhaps I am wasting my time and should be more ambitious, more focused on preparing for retirement.
- Ugly and fat come with age. It is impossible to defy the aging process. It is a hopeless cause. My beauty (and self-worth) fades as my waistline expands and my face gathers wrinkles.
- The Apple doesn’t fall far from the Tree. Is who my child becoming a reflection of who I am? Of who I want to be? Of who I want her to be? I wonder what are the qualities that I am imparting upon her. I want to look at her with non-judgment but it’s hard to not see the “me” in her.
So, as I reflect on these metaphors that are the narratives within my mental scape, I have a choice to either cling to these ideas, amplifying its noise, or challenging them which effectively will “silence these barking dogs”. I am reminded of this quote by Gandhi:
As I consider these metaphors that have become the background music of my life, I may not be able to change them all at once, but I can change one at a time.
I look up and notice this postcard from our meditation retreat from Plum Village:
Breath, my dear.
Just when I think there is no hope, mindfulness provides a way, an opportunity to grow from this experience.
Perhaps as I notice them, I could “name these dogs”, and in this way bring the practice of mindfulness to help me loosen their grip. I can offer self-compassion and see the suffering they cause me when I think of them. In this way, I cultivate the courage and strength to transform and tame these “dogs”.
Although there may not be any guarantee to their silence, there is a potential for quiet.