A confession: I have a hard time keeping up with my own brain. Since I discovered my brain buried at the root of so much of the dysfunction in my life about 20 years ago, I’ve been learning more and more about how it works and paying ever-increasing attention to it. The only problem is that it’s really a challenge to keep up with. And I don’t just mean keep up with the 300,000 peer-reviewed neuroscience studies published every year. I mean keeping up with the changes that take place in my own brain day in and day out, sometimes minute by minute – often painful, limbic-hijacking, emotionally overwhelming changes.
Don’t Bring Canines to a Dog Fight
Take one morning last month, for example. I was working in my home office when I heard my wife out in the kitchen using her command voice on Bodhi, our English Golden Retriever. She was ordering him to stop growling at Abby, the Bernese Mountain puppy who was edging in on Bodhi’s breakfast. My wife commanded him once, then twice more. Suddenly all hell breaks loose – Bodhi attacking loudly, wife screaming, Abby squealing in great pain.
I dash into the kitchen to find Bodhi with his jaws clamped around Abby’s throat, my wife futilely attempting to separate them. I immediately jump into the fray, whapping Bodhi smartly on the nose several times. But he refuses to release Abby; she continues to scream. Amidst this chaos she manages to bite my hand and draw blood.
Unable to separate them – adrenaline cranking – I pick Abby up off the floor. It’s then that I notice that Bodhi doesn’t actually have her by the throat. Instead, his first lunge at her has hooked his canines around her collar. In her attempt to get away she has apparently flipped a 360, which ended up wrapping her collar tightly around Bodhi’s canines, leaving him unable to release her. But now Abby’s collar has turned into a tourniquet that is slowly strangling her.
Once I clearly understand the problem, I drop Abby and pick up Bodhi. Abby’s weight then pulls the collar down off of his teeth and frees her. 15 minutes later, both dogs are roughhousing playfully with a chew toy, the incident apparently fully forgotten.
I, on the other hand, am left with a nervous system still overloaded with a stress cocktail of adrenaline and cortisol and who knows what else, trying to restore homeostasis more than a half hour later.
Witnessing Dog Trauma Drama
After the dog drama was resolved, the observer part of my brain watched transfixed as that unremitting flood of stress hormones generated all kinds of afflictive thoughts and emotions: “Bodhi has to go. He’s out of control.” “These dogs are more than my wife and I can handle.” “The house would be much calmer and cleaner with fewer dogs and no cats. We’re their prisoners.”
On and on such stress-generated thinking continued, until I did the thing that brain science has taught me almost always works to calm me down: I moved my body. It’s not for nothing that every single cell in my brain eventually traces a route that terminates at a muscle (or that exercise reduces MS symptoms). I leash Bodhi up and off we go for a long walk around the Dog Park.
Moving and Shaking
Knowing that a primary regulatory function of the brain is to regulate arousal, and that the majority of its cells are designed and dedicated to moving the body has given me a new-found appreciation for the close connection between body, mind and thinking. And movement. I do my worst thinking under stress and some of my very best out on the log trails that crisscross all over Whidbey Island. I’m reminded of Steve Jobs’ practice of regularly insisting on taking many of his meetings walking.
And that’s only one good thing to know about my brain. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for less than 299,000 others, even if they are a true challenge to keep up with.
Also, feel free to share this story with other dog owners in your life. And your own scary dog stories here.
Finally, what kind of disorganized brain could really get rid of a dog like this?
And now, lest I forget, here’s another Enchanted Loom offering for your rapid viewing enjoyment on Diane Ackerman’s lovely exploration, An Alchemy of Mind.