Finding Clarity in the Most Unexpected Place
Quick! Pick up Riva’s poop.
Oh no, he’s staring at me. Why won’t he stop staring? Where are the doggie bags?
Ok, here comes another uninvited lecture from a stranger about being a responsible dog owner.
Like a wave, this heat of shame hit me. It started at the top of my head and ran down my body to the tips of my toes. I could feel the redness radiating a few inches off my skin. It was an internal emotional heatwave.
And then, something happened.
The day started like any other and earlier than most.
I could feel the sun rising through my bedroom window high above the city, caressing my eyes and gently coaxing me awake. I took a deep breath noticing the ache in my lower back, reminding me that we need to do something about our overly soft mattress.
I rolled to my right taking in the breathtaking view, grateful for this lovely morning. Just below the window was my dog Riva, sitting up her comfy bed with those big golden eyes begging me for her morning walk.
“Riva, baby girl. Are you ready for your walk?”
I looked at the clock. 6:15 am.
“Just a few more minutes. I’m not quite ready.”
It was too late. I was awake and she’d seen me.
On my left, I could hear my husband soundly asleep and realized my sleep was over.
“Ok, let’s go.”
That’s all she needed. Riva was up and heading downstairs on cue. These early morning “conversations” are a daily routine, and she usually wins.
It was a quiet, cool morning as the sun continued to rise, blinding me as we entered the expansive off-leash dog park on the hill above our house. I was feeling all warm and fuzzy, savoring the stillness and lightly aware of the little brown birds’ morning chatter off in the distance.
I’m so glad I got up early.
Lost in my daydream, I didn’t notice Riva had found her favorite pee spot and had pooped instead. This simple act was a detour from her usual routine, and I wasn’t ready for it. I had been looking away and almost missed it until I noticed the only other person in the park staring at me with his eyebrows narrowed, mouth slightly open, and head tilted as if to say, “Aren’t you going to pick up your dog’s poop?” I reacted instantly.
I went into action, grasping for the doggie bags to show this onlooker that I was a responsible owner.
And then the world was suddenly in slow motion. I looked down at my hand holding the poop bags.
Ok, so this is happening.
As I quickly struggled to find doggie bags to signal to this stranger that I am a responsible owner and am going to pick up after my dog, I realized what was happening and paused.
I know this feeling. I’m feeling judged.
I’m making up a story about not being a responsible owner because this person is staring at me.
Nothing bad is going to happen to me. I am ok. Breathe.
As the emotional heatwave hit me and I paused, I had a moment of clarity. I was no longer in charge. My personality structure and inner critic had taken over, surfacing an old belief that I’m a bad person if I don’t act quickly and act responsibly. A belief so embedded in my nervous system that my body responded before my mind could even process what was happening. Pausing allowed space between my reaction and my response, enabling me to access the greatest gift. Choice.
I smiled and laughed to myself as I recognized this old familiar pattern that I know stems from my childhood and is not about picking up dog poop. At that moment, I chose to take my time and not worry about the “poop police.”
What helped me to pause in this particular moment? Setting a daily intention to be present and aware while walking my dog. I know that my “responsible owner” story is easily triggered in the park. By setting this intention, I was able to interrupt this pattern, access my self-awareness practice, and shift from stress to calm. This intention to practice mindful walking with my dog Riva made all the difference.
Now I watch with curiosity how others pick up their dog’s poop and I am mindful that I can take my time.