Hey everyone! Da Vinci here. I just had to share our latest truffle hunting adventure with you! The forest we went to yesterday looked like another planet! It’s snowing in our neck of the woods and that means truffle hunting gets interesting.
Mom took me to one of our usual forests and, to our surprise, there was snow actually covering the forest floor. It’s been an interesting winter! The snow was melting quickly and Mom probably should have been wearing rain pants. My paws were getting cold when we weren’t moving. Her knees must have been freezing! I love snow and thought it was fun to see our usual hunting spot transformed to a bright and shiny forest. It’s usually dark in there. That day it was brilliant with light, illuminating parts of the forest we don’t usually see.
We were having a great time until the trees threw their first snowball down at us. That first thud caught us by surprise. We realized that it was just melting snow but I crossed my paws that none of it fell on us. They were small clumps of snow and wouldn’t have hurt either of us but I prefer not to be surprised from above while I’m focusing down on the ground.
There were a couple of moments when the combination of these new noises and the unfamiliar look of the forest made me uneasy. I could tell Mom also had moments of uncertainty as she assessed our surroundings. She always tracks our path so we know our fastest exit. I really appreciate that! The wonderful thing about yesterday’s truffle hunt, and the reason I wanted to share it with you, is how we not only mirrored each other’s worrisome emotions but also the calm emotions. We were in perfect balance and responsive to each passing moment. That doesn’t mean the hunt conditions were perfect. It means we were perfectly paired to work in those conditions, on that day and in those moments.
We were both startled by the randomly falling snow on multiple occasions. Startle responses interrupt our communication and, when that happens, the entire working dynamic changes. It’s impossible to truffle hunt without ever being startled so Mom has put a lot of effort into helping each of us respond to unexpected events. Just like a startle can interrupt our communication and send us spiraling into a cycle of hype-alertness, a calming act can interrupt the undesirable fear spiral. First, she always assesses the situation to make sure it is safe. Once she determines that we are safe, she brings her attention to her breath. It’s so simple and yet it settles both of us, bringing us back to a calm and congruent state.
How cool is that?
Foray or Not To Foray?
Just the other day I was contemplating the best way to explain why I don’t guide truffle hunting forays. I struggled with this because my way is not the only way and what is most important to me, may not be a priority for another hunter. So, how do I explain my decision without discrediting someone else’s personal choice to guide forays. You see, with truffle hunting, each team gets to make up the rules for their own process, their own relationship…their own language. I spent a lot of time contemplating this because I believe in my reasons but I also respect everyone’s right to choose what works for them.
Then, as if answering my question for me, MacGyver SHOWED me exactly why I don’t guide truffle hunting forays. We went out to a known patch today just for a short hunt and to get some experience under our belts. The last time we were here, this dog showed me the most incredible focus. He hopped out of the car ready to search and persisted at hunting even when I was trying to make our way back to the car. Those of you who don’t know me…I LOVE that! We had a blast that day. We played. I laughed…a lot! We didn’t take ourselves too seriously but we were in a congruent state of being with each other. It was quite beautiful and so perfect that I lost track of time.
Today was very different. Today, MacGyver came out ready to work. He found a truffle rather quickly and we had our usual party. He seemed more interested in other smells today, so I simply remained patient. It’s all completely normal for dogs to investigate different smells and I didn’t feel like he was disengaged from me or the activity. I knew that he would tell me if there was a truffle scent mixed in with all the information he was gathering, so I didn’t consider him distracted or disregarding my presence. We continued to move through the space together, me observing him and him smelling that invisible world of wonder.
But then there was a moment and I felt it. Total disconnect. Admittedly, my intention and attention had drifted to thoughts outside of the present moment…but I didn’t realize this until later. MacGyver dropped me. He completely dropped his connection with me and it felt awful! In fact, that is precisely what brought me back to the present moment. The realization of how empty it feels to go from beautiful connection to NOTHING. I committed to feel it and observe. I didn’t call him or ask him to work, just let him continue to sniff and explore in his own little world. I kept moving through the space and all I can use to describe it is lonely and abandoned. What do I do now? By myself, I’m not part of a team and I have no one to share this experience with. Eventually, I cleared my throat just loud enough for him to notice I was no longer close. I wanted to allow this to unfold as organically as possible while still being responsible for our safety. MacGyver heard me and came running. I was grateful for that. We reconnected as I gathered the line he was dragging and we walked together back to the car. No big deal. Just information. After all, he wasn’t doing anything wrong.
So what happened here? Why does this explain why I don’t guide forays?
When guiding a foray, a guide’s attention is split between their dog and the guests. It isn’t possible to give full attention to both. The guest deserves attention, experience, and education. The dog deserves the relationship he/ she is used to. This is like trying to carry two conversations in different languages simultaneously WHILE being the interpreter for the guests. What results is repeatedly dropping connection with the dog. Why is this so hard? Because we can’t explain to the dog “let’s pause for a moment so I can talk to someone else.” Yes, we can teach “take a break” behaviors, but even during that break, we should still be in connection with the dog. We are still doing this together.
How does that explain why I don’t lead forays? Because what I experienced today was no different from what happens to my dog if I give my attention to a guest during a foray. While truffle hunting, my dogs count on being connected and engaged with me. This commitment to our partnership is a critical foundation for our enjoyment of the activity and the strong relationship we share. I think to myself…how would I feel if my dog repeatedly dropped connection with me like I experienced today? I believe it would erode our relationship, forcing us to continually chase that congruent state we are used to experiencing when we work alongside the other. THAT congruency…THAT relationship…THAT partnership and trust is my priority and I don’t believe I can fully honor that when my attention is split between guests and my partner. I choose to prioritize my relationship with my dogs and to find alternative ways of sharing our truffle hunting experiences with the world. But, don’t worry! If you want to go on a truffle hunting foray, I would be happy to recommend a guide for you!
April 15, 2016 – Oh, Magnificent Callie! There is a reason we call you The Great White Truffle Dog. I was not expecting to find spring whites today!
Out For A Stroll
4-13-2016 – Da Vinci and I went for a stroll through these beautiful PNW woods today and stumbled upon some treasures.
Elusive Spring White Truffle
4-6-2016 – Big forest. Elusive spring white truffles. A dog with heart. If there is a truffle in the forest, Callie will find it!
Forest to Fork
4-5-2016 – Cash photobombing dinner. It’s the right of a truffle dog 🙂
We had a pretty good time shuffling truffles in the forest today!
Exploring New Places
4-1-2016 – I had the privilege of exploring a new forest with Callie today. Peaceful scenery, amazing weather, and this spirited girl as my guide 🙂
Lost Truffles! What Would MacGyver Do?
March 25th, 2016 – What Would MacGyver Do?
He found all 4 black truffles (3 whole, 1 small piece). We built in a look at me to say “found it”, added a verbal cue, and practiced our reward & ending rituals. This was his 6th exposure to black truffles.
My home office!
3-24-2016 – I share my office with a great co-worker! We had a fabulous time in the forest today 🙂
Trufflin’ Herding Dogs for the Win!
February 28th, 2016 – Da Vinci worked hard today.
A beautiful thing happens when MacGyver wakes up from a nap. He seeks me out. He seeks me out to be with me. Every time he does this it reminds me of how I would seek my mother after a nap. I just wanted a hug. No reason other than that sweet moment between dreaming and full wakefulness. MacGyver approaches me in his partial dreamtime state and asks to “be” with me. There is no agenda. We are in a beautiful state of “being” with one another. Nothing more than the sweet perfection that is that moment. Nothing less than the sweet perfection that is that moment. And then we enjoy more moments as they come. We let go of the moment that just passed and enjoy another. It’s a chain, you see. Moments are just one snapshot in time. Sometimes they are magnificently constructed and leave us reminiscing about the feeling. Other times they are subtle movement through space and time with two spirits in a congruent state of “being”. Neither is holding onto the last moment. Neither is looking ahead to the next moment.
He rarely sticks around for long. Often after a few pets and snuggles where we truly experience each other’s spirit, moving through that chain of moments as one, he contently wanders back to his napping spot. That heart to heart connection (in shamanism it a type of a ceke line) is a sacred energetic line between two beings. It’s a powerful connection, one that’s strength and presence continues regardless of space and time…if you nurture it…if you practice it.
A few years ago, early in my Reiki and shamanic training, I realized something about myself. I had been, for as long as I could remember, receiving guidance and information from the animals around me. I just didn’t know it. It always seemed rather random and out of my control. Sometimes it is a sense of knowing, other times it is a message from the natural world. Sometimes it happens in a dream. Sometimes it’s a 2×4 over my head (yes, even a sensitive person misses the subtle clues). I’ve always been aware of my sensitive nature, but I didn’t realize that I could cognitively perceive the subtleties of being present and intuitive. I know there are many people out there who feel the same way. Everyone has the ability to connect with and partner with animals on a much deeper level than they think. In shamanism we ask ourselves what energy center we are operating from. For myself, and many others, we tend to migrate to our minds. We process information and formulate plans. Even when we believe we are being present, we are still in our heads. But what can happen when we operate from our heart centers is an experience that can leave anyone speechless. Words get in the way when we are genuinely experiencing the present moment with another being. Language becomes an obstacle rather than a helpful tool.
What I found during my training was that I can intentionally access my ability to perceive information from the world around me. Animals in physical form, animal spirits, plant spirits, Mother Earth, Grandmother Moon, the stones, whatever the name is that describes your Great Spirit…the list goes on and on. Everyone has this ability. Everyone can access it if they choose. Imagine the connection that you can experience with your animal companion if you spend time practicing being in that state of oneness together! It’s a state void of expectation, absent of thought, and open to communication. Animals are incredibly communicative and they are always in dialogue with us. We, as humans, press the mute button in our heart centers when we move to our heads to analyze situations, behaviors and interactions. When we make ourselves available to receiving information through heart to heart connection with animals, and then continue that dialogue instead of getting stuck in a moment…when we can do that…magic happens. Connection with our animal companions isn’t about a moment. Connection doesn’t happen as an isolated event. Connection is cultivated. It’s an open, nonverbal dialogue between species.
There is this beautiful state of being that presents upon waking and it can help you begin to find your way into deeper connection with animals and the natural world. When we emerge from dreamtime, we are in a semi-sleeping and semi-conscious state of being. If it is you who just woke from sleep, access that state by mindfully experiencing it. If it is your animal companion who just woke from sleep, stop what you are doing and take time to match their state. Clear your head and just BE, letting the moments guide you…letting each moment pass. It’s a beautiful space to experience with an animal!
These are the experiences that shape my connection and genuine, meaningful partnerships with animals. These are the experiences that hold more significance than my behavior training plan because teaching a behavior requires less effort when we are in a reciprocal dialogue with one another. Today, during his brief break from dreamtime, MacGyver and I spent a few moments “being” with one another in a sweet, gentle and raw form. We were simply present together in each moment, regardless of how many moments graced us, cultivating the connection that is the source from which everything else grows.
I’ve been here before. This place…I am no stranger here. Sometimes I am dragged here against my will. Sometimes, I come take a look at the view to gain a little perspective. I’ve navigated this terrain, but that doesn’t make it any more comfortable to be here. This place is one of deep heavy emotions and darkness. It’s a place I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy. But it is also a place where amazing healing and growth can happen. The ground is full of sharp rocks that hurt with every step…but the soil is fertile and full of nutrients. To see and feel this space, brings me to tears. It brings tears of extreme fear. I’ve been here before. I climbed the barren hillsides and slogged through the swampy marshes. I was alone, or so I thought.
Now I’m back. Through timing that knows greater purpose than I do, I found myself here this morning. I’ve seen signs on my most recent path…you know, the ones that tell you how far away your destination is. I disregarded them because, surely, I knew better than to go there. This morning I arrived. My morning meditation with the dogs met me with a welcome party with the theme “Accept Help”. That’s the moment I knew. I knew “it was back”. Then it got interesting.
You see, my spiritual practice has led me to an incredible connection to nature. The earth, the sun and moon, the trees and plants, stones and animals…they, and many more, are amazing guides if we allow ourselves to hear their messages.
Each morning I meditate. Each morning I take a moment to greet my guides and connect with them. Each morning, I take the time to connect with my dogs. And each morning, a message comes, often times from Callie. She is one of my teachers. The one who reminds me to open my heart. She is pure heart. When I stretch and open my chest, she often rams her chest right up against mine. I always laugh. I am always reminded that opening my heart center brings us closer in a way that gives me great sense of privilege. All of my dogs have been, and are, teachers. They are part of my connection to the natural world. They walk with me on a path that is filled with guidance from the world around us. I don’t consider myself a dog trainer. I can’t limit our connection to dog training (but that’s a different blog post). So, when they have information to share with me, I take it quite seriously. After all, they are essentially translators of the natural world. I’m blessed that they understand me and can help communicate those things I may not be directly perceiving.
I write down the morning meditation messages, even when they don’t make sense to me. This morning’s message, I assumed, was to accept the help at a doctor’s appointment I have this afternoon. I will do that, but there was more. And this is how it unfolded.
I wept after that meditation. A little. Then I gathered myself up and headed downstairs. Periodically, while having coffee and breakfast, I cried. No reason. I just cried. I don’t want to be here again. I don’t want to be in this place again. Accept Help MUST mean I am to tell my doctor that the depression is back. I will do so, of course, but that wasn’t it. I cried again. Right about then, two of my dogs saddled up to me and literally positioned my face between them. Face buried in fur, I recognized the significance of them doing so. These two boys set aside their differences, faces in close proximity (touching!) to comfort me. I cried some more. I filled my pockets with treats (as any good “trainer” should) and we headed outside to walk, release some energy, and listen to what the world had to say.
I walked, zoning out mostly, but with thoughts spinning in my mind. I wrote this blog post in my head while walking. I listened for information and guidance from the trees, animals, earth, elements. It was quiet today, except my thoughts, some swarms of bugs that were bugging me and sirens. Yes sirens. The fire truck passed by first. I always pause when I hear sirens and send good energy to the situation they are headed to. Then came the water rescue team. While I was swirling in my thoughts and emotions there was a water emergency happening. My immediate urge was to tell myself “it could be worse”. That just doesn’t sound like right relationship with existence in this world. So, I stopped and sent Reiki to that situation. Then gave myself permission to honor how I feel. No comparison to how much worse it could be. Just different.
Then I had clarity. Clarity on what Accept Help meant. You see, this place I arrived at today…in the past, I’d have called it depression. Not this time. Depression, this time, she is a guide. Not a place. She is a guide to help me navigate a very dark and unforgiving place. She will show me where the fertile soil is and help me see where I can learn, grow, nourish, and rebuild. I don’t know how long she plans to visit, nor how long we will walk together in this void that feels like the aftermath of a forest fire. I do know that I am not here alone. I know others have been here. I see their footprints. My heart aches for them because I’m right here with them. Most of the time you can’t see anyone else in this place with you. It’s like we all have invisibility cloaks on. Today, I’ll take that cloak off. I’ll walk beside anyone else in this place…if you like.
I am exactly where I need to be…
Favorite Things – Cash’s Truffle Alert
January 22nd, 2016 – Cash, Mr. Precise. Love my little buddy so much! His truffle alert is one of my favorite things 🙂
I Adore This Boy!
December 13, 2015 – Da Vinci and his treasures. These truffles made one PNW chef very happy. Finding them was a delight with my favorite “Big Brown” 🙂
OFFICIAL Truffle Pup
December 11, 2015
MacGyver is an OFFICIAL Truffle Dog! Today was his 10th learning session and it was an awesome one! He found five truffles (not pictured because…he is a puppy)!
This boy demands that I operate from a grounded state and with heart-centered action…in anything we do together. I am so proud of this pup and our developing partnership. Our path has been nontraditional and “outside the box”, one of reciprocal learning based on organic conversation, respect, transparency, intuition, and mindful action in the present moment. Dogs are amazing teachers!
The newest member of my truffle dog crew in action! This is MacGyver’s first truffle hunt and it was awesomely fun to see how he put all the pieces of this game and our foundation training together. He offered to include the “face down” at the truffle and I LOVED it!
MacGyver finds his first truffles after just 10 sessions with truffle odor!
It’s Never About The Truffle!
November 1, 2015 – My heart is so full of gratitude for the JOY Cash brings to everything we do. “It’s never about the truffle!”
Into The Future
We just dug our first hole together! I have no idea what we were scenting and digging for, but we were working as a team to get to it 😀
That was a fun glimpse into our truffle hunting future!
Meet the newest member of the family! MacGyver was born March 22, 2015 and is the second Border Collie on our crew. Follow our puppy stories in Raising MacGyver as we learn about each other and develop our relationship.
(Photo by Lisa Kaufman, 2015)
Da Vinci (Snowflower Thyme Flies) is a Belgian Tervuren born 9-11-2010…brought home 11-9-2010. Our first puppy and forever Mr. Puppy!!! Agility, herding, truffle hunting…sky’s the limit! He has an incredible nose and always brings amusement to the truffle hunt with his happy expressions.
(Photo by Lisa Berglund, 2015)