I’m a little like a rescue dog right now. I sought refuge in Mexico two months ago when the border to France, where my family live, closed to non-citizens. I’ve been in quarantine with a Mexican friend (Guada), her son and his girlfriend, and my best friend, Charley. We also share the house with nine dogs, five of whom are rescue dogs and a cat called Mini. She’s quite small.
One of the dogs, Rico (Suave), has stolen my heart. Rico means rich, affluent or adorable in Spanish, which is an apt name now but wasn’t when Guada took him in. He was chained up without food for a year or more and was hairless, skin and bones. As well as falling head-over-heels in love with him, little Rico Man has been teaching me some valuable lessons.
1. WE’RE NOT JUST ONE THING
“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” Walt Whitman
Rico doesn’t fit neatly into a box. It’s almost impossible to say what type of dog he is. He looks like he’s part coyote, part deer and a little bit salmon—he’s so damn wriggly. I’m finding that we’re no different. We’re not one thing or another. Not happy or depressed. Not virtuous or all bad. We go through so many phases in our lives that labels like this don’t tend to be very helpful.
2. A TIME AND A PLACE
“When you see someone putting on his Big Boots, you can be pretty sure that an Adventure is going to happen.” Winnie the Pooh
Rico lives for walks. He’s excellent at them. He leaps and bounds and chases after everything. However, when he’s on a walk, I’ve noticed that he’s not at all interested in tickles. Find him in the afternoon, when it’s hot and he’s feeling snoozy, and Rico Man is all about the tickles. He’s really great at compartmentalising. I think we could all be better at tuning into our own natural rhythms.
3. MAKING SACRIFICES
“I was in love with the exceptional, and ready to sacrifice all normal happenings to it.” L. P. Hartley
Rico often gets little spines in his feet when he bounds through the cactus but he’s not keen to stop and ask us to take them out because he doesn’t want to miss out on any adventures. Clearly, he doesn’t reflect on the situation and decide on the best course of action but he has the same instincts as we do, to make sacrifices for the things that are most important to us.
4. CONCENTRATING IS HARD
“Flow follows focus. It can only show up when all our attention is focussed on the right here right now, on the present moment.” Steven Kotler
In the garden with four of the other dogs, Rico sometimes finds it hard to focus. He’s hyper-vigilant—flitting from one thing to another. I think he might still be responding to his early trauma. He has a wonderful life now. He eats well and has plenty of time and space to explore but those traumas still manifest when he feels uncertain. And they entirely go away when he’s in flow, following a scent or wrestling with his best friend, Natalia.
5. FORGIVENESS ALWAYS
“One of the signs of the dawning of self-mastery is the gradual elimination of blame.” Epictetus
Sometimes we can’t take the dogs for a walk in the morning because we go on an early bike ride before it gets too hot. It’s heart-breaking because we know it’s their absolute favourite thing and we’re responsible for depriving them of it. And although Rico is clearly disappointed—it’s not hard to tell, on account of the whimpering—he’s very forgiving when the evening walk comes around. Rico doesn’t hold grudges.
6. REST AND RECOVERY
“The richest, happiest and most productive lives are characterized by the ability to fully engage in the challenge at hand, but also to disengage periodically and seek renewal.” Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz
Rico aces recovery. He holds nothing back when he’s out on a two or three-hour walk. He’s tireless. In hot pursuit of every sound and smell. Every rustling in the undergrowth. And when he comes home, he digs a hole in the shade and passes out. With just his little ears twitching to bat away the flies and the occasional shake of his back leg as he re-lives the day’s adventures.
Rico, you complete me.