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Of Dolls, Dogs and Habit

By:sue Vincent
Date: Thu,11 Oct 2012
Submitter:Sue Vincent

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My dog is sulking. Not only because it is raining and she objects to rain, but because of my perceived defection.

Since we began work on the School she has accepted that the sofa is now hers alone and that Mum no longer curls up there with her on an evening. In fact, the only time Mum sits on the sofa is when it is Ani time. This is no fun as the whole point of a sofa is to invade it.

So she has taken the offensive and no longer waits for cuddles on the sofa, but is frequently found occupying the computer chair… quite often at the same time as me. She has moved her bed from the side of the sofa to beside the desk and cajoles me with a constant and varying stream of toys throughout the day.

She long ago worked out ways to amuse herself when I’m busy. When told to ‘clean up’ the toys go in the plant pot she appropriated (after eating the plant). Which was all well and good till she realised she can then throw the ball for herself in a random manner by tossing the plant pot… so the cleaning up went by the board, but she has a great game. She recently realised her bed could be used for a similar purpose… as well as any cardboard boxes she can borrow from the recycling.

She is well supplied with toys, treats and puzzles. We have long and frequently muddy rambles through wood and field daily and I talk to her all the time. Largely, it must be said, as otherwise I would be talking to myself. Nor is it good enough that she is allowed to be studio dog and sleep under the easel, or guard me while I’m in the bath (the only times she is allowed upstairs)
Her focus is tight… she wants my attention. It is an education in itself to observe the observer, and she scrutinises my every move, reading my motives from the pattern of behaviour.

She knows, for example, the difference between cheese as a treat and as a bribe. While she will come running for the treat, there is no way a whole hunk of camembert would bring her in if she has seen any of the signs that tell her I have to go out.

That combination of focus and awareness is devastating.

Am I so predictable? The patterns of behaviour we build into our day pass largely unnoticed. We fill the hours with small habits we barely see. How much of our lives are lost to the repetition of a mindless pattern? Ani sees, because she is wholly aware of me. And I see them reflected in her


Why do we do it? We waste so much of our short lives clinging to mechanical patterns we have built up instead of embracing the moment we live in. There is far more joy in rolling spontaneously on the floor with an equally daft dog than there is in watching the clock and the deadline and tapping away feverishly because one should. And that joy is infectious. When I throw habit out of the window, Ani laughs with me.

We cling to the old, familiar ways, I think, because they are known, safe and secure. We build them around us like a series of shells, like the Russian nesting dolls, with the small solid one buried deep inside, protected from anything unusual. It is a safety mechanism. The familiar is comforting, even when it is negative or damaging. We know it, we know how to react to it. Stepping away from that familiarity, crossing the boundaries of the unknown into virgin territory takes effort and courage. Our comfort zone is left behind and we have to wake up and act instead of sinking back into the cushions of conformity, of what we feel is expected of us.

Think of any moment of pure joy in your life and you will find it probably held an element of the unexpected, the unforeseen… the unpredictable. Whether in the event itself or the way you experienced it. That safety barrier of the usual comes off and reveals another layer of self within.

Like the nesting dolls, we all have shells around us, each with their own set of habits pertinent to that shell and its function. The mother, the wife, the daughter and the businesswoman may all be the same person, they look alike, but they move differently in their respective worlds and within them, they are reliable... predictable.

Yet at the centre of each of us is our own observer, the solid core of self, the inner being of which all others are but partial shadows. In most of us it is buried beneath so many layers that we do not see it very often. But we feel its eyes upon us sometimes. And when we do, we can see the layers of accumulated habit that sit between our daily lives and the real life within.
Like Ani, those inner eyes reflect sometime back at us that cannot be ignored. Like Ani, they hold the promise of joy if we have the courage to release the old and embrace the adventure of discovering the new.

So, if you will excuse me, I am going to play with my dog.
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