Bailey’s Story – Lessons from the Dog Beach
I took our dog Bailey to the beach today. We are fortunate to have a number of ‘off leash’ beaches only minutes from where we live and they provide a great space for our very active pup, to burn off some energy. We visit the beach most weeks and every time we go Bailey’s reaction is exactly the same – pure, unadulterated joy.
It doesn’t matter whether it is sunny and still, windy and grey or somewhere in between, once his little paws hit the sand he takes off with the speed of an Olympic athlete. He runs circles around the sand dunes, splashes in the waves and barks at the seagulls. He collects sticks, sniffs tussocks of grass, digs holes and every few minutes or so runs back to me with a face that says, ‘can you believe this place – its awesome!’
We have been visiting this beach for almost four years; we’ve probably walked this same stretch of beach close to 200 times, yet each time his response is like he is seeing it for the first time. There is not a hint of indifference, apathy or boredom. No suggestion from him that ‘I’ve seen all there is to see here, lets go somewhere new.’ He finds joy, and a sense of fun and freedom, every, single, time! I realise that life as a human, is a lot more complex and demanding than Bailey’s experience as a pampered family pet but I have learned a lot from his uncomplicated approach to our trips to the beach.
As soon as we pull up at the beach car park he starts to get excited. He can smell the sea air and he knows what’s coming. He has already decided it is going to be good and it seems that he is never disappointed! There is always a new smell to sniff, a newly formed dune to run up, a new canine friend to meet and a new, pesky seagull to chase.
The general landscape may be familiar but there is always a new detail to delight in. His approach reminds me of the power of wonder and curiosity.
I shudder to think how many times in the course of my normal day, I may have missed other treasures and delights that were right in front of me because I assumed I knew it all, had seen it all already or had somewhere more important to be!
No matter how tired or distracted I may have been when we arrive at the beach, Bailey’s energy, energises me. I’m not suggesting that I start running sand sprints but I do allow myself to be brought back into the beautiful reality that is right in front of me. As he darts in and out of the breaking waves on the shore, he draws me to walk alongside him; his passion for finding a new stick for me to throw brings my focus firmly into the present. At times I have attempted to ‘work’ via my phone while we are on these walks. I learned very quickly that it is not possible for me to successfully send a text and throw a stick to a wet, sandy dog, at the same time. I must be fully engaged in what is in front of me.
As I do that, my thoughts begin to shift from the regrets of the day and the concerns of the future to the simple pleasures of ‘the now’.
This beach that we visit so regularly encompasses a stunning piece of coastline. If you look to the north you see pristine water, rugged rock formations and an imposing headland upon which Wollongong Lighthouse stands, proudly keeping watch over it all. To the south however, it is a different story. The southern end of the beach is where the leisure coast meets the working coast. It is here that the sights, sounds and smells of heavy industry, confront you. A sprawling steel mill, a sewage outlet, and a tangled mess of rusted steel and concrete covered with graffiti defines that end of our walk. Over the years I have come to appreciate the unique beauty of both ends of this beach.
Much like the light and shadow of each day, I am reminded that without one, I would not appreciate the other.
I am not sure who looks forward to these beach walks the most now, Bailey or me? What I do know is that each time we visit the beach I return home calmer, with a deeper sense of gratitude and a gentler perspective on life. I realise that not everyone has access to a dog or a beach as easily as I do but I think that there are countless other ways we can experience the same thing. Here are a few dog free options:
- Give yourself a mini break – take a few deep breaths and as you exhale allow your whole body to relax.
- Take a stroll around the block or through a park, leave your phone behind or switch it to silent. Walk slowly and thoughtfully. Stop and look at the details of your surroundings, if it is a place you are familiar with try and find something new or different that you haven’t noticed before.
- Is someone or something at work making your frustrated? Write down three positive things about them, before you have to deal with them again.
- Feeling anxious? Start a gratitude list in your phone or journal. Write down something or someone you are grateful for every time you start feeling overwhelmed.
- Look people in the eye, smile and give them your full attention.
- Walk on the grass in bare feet.
- Have a glass of water, drink it slowly and enjoy each sip.
Life really is rather wonderful. As you embrace the power and beauty of the day ahead let me encourage you with an excerpt from one of my favourite books.
“I choose to believe that there is nothing more sacred or profound than this day. I choose to believe that there may be a thousand big moments embedded in this day, waiting to be discovered like tiny shards of gold. The big moments are the daily, tiny moments of courage and forgiveness and hope that we grab on to and extend to one another. That’s the drama of life, swirling all around us, and generally I don’t even see it, because I’m too busy waiting to become whatever it is I think I am about to become. The big moments are in every hour, every conversation, every meal, every meeting… Today is your big moment. Moments, really. The life you’ve been waiting for is happening all around you. The scene unfolding right outside your window is worth more than the most beautiful painting, and the crackers and peanut butter that you’re having for lunch on the coffee table are as profound, in their own way, as the Last Supper. This is it. This is life in all its glory, swirling and unfolding around us, disguised as pedantic, pedestrian non-events. But pull off the mask and you will find your life, waiting to be made, chosen, woven, and crafted.
Your life, right now, today, is exploding with energy and power and detail and dimension, better than the best movie you have ever seen. You and your family and your friends and your house and your dinner table and your garage have all the makings of a life of epic proportions, a story for the ages. Because they all are. Every life is. You have stories worth telling, memories worth remembering, dreams worth working toward, a body worth feeding, a soul worth tending, and beyond that, the God of the universe dwells within you, the true culmination of super and natural.
You are more than dust and bones. You are spirit and power and image of God. And you have been given today.”
Shauna Niequist, Cold Tangerines: Celebrating the Extraordinary Nature of Everyday Life.