Happy dog, happy heart

I find myself writing this piece today because it was 5 years ago on this day that my dog, Oscar (main photo), passed away from bone cancer at the age of just over 2. He came into my life two days before I started writing my book about self love / self esteem, ‘I Heart Me’, and he passed away two days before I submitted the final manuscript to my publisher (Hay House). He was in my life for the exact duration I was working on the book. It helped me deal with the loss to believe that he came into my life to help me.

One of the things he inspired me to do was research some of the beneficial effects of animals in our lives. It turns out that dogs are good for the heart.

In a study of 369 patients who’d had a heart attack, for example, the chances of them having another heart attack within a year was 400% less if they had a dog. While we might logically assume that this figure is entirely due to the exercise of taking a dog for a walk, research suggests that exercise is only part of it. A significant contributing factor is the quality of relationship a person has with their dog.

Research published in ‘Science’, found that when dog owners interacted warmly with their dogs for 30 minutes, for example, oxytocin levels increased by 300% in the humans (and by 130% in the dog). Yes, the dog benefits too. Key is that these numbers only apply to people with good human-dog relationships. There is much less change in oxytocin levels when relationships are not close.

What’s the importance of oxytocin? Well, as well as being a reproductive hormone, it has many other roles in the body. In the brain, it aids bonding and trusting behaviour. When we eat food, it helps digestion by improving gastric motility. It helps wound repair by aiding capillary growth and working with growth factors. But it plays a huge role in the cardiovascular system. It is a cardioprotective hormone – it protects the cardiovascular system. It does this in two main ways, first by reducing blood pressure and second by clearing blood vessels of inflammation and oxidative stress (free radicals).

We find the same kind of effect in human relationships too. People with better quality relationships tends to have healthier cardiovascular systems.

I call oxytocin ‘the kindness hormone’ and have done in my books on kindness (Why Kindness is Good for You, The Five Side Effects of Kindness’ and ‘The Little Book of Kindness (my illustrated book)’), because it is associated with feelings that can be brought on by kindness.

Closeness produces oxytocin, hugs produce it, love produces it, friendship produces it, affection, compassion, gentleness too. It is certainly associated with behaviours of the heart. It’s nice that Nature rewards these heart behaviours with a healthier heart. It’s as if Nature is saying, ‘Yes! More of this please’. Just as we train a dog by offering rewards for certain behaviour, perhaps Nature is training us humans by rewarding our good behaviours.

Dogs don’t ask for much. Other than food, they really just ask that you love them. That makes a happy dog. The emotional reward you get is some happiness. The physical reward is a boost to your cardiovascular system. Happy dog, happy heart!

Of course, the same also applies to other animals we bond with, like cats, rabbits, horses. Indeed, a study of rabbits indeed found that those shown more affection had healthier hearts. All animals have an oxytocin system. Oxytocin is so important to us, and animals, that the oxytocin gene is one of the oldest genes we have, at around 500 million years old. That it’s with us after all this time tells us how important it is for health – ours and that of animals.

It’s the love and kindness that we show each other and to animals that matters.

Be kind. Show compassion and affection. Be gentle. With each other and with animals.

Some things in life are really quite simple.

6 fascinating facts about the love hormone… and what that means for you

friends

I’ve written quite a lot about oxytocin, which also goes by the name of ‘love hormone’, ‘cuddle chemical’, ‘molecule of kindness’, or any other affectionate term that implies something about bonding and connecting.

If you ever wondered about those names, it’s because we produce oxytocin when we’re feeling love or connection (with a human, animal, tree, spiritual diety) and also when we hug.

So here’s a little summary of some of the healthy things that happen in our bodies when we produce oxytocin.

1) It makes people seem more attractive

One study gave people a dose of oxytocin and then showed them photographs of men and women, asking them to rate their attractiveness. A different group were given saline instead of oxytocin, as a control. The oxytocin group gave the men and women higher attractiveness ratings than did those who got the saline.

2) It makes us more generous

A study in the field of ‘neuroeconomics’ – where scientists study the brain while people make economic decisions – found that when people were given a squirt of oxytocin before they made an economic decision, where they had to decide on how they were going to share a sum of money, they were around 80% more generous than others who received a saline placebo.

3) It makes us more trusting

In an economics game known as the ‘Trust Game’, participants given a squirt of oxytocin were found to be significantly more trusting than those given saline. Of those in the saline group, 21% showed the maximal trust level, yet 45% of those who received oxytocin showed the maximal trust level.

4) It improves digestion

A little-known fact is that oxytocin and oxytocin receptors are found all throughout the GI tract. It plays an important role in the digestion of food (gastric motility and gastric emptyping). Research shows that in the absence of adequate levels of oxytocin, the whole digestive process slows down (known as gastric dysmotility).

In fact, some children with recurring tummy trouble or inflammatory bowel disease have been found to have low levels of oxytocin in their bloodstream. Oxytocin has as even been linked with IBS.

You may have heard of the old wisdom that you shouldn’t eat if you’ve just had a fight with a loved one. This is why. When we have a conflict, we reduce our levels of oxytocin, thereby making digestion a little more problematic.

Maybe if you want to improve your digestion, why not enjoy a meal with family or friends, or at least give someone a heartfelt hug before you start eating and again immediately afterwards.

5) It speeds up wound healing

Oxytocin also helps wound healing. It plays a key role in ‘angiogenesis’, which is the growth of blood vessels or re-growth of them after an injury.

Research shows that wounds take longer to heal when people are under stress or amid an emotional conflict, which is associated with lower oxytocin levels. In one study of couples, physical wounds of those who showed the most conflict behaviour healed 40% slower than wounds in those who weren’t in conflict. Other studies show that skin wounds heal even faster when we enjoy positive social interaction, which are times when we produce more oxytocin.

6) It’s good for the heart

It’s also very good for the heart. Oxytocin is a cardioprotective hormone, in that it protects the cardiovascular system. Oxytocin dilates the blood vessels, thereby lowering blood pressure, and also helps sweep free radicals and inflammation out of the arteries. FYI, free radicals and inflammation can cause cardiovascular disease.

How to produce oxytocin

We produce oxytocin every day. It flows when you show empathy or compassion, when you are kind or genuinely pleasant, when you show affection, when you hug. Love is not the only thing we make in the intimate act. We also make oxytocin.

I find it amazing that this simple hormone, that we generate through really any heart-centred display of gentleness or affection, produces all of the above effects.

Animals, and especially dogs, help us produce it too. Research shows that when we play with dogs, oxytocin levels shoot up in both the human and the dog.

This is probably why studies show that having a pet hugely benefits the heart. In one study, in patients who had spent time in a cardiac unit, after discharge, the chances of survival in those who had a pet was 400% higher. In fact, among many ways to improve heart health, Dr Mimi Guarneri, founder of the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine and author of the book, ‘The Heart Speaks’, recommends having a dog.

Those of you who have been following some of my blogs will know that my beloved dog, Oscar, passed away at 2 years of age just 5 months ago. I enjoyed a very strong bond with Oscar. Before he arrived in my life, I never would have thought we could actually fall in love with animals, but Oscar’s presence in my life changed that.

I love the fact that dogs, and in fact all animals that we bond with, help us produce oxytocin and we, in turn, help them produce it. There’s something beautiful in this, in how we need each other, and in that the bond we create actually moulds our biology. It reminds me of why we need to see all humans and all animals as our family. It also adds a wee bit of fuel to my guiding principle in life: whatever you do, do it with kindness.

 

Footnotes:

The links above are references for the source scientific papers or articles or books where a study was cited. All references and full explanations, as well as references to many more studies, can be found in my book, ‘Why Kindness is Good for You’, which shares hundreds of pieces of research showing how kindness, empathy, compassion, and love are healthy for us, as well sharing some inspirational short stories of kindness.

Can we see dead people?

can you see the face of a dog?
can you see the face of a dog?

How long would the human species last if we could all see and converse with deceased loved ones?

And let’s set aside for now whether it is even a valid question, whether such a thing is at all possible, or even whether life could possibly exist after ‘death’. Allow me to have a play with a few ideas for now and see where the question takes us.

It’s a question I asked myself when I was thinking about how some people have reportedly witnessed deceased loved ones appear.

When she was unwell a number of years ago, my Mum saw her mother and father appear beside her on two separate evenings. She was bedridden after having suffered a nervous breakdown. Her Mum, my Gran, had passed away two years earlier and showed up as solid as any human person. The following night, her Dad, my Papa, appeared more as a photographic negative. He had only been deceased for around a year. Papa told my mum not to worry, that everything was going to be ok. His words gave her hope and that hope carried her into wellness again.

My Mum never told anyone for years, lest they would think she had ‘lost her marbles’. It’s not the kind of thing anyone she knew had ever discussed. She only told me when I was an adult, when she knew that I had become interested in the subject. Over a cup of tea, I remember us wondering why Granny appeared solid yet Papa was more ethereal. We wondered if Granny was solid because she’d been gone longer, maybe she’d learned more and was consequently more skilled in making herself appear.

We will likely never have a scientific proof (or disproof) of the existence of life after death but I have gathered a few of my own thoughts over the years. One of them derives from asking a version of the question I posed at the start of this blog, ‘How long would the human species have lasted if our ancient ancestors could see and converse with deceased loved ones’? The short answer is ‘Not very long!’

The fear of death is one of the reasons why we live so long. It underlies the survival instinct that is much more than just an emotional fight to survive, but something that is wired so deep into the body that most people feel its effects almost every day as the stress response.

If early humans, say a few million years ago, routinely witnessed deceased loved ones appearing to them, it would take away much of their fear of death. Many would be more cavalier about their lives, knowing that death is not the end, that we’re still very much alive and even able to come back and hang with loved ones. Some might even crave death if they learned that life goes on and might even be easier on the ‘other side’, especially if their deceased loved ones seemed wiser or even smiled a lot.

Much of our fear of death comes from the fear that it is the end, that our existence is over. That’s it. Nada. Take away that fear and they’d be less cautious, more willing to put themselves in the way of danger, and therefore more likely to have a shorter life.

Thus, their genes would gradually be lost from the gene pool, including the genes that allowed them to perceive the deceased. For now, I’m going to call this perception, ‘Spirit Vision’, for the sake of not repeating ‘deceased loved ones’. Like all genes, genes that allowed our ancestors to have Spirit Vision would come in all shapes and sizes (known as polymorphs or variants). Some people would have clearer Spirit Vision than others, just as some people are naturally more altruistic than others (see my blog, ‘Fifty Shades of Pink’).

Those with the genes that gave them the clearest vision would be the ones less fearful of death and thus more likely, as a consequence, to have shorter lives than those with less clear vision. And so genes for clear Spirit Vision would gradually be lost from the gene pool, over evolutionary timescales of millions of years, yielding humans today who are more fearful of death and more likely to do whatever it takes to save their skin.

But, of course, the genes would not be entirely lost from the gene pool. Evolution doesn’t quite work that way. There will still be some of those ancient gene variants spread throughout the human race today. Thus, there would be people today whose genetics, and thus biology and brain chemistry that arises from their genetics, allows them to see deceased people at times.

This is not an endorsement of all psychics and mediums of course. I don’t know them all. Based on my reasoning, I suspect some really do see deceased people and perhaps others don’t. I don’t have any personal experience in this area, but I do have a couple of friends who do and I have no reason to doubt their testimony.

And when I say deceased people, I am understating their reality quite a bit, if they have a reality, that is. If their consciousness (being, essence, spirit) is no longer wedded to the physical form, what form would it exist in? Without reiterating what I’ve written in the occasional blog where I’ve touched upon this subject (see, ‘The Invisible Landscape‘ and ‘my visit from the other side’), it would be quite literally infinite. And thus the form we would ‘see’ would be based on what we’d expect to see, like the Spirit Vision version of the placebo effect, I suppose. And I presume they would also want to show us a form that we would most recognise.

Before I finish this blog, I want to offer that this is by no means a real scientific investigation into the reality of life after death, evolution, or genetics. I merely wanted to offer some of my personal thoughts on the subject.

Some might say that if a person did see a vision of a deceased loved one that it would merely be an illusion created by their brain chemistry. But following my reasoning, their genes could have created a brain chemistry that allows them to perceive what is really there?

I must confess that part of my motivation to write this piece is because I have given it a lot of thought since Oscar (my dog) passed away in November last year. I want to believe that he still exists in some form and that he is happy, that maybe even he’s looking out for me. If you look again at the image above, can you see the face of a dog with a stick in his mouth?

I was taking a video of the solar eclipse that happened over the UK on Friday 20th March and what seemed like the face of a dog (Oscar?) appeared for around 10 seconds of the 23 second clip. The photo above is a screenshot of the video.

I think in some ways it brings me comfort to believe that Oscar is still here and that I can speak with him in my prayers. If there are any leaps of faith or wild assumptions in my blog then that’s probably the reason. But, for the record, I do believe that we continue to exist after we pass away.

My Perfect Weekend

David and Oscar
Me with Oscar

I was chatting with the director of PR at my publishers (Hay House) recently and she asked me about how I balanced work and home. It led to a conversation about what I considered a perfect weekend.

I told her that I’d describe a recent one as a ‘best of both worlds’ weekend.

I was up at 5am on the Saturday morning. OK, maybe that isn’t most people’s idea of perfect but I do love early mornings. I get up most mornings around 5.30am and write for 2 hours before Oscar, my 20-month-old Labrador, lets it be known that it’s his morning walk time.

On that Saturday, I was driving to Newcastle to run a full day workshop on ‘How Your Mind Can Heal Your Body’. It’s part of a UK-wide tour I’m doing. It was only a 3-hour drive and I enjoyed some coffee on the way.

I love teaching the subject. Despite probably teaching the same thing a good few hundred times, I never tire of it. I still get excited as I passionately explain the same concepts. I love the look on people’s faces as they just ‘get’ it – how much their mind is affecting their body all the time and how to harness it for health and healing. Quite often, people come on the workshops who are sick and I love the hope and sense of personal empowerment they leave with.

A lady on the workshop shared how, after reading my book, she’d used visualization to make a remarkable recovery from cancer. It’s these kinds of things, I think, that make it such a rewarding thing for me and reminds me why I do what I do.

I got home around 8pm on Saturday night to a welcome from Oscar that lasted about a quarter of an hour. He gets so excited that he needs his comfort blanket in his mouth to contain it. He been like that since he was a puppy. I so remember the days when he was a tiny ‘Andrex’ puppy.

It always makes me smile, those commercials. We see the cute little puppies playing with the toilet rolls. What we don’t see is when the camera goes off. They’re chewing the camera cables and ripping up the carpet. Ah, the fond memories …

Elizabeth, my partner, had some food set out for my arrival. I love crusty bread with olive oil to dip it in. So does Oscar, incidentally. He’ll drop anything – even a raw meaty bone – for the promise of that, or some butter. We enjoyed it with a refreshing glass of prosecco before having dinner. I was in heaven. I actually love the contrast of a full-on day of teaching, plus a long drive home, followed by a relaxing meal and some wine.

Next morning we took Oscar on a 4-mile walk in the countryside where we live. It was a beautiful day. I love blue skies. We live in the country so it’s especially beautiful when the sun is out. Oscar got to swim, which he loves. We live close to the river. His favourite place is a little beach area. He runs ahead of us when he recognises where he his and stands staring at us as we approach, waiting eagerly for us to throw a tennis ball in the water for him to retrieve.

He would have us doing that all day long. He swims out, brings it back, and drops it any our feet, looking up with excitement and wagging his tail for it to be thrown back out again.

I feel so happy on these walks. Oscar has been great for my health. I walk around 20 miles a week with him and I’m about 8 pounds lighter than I was before he came into our lives. Dogs are also great for the heart. Research has shown that interacting with a dog massively elevates levels of the hormone, oxytocin, which is a cardiovascular hormone (among it’s roles, including childbirth and breastfeeding) in both humans and dogs. It protects the heart from lifestyle damage.

The rest of the day was relaxing and just what I needed after a busy past week. My mum popped over in the afternoon. She loves to help with our very large garden. She also enjoys coffee from our coffee machine so we drink plenty of that. She received a long welcome from Oscar too.

So that’s why I called that weekend a ‘best of both worlds’ weekend. I got to enjoy two contrasting worlds, both of which I love. Teaching and having family time are what I thrive on.

What about you? What’s your idea of a perfect weekend?

He’s not ‘the dog’, he’s family

Oscar putting his paw on my legOscar is a Labrador. He came into our lives when he was just an 8-week-old puppy, although Elizabeth and I had visited him regularly since he was 2 weeks old. We instantly fell in love with him and made the 400-mile round-trip drive to visit him almost every week until we were able to bring him home. He is now 19 months old.

Prior to Oscar, I had often heard people refer to a dog as ‘the dog’. I can’t think of Oscar as ‘the dog’. He’s family.

I’ve had this conversation with the parents of some of Oscar’s friends. They’re very much the same. I think it has to do with the depth of bonds we form with animals. I know other people have the same kinds of bonds with cats, horses, and other animals.

Oscar has completely changed my life. We’ve formed a bond of the kind that I never knew existed, only because it’s not something I’ve had the experience of before.

He loves to play. I play with him every day – a lot – and I laugh out loud at his puppy antics. Someone told me that Labradors are still very much puppies until they are 3 years old. I wonder if that also means he will still steal clothes from the clothes horse, logs from the side of the fireplace, and tissues out of the bin, until he’s 3 as well.

He’s also very affectionate. He likes to come up to us and have his head, face, or neck rubbed, and then usually moves into a tummy-tickle position. When we stop, he looks up as if to say, ‘Hey, why are you stopping’. He also has a bit of a habit of sticking his wet nose in my eye socket. I think it’s just one of the ways he shows affection.

He gets nervous from time to time and I feel such empathy for him. Prior to Oscar I never really thought of animals having personalities. I knew they did, and I’d heard people talk about animals in that way, but it’s one of those things you don’t ever think about until you’re in the situation yourself. Oscar’s personality makes him all the more human to me.

I was quite a nervous child. I got nervous going new places, mostly in case I couldn’t get home again. I was also terrified of lifts. I had claustrophobia. I was 18 years old before I got over that fear.

Oscar gets nervous going into new places too. I feel I can relate to him. He also won’t go up a flight of stairs indoors. I think it’s the fear of not being able to get back down, even though he loves running up and down stairs outside. We first saw these kinds of fears when he was a young puppy. When we got him ready for his first walk, it took us about 15 minutes to coax him out of the house with lots of tasty treats because he was so afraid to cross the threshold of the front door and go down the single step to the front path.

He’s still like that now, not with our front door, but at other peoples’ houses. He hesitates and crouches low going over the threshold of houses he’s not been in yet. It took him three attempts on three different days to go into my mum and dad’s house for the first time.

My mum cuts my hair for me. She’s done it since I was a child. One day we brought Oscar to Mum and Dads’ and he wouldn’t enter the house. Elizabeth had to play with him in the back garden while my Mum cut my hair in the kitchen. It just shows part of his personally to us. As humans, we all have our ‘things’ – the fears, and loves, that make us who we are. I can empathise with Oscar, and that, I suppose, makes the connection stronger.

One of the things that causes me to smile every day is when he decides it’s play time. He looks to me as his playmate. I wanted to be the pack leader but I guess dogs choose for themselves who is assigned to which role. He does follow me around though, everywhere. Whenever I get up and move to another room, he gets up and follows me.

He frequently brings a ball or other toy to me. He stares right at me with the item in his mouth and does a little upwards nod as if to say, ‘OK Dad. Come get the ball’. If I don’t look at him, I hear a thud as he drops the toy. It’s like he knows the sound will get my attention. Sometimes, when I’m working on my laptop in the lounge, he jumps up on the sofa and profusely licks my face. Even when I have been busy writing, I can only laugh.

For the whole time Oscar has been with us, I’ve been writing a book about self-love (it’s almost finished now). I sometimes wonder if he was always supposed to come into my life at this time as I’ve grown so much as a person in that arena and a lot of that has been due to Oscar. I feel I’ve learned much more about myself, I’ve gained confidence, which is an important part of self-love, and I’ve stretched myself in new ways.

It’s all these things and many, many more that generate a bond of the kind that I hadn’t imaged before Oscar arrived in our lives. I suspect that, if you have a dog or other animal in your life, that you will be able to relate to this.

I just couldn’t refer to Oscar as ‘the dog’. It feels disrespectful, like he’s second rate or something. He’s family.

5 More Things I’ve learned from my Dog

Oscar 18 months oldOscar is 18 months old today. We’ve had him since he was 8 weeks old and he’s completely changed our lives. Dogs have a habit of doing that. I have learned so much from him in just that short time, some of which I’ve written about in previous blogs. I feel like I’m always learning so here are some of my most recent insights:

1) I can be a child any time I want

Oscar & I walked by the river this morning, close to where we live. The level was higher on account of recent rain, such that the path we often take along the river was flooded. So we had to climb up a steep bank and through some trees to get to a field.

As I clambered up the bank, getting filthy from the mud, holding onto tree branches to pull myself up, a loud ‘Yippeeeee’ burst out of me. I felt like a child again. I used to have adventures like that all the time as a child. I could have stayed there all morning. What’s the rush, I thought? I then actually went back down a bit and chose the steepest part of the bank, just so that I’d need to climb a tree to get back up again. It was so much fun.

I was reminded that we can play like children any time we want. We just need to find a tree, or a ball, or a skipping rope or hula hoop. As adults, we have this idea that we have to always behave like adults. Who said we need to? I think it would do us all some good if we let our inner child have a play from time to time.

It set my up for the day. I am feeling great right now as I type this. 🙂

2) It’s important to listen to my body

If Oscar goes on a long walk or has a lot of play time with his friends, he comes in and slumps on the floor and sleeps. He just knows what his body needs and acts on it.

Even when I feel really tired, I have had a habit of continuing to work because I have things I need to finish. But what I’m doing is putting my work before my health instead of the other way around. If we don’t have our health then we can’t work. It’s as simple as that.

Oscar reminds me to listen to my body more. If I feel tired I can sleep, hungry I can eat, light-hearted I can play. If I don’t feel hungry, I don’t need to eat (that’s never the case with Oscar). It doesn’t mean we have to just down tools every time we’re tired, but it wouldn’t do us any harm just to pay a little more attention to the needs of our bodies.

3) It’s important to take regular breaks (and make them fun if I can)

Oscar broke my laptop screen a few weeks ago. The Apple Store repaired it for me for free (Go Genius Bar!) so no harm done. If he’s been sleeping and then wakes up, and I happen to be using my laptop on the sofa (we have a lovely log fire so I prefer the living room to the office during the winter), he jumps up on the sofa and pushes my laptop out of the way, while his tail ferociously slaps me on the side of the head as he wags it with excitement. I think it’s his way of saying “You can’t choose that silvery thing over me.

I always end up bursting out laughing as I stretch my laptop out with my hand so it doesn’t drop on the floor (failed that one time), while he then licks my face as I laugh.

It’s funny, but when Oscar wants to play, even if I’ve been feeling under pressure with my workload, the stress disappears in an instant. I stop what I’m doing and we play with his ball, ring, or one of his other toys; or we just have a play-wrestle.

It reminds me that we have a capacity to make ourselves smile at any time. We just don’t recognize how important it is or we’d do it a lot more.

4) Walking is very good exercise

Before we got Oscar, 16 months ago, I used to go to the gym 3 or 4 times a week and jog at least once a week. I convinced myself that it was the only way to stay fit. Now I don’t go to the gym nearly so much, yet I’m about 8 pounds lighter.

I hadn’t thought about it until I worked it out, but I walk around 20 miles a week on average. And it’s the consistency that matters. Many people like to walk but are not consistent enough to feel the real benefits. I’ve been like that in the past, full of good intentions but only keeping up the practice sporadically.

Having Oscar forces me to be consistent … like every day. The result has been weight loss and a healthier cardiovascular system to boot.

And another thing: I thought that by not running as much I’d have lost fitness. That was until I took part in a charity 5k and ran it in not much over 20 minutes, having not been out for a jog in several months. Walking consistently really is great exercise.

5) Love needs to be unconditional

I think we’ve all heard it somewhere. We’ve read it, heard it at a talk, or maybe we’ve seen it in a quote, or even one of our friends proclaimed it in a conversation. But have you ever really thought about what it means? Or witnessed it in action?

I’m not so sure I’d ever really thought about it until Oscar arrived. Dogs have this knack of showing you unconditional love – love without anything attached to it … not “I’ll love you if you take me for a walk” or “I love you because you feed me” or “I’ll stop loving you if you do that.” It’s just, well, “I love you” … and that’s it. There’s nothing attached. It’s just pure, simple, complete love. And it feels fantastic. It really gets you thinking.

There’s a sense of freedom in it that makes me love him even more. I don’t have to love him back, which allows the natural bond to form unimpeded with conditions. That’s the thing with unconditional love. When there’s nothing riding on it, the love is unimpeded and is super strong.

 

Here are some of my previous blogs about my experiences with Oscar:

4 Reasons Why Dogs are Good for Your Health

5 Lessons I Learned from my Dog

How My Dog Being Attacked Reminded me to Live in the Moment

How Dogs are Good for Your heart

A Lucky Escape – Premonition, Guidance, or Both?

An Intuitive Search for my Lost Dog

An intuitive search for my lost dog

Oscar in new garden
Oscar

On Sunday last week, I was about to start teaching the final day of a 3-day ‘I Heart Me: The Science of Self-Love’ workshop. I was a little early so I had just popped into a coffee shop and sat down to enjoy a warm mug before walking to the venue.

The workshop was being held in Bridge of Allan, the village in central Scotland we moved to a few months ago.

Elizabeth had driven and dropped me off as she and Oscar (our 13-month old Labrador) were going for a walk up in the woods.

After about 20-minutes I received a frantic phone call from Elizabeth. All I heard at first was heavy breathing. My heart began to race. Then Elizabeth cried out, “I’ve lost Oscar.” He’d got the scent of a female dog in season and, well, just bolted. At first she thought he had just run a little bit ahead, as he often does. We usually just shout his name or blow on the whistle and he comes straight back. But this time he didn’t.

Elizabeth was distraught. By the time she phoned me he had been lost for almost ten minutes. I immediately got up from my table, left my bag, laptop and notes lying there, and sprinted out of the door with a passing shout to the waitress that I’d be back.

It’s funny what you can do when adrenalin is pumping. I used to be a sprinter and long-jumper in competitive athletics so I suppose I have a decent technical running style when I sprint. I took off, in full sprinter style (it attracted funny looks, given that I was wearing jeans, shoes, and a leather jacket), and ran at about 90% pace for around 600 metres, with the last part being up a steep hill. Yes, it’s amazing what you can do at these times.

When I was half way up the steep hill, the pace I’d been running at registered in my body and my legs felt like they’d suddenly turned to concrete. I could hardly move. Then I heard Elizabeth’s whistle – I wasn’t far away – and just gritted my teeth and started running again. It never ceases to amaze me how much the mind can over rule the body.

Once I reached the woods, we moved together for a hundred metres or so before we thought it best to spread out. Despite the stressful situation, I felt a strange sense of knowing that everything was OK. On one level, I knew I needed to be strong to help Elizabeth keep it together. But there was something else. I just knew he was safe and I also felt I knew where to find him.

Elizabeth moved off in the direction of the road, in case Oscar took that route. She worried that he might have gone that way and then get run over, as he does have this thing about chasing cars. My instinct was that Oscar was much higher up in the woods.

Of all the multiple interlocking paths leading upwards, I went on intuition alone, hardly thinking, like a dog with its nose to the ground following a scent, just following what seemed to be the right path.

After about 5 minutes I found him playing with a small female spaniel. He’d been there the whole time. Since he hadn’t gone away the owners had begun to back track down through the woods, following the route they had taken. They suspected that the dog (Oscar) had got lost so decided it best to go back the direction they’d come in the hope that they could find the owners.

I was so relieved. And thank goodness for mobile phones! I rang Elizabeth, who broke down in tears of relief, and we arranged where to meet.

By the time I got back to the workshop, I was only ten minutes late. Fortunately I’d met one of the participants as I had earlier bolted out of the coffee shop and briefly relayed what had happened, and asked if she could explain that I’d be there as soon as I could.

The group were so nice. When I arrived, one of them carried my bags through to the seminar room and someone else offered me coffee and some water.

I’ve often said that I’ve felt like a parent since we got Oscar (we don’t have children yet) so I suspect many people who read this can relate to what we were feeling. It’s a scary experience but I’m just glad my intuition was guiding me that day.

Funnily enough, one of the self-love meditations I taught through the weekend was imagining yourself as a being of light, connected to all things. The more we acknowledge that we are connected to everyone and everything, the more connected we feel, and the more those connections can guide us at the most important of times. Sunday, for me, was one of those times!

4 Reasons Why Dogs Are Good for Your Health

Oscar my yellow labrador retrieverOne of the things I love about writing blogs is that I get to talk about stuff that’s relevant in my life, where I’ve been inspired, had a wise insight, or learned something new.

I’ve written a few blogs about my dog Oscar and what I’ve learned from him. If you haven’t been keeping up to date, he’s a yellow (golden) Labrador retriever and he’s 11 and a half months old (that’s him in the photo!).

We moved house a few weeks ago and now live in the country (in a beautiful village called Bridge of Allan, in central Scotland). I’m so enjoying the long healthy walks. I say healthy, because I feel healthy with all the miles I walk, breathing in the fresh country air. It got me thinking that dogs really are incredibly healthy for us.

Here’s 4 reasons why:

1) Dogs boost your immune system

Many people find that when they first get a dog they get much fewer colds. The main reason for this is that dogs (and puppies) bring dirt into the house on their paws. The dirt contains tiny bacteria that gives our immune systems something to work on. Like muscles, the immune system needs to work to build its strength.

Living in too clean an environment can lessen the immune system. It’s one of the suggested scientific reasons for an increase in allergies over the past few decades.

When a dog brings dirt into the house on it’s paws the human immune systems go to work, building up its muscles like we’ve gone to the ‘immune system gym’. As this happens, the immune system becomes more robust and resilient, and we’re more protected from colds and other illnesses and diseases.

2) The give us plenty of exercise

I walk about 20 miles a week with Oscar. I’ve lost about 8 pounds in weight since he came into our lives. Last weekend I ran the ‘Perth Kilt Run’, which is a 5k run in Perth (Scotland) and you have to wear a kilt. I ran a rather respectable 24 minutes and 39 seconds, which I think is good considering I hadn’t done any running training and a kilt gets quite heavy after about 4k :-).

I’m certain that walking all those miles with Oscar was excellent training for me.

3) They’re good for the heart

Research shows that interacting with dogs elevates levels of the hormone, oxytocin. As well as it’s role in childbirth and breast feeding (oxytocin is involved in the ‘letting down’ response of breast milk), oxytocin is a powerful ‘cardioprotective’ hormone (it protects the heart and cardiovascular system). Research shows that it lowers blood pressure and significantly reduces levels of free radicals and inflammation, two families of chemicals involved in cardiovascular disease.

Couple this with a stronger immune system and more exercise, it’s why research also shows that the chances of a second heart attack, for men who had one previously, is 400% lower for men who have a dog compared with men who don’t.

4) They’re good for mental health

We’re a social species. Humans need social contact. It’s built into our genome and is why we’re healthier and live longer when we connect with each other. Social network research shows that we’re healthier the more connected we are.

Part of this reason is, of course, oxytocin. Dogs are great company and we bond strongly with them. It’s not at all uncommon for people to talk to their dogs. I know! I talk to Oscar and tell him what I’m up to. 🙂

Human and animal contact also helps counter stress and is protective towards depression, so having a dog is also good for our mental health. Of course, we can also say the same for cats (in case you’re a cat owner reading this and are wondering).

 

So overall, I think it’s nice to reflect on how dogs are so good for our health and to feel deep gratitude for their presence in our lives. I feel immensely grateful for Oscar’s presence. He has changed my life for the better on so many levels.

Having a little faith

FEATHER FOR THE ANGEL COVER - resizedI love to imagine that we live in a magical world. Aside from the dark lord element of the Harry Potter story, I think many of us would love to live in a world where magic was happening all around us and that we could use it. I have always enjoyed science fiction and fantasy novels.

I wonder, though, if strange things do occur. I have written previous blogs and books where I’ve suggested that consciousness is not inside the head but is something fundamental to nature, that it is like a field that connects all people and all things. Thus, I have suggested that meaningful and connected events can cluster together and this can be a product of a person’s beliefs, emotions or intentions.

Just a few days ago, my dog Oscar had to go to the vet for an operation. He was bitten by another dog over a month ago but the wound just hadn’t healed properly. The vet decided that there must have been a piece of foreign material left in the wound and believed it best to cut the wounded tissue out.

I felt nervous as we were arriving at the vet for Oscar’s operation, even though I knew it was a relatively minor procedure.

As I often do, I said a little prayer. We all know that there are lots of different deities and angels that people pray to. I asked Archangel Michael to watch over Oscar.

Less than a moment later, a man, who looked so like the God character from the magical and inspiring film, ‘Miracle on 34th Street’, appeared at the other side of the wall that circles the vets’ premises. He whistled for Oscar to approach him and when Oscar put his paws up on the wall, the man gave him a large kiss on the top of the head, looked at us and smiled and then casually walked away without even saying a word.

A wave of emotion overcame me and I had to take a deep breath not to cry. It wasn’t tears of sadness, but like knowing that something magical had just occurred, like a feeling of certainty that I’d received a sign. This might strange to some but perfectly normal to others.

Once we dropped Oscar off I had to make my way into the town centre to catch a train to London for a meeting with my publisher. As I was a little early for my train I dropped into Costa to grab a coffee. By this time, my faith that all would be well with Oscar was beginning to waver (it had been 20 minutes since I’d left the vet, after all. :-)) and even though I had asked Archangel Michael to help, I was now trying to visualize all being well with Oscar and his operation. I was surrounding him with light and seeing light bathe the entire vets’ practice.

As I was being served my coffee I had the thought that I needn’t visualize because I have already asked for help, that I should trust that my asking for help was enough, that by visualizing now was actually showing that I didn’t have faith that Oscar was being watched over. Right then my eye caught the name badge of the person serving me. Yes, it was ‘Michael’. I smiled quietly to myself and silently whispered, ‘message received’!

Of course, when you do feel a little nervous when it concerns loved ones, and my readers who have dogs, cats and other animals know that this extends to them too, faith does waver from time to time as nervousness kicks in.

While I was walking to my train a little nervousness arose again, so to distract myself I decided to check my e-mails on my iPhone. The first e-mail that popped in was from Neale Donald Walsch, one of his daily, ‘I believe God wants you to know…’ e-mails. It read:

On this day of your life, Dear Friend, I believe God wants you to know…that medical procedures are nothing to be afraid of…”

OK, I finally got the message. I smiled broadly and felt warm inside. All was well and all would be well. There was nothing to worry about.

And indeed there wasn’t. We collected Oscar in the afternoon. He was still a little dozy from the anaesthetic, but within a few hours he was his usual self.

I do like to imagine that things happen for a reason and that all things and all people are connected, that our thoughts, emotions, hopes, dreams and intentions shape aspects of our lives, and that consciousness does exist in many more forms than our own.

I don’t think of God as a man with a white beard who sits on a cloud, but I imagine that we are all Gods, that we are all part of the same ‘field’ of energy or consciousness, and that we are capable of much more than we think we are, as our beliefs act like lenses that focus the field, much as an optical lens can focus sunlight.

In the times when we have a little faith, I have noticed, we see more evidence of this in our lives and we feel the warmth of the field.

How my dog being attacked reminded me to live in the moment

Oscar lying down with head up
Oscar

I have learned a lot by watching my dog, well puppy. He’s a 9-month old golden Labrador called Oscar.

Among other things, as I wrote in a previous blog, I’ve learned to play more and also that I’m worthy of being loved.

A few days ago Oscar was attacked by an aggressive dog. It clamped its teeth onto his back. I can still hear his squeals of pain in my mind as its teeth held Oscar’s back in a vice-like grip.

It just wouldn’t let go. I eventually had to punch it to get it to release its grip. It was instinct as I’m certainly not prone to violence.

Oscar had a bowel movement on the pavement on the way back home as his body processed some of the shock.

I called Elizabeth, my partner, on the phone and we went straight to the vet who, upon inspecting his wounds, proceeded to shave a 3-inch square on his back, clean the bite marks, and inject Oscar with antibiotics and pain relief.

When Elizabeth and I returned home we were so upset. Oscar? As the day progressed, he just wanted to play, as usual. We enjoyed games of ‘tug’ and ‘fetch’, and he also excitedly chased a ball as I tried to dribble it around him. To Oscar, it was over, done, forgotten, in the past. He was living in the moment. Humans are not like that at all.

Seeing the wound on his back throughout that day was a constant reminder to Elizabeth and I of what had happened. I had a wee cry later after I returned home from a short trip to the shop. The event was traumatic for me and I kept replaying the attack over and over again in my mind. I kept seeing the dog’s jaws clamped and hearing Oscars screams.

Oscar can’t see the wound. His only awareness of it has been the occasional flinch when he moves in a certain way. He then stretches his head around to his back, wondering, I assume, what the strange sensation is. But other than that he’s just, well, normal.

It’s been a reminder for me about living in the moment. Why can’t we be more like dogs? Life would be so much simpler, less stressful. So much stress for us is a product of processing events in our minds from the day, week, month, or even years before, reliving them over and over again. We complain about how things are or what a certain person said to us at work, or we stress about what might be.

We visit therapists who use clever techniques, which are helpful. We also learn how to forgive. Dogs? They just kind of shake it off.

I have often felt we can learn a lot from watching nature. Nature thrives by adapting to its environment. We mostly resist changes and, if we’re really honest, we mostly complain that things change. Dogs just go with the flow.

I’m taking a leaf out of Oscar’s book now. I’m spending more time living in the moment. The past few days have been more enjoyable. I have laughed more. I feel more relaxed. I find myself wondering why I don’t do this more often. But we get so caught up in what we need to do. I’ve found that I’ve actually got more done in the past few days, even though I feel I have done less.

When I know that I have work to do, I have a tendency to withdraw a bit from anything else I’m doing at that time. My mind shifts focus. It’s my thing, I suppose, that I’m working on changing as it can create stress. Even if I’m in a conversation, part of me is thinking about getting back to work. Now? Well, I’m giving what I’m doing my all. There’s no resistance, no stress, just more enjoyment and peace. Then I actually get more done, which is funny, and there’s then no guilt at thinking that I hadn’t given someone my full attention.

Oscar is on the road to full physical recovery. He is probably fully recovered already. He doesn’t know that some of the hair on his back has been shaved. It will soon grow back, covering up any indication of a past event. In his mind, it’s as if nothing has happened. He’s just enjoying life the same as he has done so these past 9 months.

He inspires me. I feel so blessed that he is in my life. I am much happier. He causes me to notice what’s around me with heightened awareness. Life’s colours seem richer than they were before, scents more descriptive, sounds more 3-dimensional. They’ve always been like that. I just haven’t always noticed. That’s the thing with living in the moment. We notice what has always been there.

We are more blessed than we realise. Start noticing your blessings now. There are more around you than you think!