Zen and the art of border collie maintenance

Reading time: 3 minutes

This month Dr Kitty Wheater, Mindfulness Chaplain, explores the possibilities of a New Year, with h/Hope.

A friend wrote to me on 2 January. “Do you have any New Year’s Resolutions, or do you believe you can and should enact change at any time?”

I received this message in bed, at 15:59, recovering from Hope’s second hour-long walk of the day. She had been – if you’ll forgive the expression – a veritable beast since we returned from Oxford a few days earlier on a six-hour train journey, during which she was good as gold, rousing only to make friends all the way down the carriage. But once home she bounced off the walls, just as her owner slumped into inevitable post-Christmas hibernation mode. Not for border collies, the wintering dreams of cosy Betwixtmas days, passed soothingly between books, Netflix, and leftover mince pies. Instead I was regularly dragged out by a persistent nose-on-knee. There is nothing more effective than dog gentleness. It makes you feel guilty.

But it was good, of course, I told myself grimly, as yet again on came the coat and the gloves and the computations of whether the lead was sufficiently chewed to be unsafe. More years ago than I care to remember, I was fit enough to run up several flights of stairs without being out of breath. For some time I’ve been eyeing Scotland’s long-distance paths and knowing that if I want to walk them, something is going to have to change. Possibly, that something needs to be whether walking my border collie sends me back to bed at 4pm.

And so, the new year. Its dawning brings, each time, a promise of the future. It’s a promise that can reveal just how much we may have been stuck in a featureless present: not the vivid, embodied, potent one of mindfulness books, but the flat empty present of predictable dull exhaustion and disenchantment. The latter is a slow and steady slide into the freeze function of the nervous system, the sort that makes you want to go under the covers, pull them up tight, and not wake up until things are different.

There are many reasons we may have found ourselves there at the end of 2022. The chronic taxing of work and life; their bigger, sobering betrayals; the lurching landscape of politics and policy; the existential thrum of the world twisting and turning. And then comes Christmas, with its joys and trials. By New Year’s Day, you may simply have woken tired.

A dog stands on the edge of a canal.

But there was something different, I felt, about the turn of this new year. I sensed it in my communities across the board: a certain kind of energy, a particular flavour of hope (and Hope). It centres upon this: to make sense of what has happened to us, real sense, the kind that enables you both to weave it into yourself and put it down at the same time, we need distance. Distance takes many forms: geographical miles, deletion of a phone app, persistent hours logged at the heels of a border collie, the dawning of 1 January 2023. If you, like many, went to dark places in 2022, the gift of a new year is the gift of distance that you may not have been able to give to yourself. And the darker the old place, the sweeter the possibility of a new one: one where you might look back – perhaps not today, but someday soon – and see that the landscape you travelled was then, and important, but it is not now.

Now, the sun is shining on a cold January day. I am several thousand steps closer to walking the West Highland Way with my black-and-white dynamo, and not aching every minute of it. May this new year walk you closer, with hope, to a beautiful lively place.