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  • Writer's pictureJen Greenway

Anyone Can Teach - Lessons from Finn

Over the last few years, I’ve been very invested in unlearning the colonial teachings I learned about education and who can teach. In the Indigenous cultures of Turtle Island, our various Peoples have always understood the truth that every Being can participate in the co-creation of Knowledge. Upon contact, however, colonizers set upon the intention of erasing that truth and replacing it with their hierarchical understanding of who is allowed to hold and pass on Knowledge. We see this unilateral structure supported in every educational structure that the Western Patriarchy has forced upon us. Classrooms face one person who is instructing, and Western education and science is valued more than the Indigenous Knowledge and sciences that have existed for thousands of years longer than the invading system. Our understanding that Knowledge co-creation involves every Being is scoffed at as Western scientists and professors struggle to grasp what lessons they can learn from Beings other than humans that use their coveted scientific method. For me, though, some of the biggest lessons I’ve learned have been brought to me by Water, Land and the non-human Beings that inhabit these places.

Two and a half years ago, I rescued an abused senior dog who my partner and I named Finn. He’s not my first dog and he won’t be my last, but he’s the first dog who came to me half feral and without any understanding of language or how to just be a dog off a chain. Over the past two and a half years, we’ve watched Finn learn about doors, stairs, mirrors and cars. We’ve seen his trust and confidence grow to a level we never anticipated, and it’s been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Watching Finn take on challenge after challenge with a determination to learn how to fit into his new pack was inspiring in and of itself, but the lessons he’s brought me have been innumerable.

Recently, Finn has decided that he’s old enough and tired enough to be a house dog. He doesn’t want to come with us on long hikes or the car rides it takes to get him there. He loves ha short visit to the puppy park, followed by a long afternoon nap. As he ages, and especially during the heat of this past summer, Finn has begun to reject even his daily long walks in favour of slower, shorter walks with ample spots to rest. At first, my reaction was to rush him to get him home for his nap because he clearly wanted to lie down, but it didn’t take long for Finn’s new walk style to impart three key lessons that I’ve taken to heart. Being given these lessons, I’ve now completely adjusted how Finn and I approach our daily walk to the puppy park. I’ve also been reminded to adjust my approach to my own days as well.

The lessons are as follows:

1. Slow Down

Finn is a nosy boy and he loves to follow scents along the ground. Sometimes I like to picture the scents wafting over the surface of the soil or grass in a wide wave pattern that he tracks with his nose to the ground. Forward 5 steps. Backtrack 2 and then 3 to left. Nope, actually it’s 5 more to the left…The sensory experience that Finn explores can move at snail pace, and as he’s gotten older he’s made it clear that his walks are more about the smells and not about the exercise anymore. He wants to enjoy himself at a pace that he can maintain.

I have to admit that for all the times I’ve been presented with the lesson to slow down, including my body physically demanding it, I still struggle to take this lesson to heart. I often contemplate that in my past lives this must have been the lesson I refused to learn before as well because the amount of times I’ve been forced to confront it in this life is astounding. Now, it’s out of my hands as my senior dog has set his pace, and forcing him to keep up with me simply isn’t an option.

Now, when we walk, I encourage Finn to find smells and to have fun. But slowing down on our walks isn’t the only area I follow Finn’s lead. Watching Finn learn to pace himself and choose a level of activity that his body is comfortable sustaining longterm has put me in the headspace to do the same. My gym workouts and yoga sessions are therapeutic for me now, remembering my annual theme of “Is this healing me”? My patience has been tested and strengthened each day as I learn restraint, and it’s all the more impressive to learn this from Finn because he’s notorious for having none himself.

All in all, participating in Finn’s self-regulation of activity has given me another access point to my own self-regulation. This time, I’m actually making use of it and I’m pretty proud of that.

2. Take Breaks

Alongside slowing our pace down, Finn has begun stopping us altogether when he feels like he’s found a great spot for a break. Any shady area with grass and trees is enticing for him and he’ll demand a lie down for at least ten minutes to rest his sore back. The first few times he did this, I was bored and wanted to get him moving as quickly as possible because our walks began to take 20-30 minutes longer than they were “supposed to.” It became evident very quickly, though, that Finn naturally Promotes Wellness for himself (one of the Four Protocols of Cultivating Safe Spaces). In doing so, he’s also Promoting Wellness for me and teaching me how to do it in ways that I didn’t initially consider.

I have a tendency to rush through things, largely due to a desire to finish quickly. It often results in work periods that are several hours long with no breaks because it’s easier to maintain momentum when I haven’t stopped at all. Finn, on the other hand, is headstrong enough to assert his need for hard earned breaks after he exerts himself to cover distance on our walks. In the interest of making the most of our breaks, I’ve begun scheduling them in and bringing tea on our trips out. We’ve baked the rests into our walk routine and morning routine, teaching me to actively schedule breaks into my day to just enjoy myself. What’s even bigger for me is that I’ve come to an understanding that I not only need scheduled rest moments, but I also need scheduled rest days.

I’ve learned to rest intentionally and not just reactively to how I’m burning out. Instead of taking a forced break after working nonstop until I can’t anymore, I focus on proactive rest days when I’m feeling neutral or good. Working on my Spirit and my needs while I feel neutral or good keeps the focus of restoration and healing during days when I have the energy. And watching Finn roll in the dirt and smile on our rests has reminded me that breaks are enjoyable, not punishment when you can’t sustain a workload anymore.

3. Appreciate the Moment

As Finn has been slowing down, it became obvious to me that he no longer measures his walks by distance but by the time he spends outside with me. Because he was half feral when we adopted him, Finn had to learn to be an inside dog. He’s since become spoiled by collecting beds and places to sleep, but I don’t think anything compares to lying outside on the grass with a cool breeze. I used to think that he had a lot of energy to burn because his excitement around walk time is wild, but his goal is pretty clear when it comes to his walks. He just wants to spend time with me in a place that he loves.

Sitting with Finn while he enjoys belly rubs and the wind cooling him down, I’ve learned to appreciate our time together so much more. He and I get to take time everyday to be intentional with our moments together, and he’s given me such a natural example of what love, trust and living in the moment looks like. I’m learning to enjoy the present moment more instead of focusing on what I have to do next, which is a natural remedy for my anxiety. Not to say that I don’t suffer from anxiety anymore, I still do, but my trust in the moment is a lesson I’m glad to be working through. Plus, despite being heavily introverted, I’m learning to cherish the time that people spend with me even if we’re doing nothing noteworthy.

Colonial teachings attempt to convince us that we can only learn from those up the hierarchical structure from us. Indigenous Knowledge knows different. We accept Knowledge and lessons from every Being and every source, understanding that the multiverse is a web of connections with no semblance of a hierarchy in sight. Some people might scoff at lessons you can learn from Plants, Animals, Water and the Land, but to this day they have all been my greatest teachers and saviours.

Finn doesn’t know it, but he’s created the perfect learning environment for me. He just does what he does and I watch and learn. The fact that he came to me at a point in my life when the lessons I’ve been refusing to learn have become absolutely necessary isn’t lost on me either. The biggest lessons you can learn aren’t taught to you in a classroom or a lecture hall. They’re brought to you by Beings that make you confront yourself and your Being.

Anyone can teach. Which teachers are you closing yourself off from?




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