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Life and Business Coach

Black Dog / White Dog

Accessing the very best of yourself through a reflective practice.

Those of you who have worked with me, may be familiar with the story of the Native American elder who once described his own inner struggles to a friend as follows: 

"Inside of me there are two dogs. 
The black dog is mean.  
The white dog is good. 
The black dog fights the white dog all day."

When asked by the friend which dog wins, the elder reflected for a moment and replied;

"The one I feed the most."

Most of us are the same way. There is a part of us that is large-spirited, compassionate, trusting, open, abundant and focused on possibilities and a sense of purpose. (Our White Dog.)

We also have a small-minded, fearful, habitual, controlling, anxious part of us that is generally focused on our limitations and preserving the status quo. (Our Black Dog.) And these two parts are in constant struggle.  

When you at your best, with all your needs met, perhaps relaxing with friends or family, it is easy to experience your White Dog.  And when you do, the world looks lighter, life holds more promise, you are more creative and more able to freely choose the course of action that will best serve you.  You enjoy life more and have a positive impact on those around you.  

In contrast, when you are running late, low on sleep, juggling too many balls in the air, or just stressed out from unexpected change, chances are you will be operating out of your Black Dog. From the grips of the Black Dog the world will look a lot more challenging and there is a sense of struggle in all that you do.

Like the Native elder in our story, you may not have the power to end the struggle between these two parts of all of us. It is just part of being human. But you can choose which part you feed each day.  And whichever part you feed gets bigger, stronger and exerts a greater influence on our life.

Those who learn how to feed their White Dog, and nurture it over time, become more loving, open, positive, creative, peaceful and purposeful.  (Think about the people who've had the most positive impact in your life.  They all found a way to feed their White Dog, and over time it grew so big that that was all you saw in them.)

"The true value of a human being is determined 
primarily by the measure and sense in which 
he has attained liberation from the self."

- Albert Einstein. 

So how do you feed your White Dog?

The best way to feed your White Dog is by developing your own reflective practice.  And while that might seem like a heretical idea in a culture that values multi-tasking and cramming more and more into each and every day, the fact is that this idea has been around for years. Literally for millennia deep thinkers, seekers and religious mystics of all traditions have written about the value of a reflective practice.  It has shown up in the work of many of our best poets and writers such as Thoreau, Blake, and Whitman. Even our best corporate and political leaders have come to understand the importance of regular reflective time in separating the forest from the trees and gaining a wider perspective.   

"If you pay attention at every moment, you form a new relationship to time. In some magical way; by

slowing down, you become more efficient, productive, and energetic, focusing without distraction directly

on the task in front of you. Not only do you become immersed in the moment, you become that moment." 

- Michael Ray, Stanford University School of Business,

So if you are interested in developing a reflective practice, how do you proceed?  The bottom line is:

  1. Check that you really are ready.  Timing is important. You really do need to be at a place in life where you long for a deeper connection to your intuitive center.

  2. You need to experiment with the practice that will be sustainable (in your busy life) and give you the results you want.

Also the reflective practice that works well for one person, may not work for another.  All reflective practices involve a journey inward and the cultivation of more presence.  Presence leads to peace and the ability to be more at choice in your life.  So here in no apparent order are a few of the most common reflective practices.

Be still and know that I am God...

-Psalm 46:10

It's not important which reflective practice you choose.  What is important is that you find something you enjoy, and can do everyday, that gives you the results you want.  And what you want is something that leaves you feeling more centered, relaxed, loving, open and refreshed. As to the amount of time to devote to this, 20 minutes a day is great, 10 minutes is good, and 5 minutes is better than nothing.  And if you are approaching this for the first time, don't expect some earth-shattering outcome.  The benefits are subtle but accumulate quickly under steady reinforcement.

If you want to explore this further check out Jon Kabat-Zinn's book, "Wherever you go, There you are". It's a National Bestseller widely available. You can access it through Amazon through my reference book page at Reference Books. 

Finally, developing and maintaining your own unique, personal reflective practice is often a 2-steps-forward-1-step-back exercise.  It may take a while for you to settle on something that works, and there will be days when you will want to walk away from it all. Be kind to yourself.  This is soul work. It takes time. But if you are looking for a richer experience of everyday life, just keep working at it. 

I will end this piece with a quote from Edith Armstrong.  

"I keep the telephone of my mind open to peace, harmony, health, love, and abundance.
 Then, whenever doubt, anxiety, or fear try to call me, 
they will keep getting a busy signal
and soon they'll forget my number." 

- Edith Armstrong

Happy reflecting.


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