It’s no surprise to say that Life presents us with things that we know are going to happen, and things that surprise us. We try to arrange our world so that we can smoothly negotiate the unforeseen events of the future and provide a cushion against the unknowable, so that surprises are less surprising and shocks are absorbed into the status quo.
Living is being able to predict what’s coming and to react and counter any disturbance. When it’s cold we put on a coat, we drink when we’re thirsty, our body is continually sensing itself and adjusting to keep stable, like a thermostat in a centrally heated house, measuring the temperature and burning fuel when required. After being caught out in the past we then try to prevent it catching us out again in the future. We gather food to preempt oncoming hunger, we build shelter for comfort in a storm, and we arrange our world so that we are prepared. The gap between what we want and how things are is filled with our behaviour. We are not simply stimulus response machines, action and perception are coupled together.
Here it comes!
We look for patterns to successfully predict the events of the future. The weather forecast can tell us whether to wear a hat or pack the umbrella. Economic predictions persuade us to buy or sell, tell us how to play the market game for greater benefit and future security. Superstitious causes can be attributed to any unforeseen surprises, especially when they are not very welcome. It can help us feel more in control if we blame bad luck and cross our fingers to hope for good.
Anticipation is a process of imaginative speculation of the future, the expectation of an event. To a certain extent it is preparation for a likely surprise, moving to a state of readiness. By using patterns and predictions and expecting surprises we can then adapt our responses and prepare ourselves to deal with them. Whether it’s looking forward to a sunny day, or dreading a visit to the dentist, there are different ways to deal with the upcoming surprise and of course different surprises too. The anticipation can be pleasurable or bring anxiety, depending on how the impending surprise is viewed, and even if you don’t know what’s coming, it’s coming this way, and it’s coming for you!
Dogs are experts at anticipation. From predicting dinner time, to knowing when we’re going for a walk, they can guess what’s coming up with great skill. Their talent for prediction can also be a problem when they guess where to chase the bike, or that fireworks are going to be let off. A phobia can be seen as a prediction gone astray with an over zealous response to a threat that doesn’t really materialise.
From the very first moment we are trying to make sure we know what’s going on and what’s going to happen. It’s not necessarily possible and we are confronted with the limits of our predictions early on when we find ourselves falling and then suddenly hit the ground. The sensation of falling, where no forces are acting on us, when there is no contact, is the precursor to a surprise. Our most primal fear is the fear of falling. The opposite is to feel safe and secure, terra firma beneath our feet, grounded and stable.
Without the surprising jolt of the end of the fall however flying can be an intensely pleasurable, if not ecstatic feeling (the root meaning of ecstatic is “unstable”). The sensation of weightlessness is a continual falling. Astronauts aren’t immune to gravity, they’re falling so fast to the earth they’re circling around it over and over again, like whirling dancers or a murmuration of starlings, forgetting that the fall has an end, suspended in time and space.
Fight or flight are the typical responses of fear. Prepare for the crash and the fear can be assuaged. A parachutist learns to absorb the impact, to tuck and roll. To soften and relax into the sudden impact lengthens the shock and reduces its sting, so the drunkard can fall off the cart without breaking a bone. Time gets stretched and the sharp acceleration becomes cushioned and dampened.
It’s gonna get you!
So we can either face the oncoming world with fear or we can embrace it with enthusiasm, and this applies to the anticipation of both good and bad events. Sometimes called “eustress”, a good stress is defined not by the situation itself but by our reaction to it. Dealing with the future requires a bit of knowledge from the past, the past informs the future, let’s you know what to expect. But being stuck with the past can limit potential for the future, the past repeats again and again, and it’s not the now that’s experienced, just the past as it was. Coping with the past though, so that it doesn’t become stuck on a never-ending loop and isn’t feared, means the future can be seen as limitless, an opportunity, it could be anything. Problems are solutions waiting to happen. Fear turns to pleasure as the future no longer threatens us with the same past pattern.
Using the past to predict the future leaves us open to even more surprise, in that the unpredictable is just that, and despite our best efforts we can’t know what is actually coming around the corner. We want our dogs to demonstrate a bold and fearless approach to the world, and a steadiness that shows they can deal with their experiences without losing composure. A resolute response can be encouraged and supported by practising the foundation skills of Natural Dog Training.