The morning started early…long before dawn… even though the night had ended late. You would think I would have done mounds of stuff by now, but not so. The rest of the morning disappeared in my son’s kitchen then I came home to a sick computer and a sick dog. The rug may have to go.
The computer was easily enough rectified; once it had done its own thing for a while and decided it could go no further, perhaps under the weight of image files it now holds, it simply sighed and gave in. Several reboots later, we came to an agreement; either it got its act together and started, or me and the sledgehammer would give it some encouragement. Miraculously bursting into life, it whirred and chittered away to itself with every semblance of grumbling while I consoled the other poorly beast.
Just like last spring at moulting time, Ani has a tiny bald patch starting on her rump. Last year there seemed nothing to be done as the bald patch spread, in spite of everything the vet and I tried. This year, however, the coat that has begun to lack its usual lustre and the poor appetite are not being allowed to get any worse. Her diet is being overhauled and supplemented; she is also, much to her disgust, banned from her habitual scratching post on the end of the sofa. And she’s back on the anti-allergy pills. These she does not object to at all as they invariably come wrapped in cheese or chicken.
She does object to being poorly though… and the guilty face gets to me every time. There are things Ani knows she must not do and, although she may be the naughtiest thing in creation much of the time, she never oversteps those golden rules learned in puppyhood. The gentle conditioning goes deep and in spite of all my hugs and reassurance, some things, like being sick on the rug, make her cower as if she has committed a cardinal sin… even though she cannot help it.
It is odd, really. Ani has never been chastised for being poorly and, in fact, a firm voice is really all she has ever known by way of ‘punishment’; which may be why she has such a mind and character of her own, of course. Yet ‘that’ tone of voice is enough to send her slinking into a corner… and even just her own interpretation of events and my probable reaction will have her hiding. She won’t come for comfort until I speak and she can gauge my response. As soon as she hears the gentle tone she is leaning on my legs wanting cuddles. The lessons learned in puppyhood stick fast, just as our own childhood conditioning remains with us.
We are barely aware of the moral values and societal rules that we learn right from the start. They never leave us, even if we choose to break them; they simply form part of the matrix of who we are as we grow. Some things will jump out at us and remind us of being taught as children… like getting dry in the bathtub rather than out of it, or eating the cabbage on the plate first. Other things we absorb almost by osmosis and we would be hard pushed to say how, where and why we learned them. Yet these too form part of our personal makeup, and not all of them are positive.
Watching Ani in that split second, while I took in the state of the rug and the cowering fluff-ball in the corner, it occurred to me that what she has learned here is not what I taught. House-training was a simple process… it is she who has extended that to include other things, like being sick, and yet she dreads my disappointment when she crosses a line that she herself has drawn.
It made me stop and wonder… how many of our reactions are based upon just such a false premise? How wide is the gap between what we are taught and what we learn from that teaching… between the intent and our understanding? Something, perhaps, ingrained since our earliest youth, yet constructed upon a simple misinterpretation of the terms? Do we even realise how many of our ‘actions’ … our choices and decisions… are merely reactions to that early, and possibly involuntary… perhaps even non-existent… early indoctrination about how we should behave?
But where do you begin to unravel the tangled skeins of imposed conditioning and reaction to experience? Perhaps all we need to do is bring such things to the surface… become aware of them… maybe then we cease to react like automatons and can begin to act. Though of course, that is not as easy as it sounds. I have to wonder about the whole affair as I cuddle my dog till her tail starts to wag in relief. Perhaps Ani wonders too… or perhaps she is content to simply be.