Context and Environment: Fundamentals in Self Care Within Relationships

This morning I was walking with Carlie and her ‘cousin’ Roxie. Although cold, the sun was shining, the winds were light, and the sky was a perfect blue. It was a perfect day to dress warm and romp in the bush and open fields. As you may recall from previous blogs, the journey for these two dogs walking in joy and harmony together took more than a year of disciplined commitment, training and trust-building in all of us (their relationship had started on rocky terms).

At one point on the path, Carlie was racing after a squirrel while Roxie was nearby, keeping an eye on the wiener and cheese bag. I called Carlie back and treated them both with these scrumptious treats. A little later Roxie was sniffing something and soon was further behind. She was racing to catch up and Carlie, in her youthful playfulness, bounced toward her, asking through her behaviour, if they could play chase.  Roxie stopped and looked away. “No” was her response. Carlie stopped, but continued the play position. I called them both back to me and my bag of scrumptious treats. They both raced back to me side by side and sat nicely for their treats. I rewarded them and even gave them a bonus.

Roxie knows she doesn’t like the game of ‘chase’ with Carlie since Carlie hasn’t learned yet that she can’t play the same way she does with her big dog friends. (Roxie is only 15lbs while Rayna is 95lbs.) So their games cannot be about playing chase with each other. However racing for treats is a game they both enjoy and one in which all their sensibilities are honoured.

As I was engaging in this play and romping with them, it reminded me how fundamental it is for context and environment to be considered in creating and sustaining peaceful relationships. Last blog I invited you to listen to the CBC airing of the POWER OF NO, where I coached one of their producers in helping her to understand the power and value of saying ‘no’ and ‘yes’ in the right context. The context today with Carlie and Roxie was clearly how ‘no chase’ was being communicated for Carlie by Roxie and I, even when Roxie was delightfully racing back toward us. In Carlie’s mind, it was a perfect opportunity to start a chase game because speed, momentum and energy for it already were engaged – perfect context. Yet, for Roxie, it was an undesirable context.

For joy and harmony and respectful communication to be nurtured between the two of them, I had to change it and create a new context (a framework or structure) where both could ‘race’ similar to a play chase, without anyone becoming a ‘tussle target’. History has shown that tussling between them leads to conflict. But I called them back to me using a tone of voice that echoed ‘come play with me’ which brought both of them flying back. And since I was holding out the bag of treats for them to see, the context included getting a reward for playing this game in a new and safe way for everyone. And since they played it perfectly, they got a bonus reward!

The second fundamental that supported this ‘peaceful play’ was environment. I take them to an environment where their needs are met safely. Neither dog is a dog who seeks out dog acquaintances readily. Giving them open space, big enough that they can run and sniff and be ‘away’ from each other, paradoxically, over time has nurtured a trust that they can walk side by side harmoniously and sniff together at the same spots. On most days we go, there  are not a lot of other dogs or people, so they have had ample opportunity to simply experience each other in an open environment without additional stresses that might otherwise tax them or push them over their thresholds. This could jeopardize their communication with one another because the environment wouldn’t feel safe.

How often in business, schools or community recreational events do we fail to pay enough attention to the details of context and environment? When we are inviting people to change, to adopt new policies or to buy-in to new structures, whether in the office or the classroom, how mindful are we to the environment and context in mandating learning, productivity or change?

Biologically, our brain stem and limbic brain seek safety and go into flight-or-fight if a sense of physical and emotional safety is lacking. And yet, we ask people to perform and learn, to somehow ignore or even dismiss these parts of the older brain and to use the ‘rational’ mind to forge ahead and create solutions, answers or products. And then we wonder why people struggle with stress, anxiety issues and concentration behaviours at school or in the boardroom.

If you are a leader in any of these situations, consider how you could create a framework or context that supports the success of what you intend. Then look at your environment and notice if your environment supports the dimensions of the brain to be calm enough to learn, create or be productive. Create calm and relaxed environments (that doesn’t mean they can’t also be inspirational and engaging) and pay attention to the context or framework of what you seek to have happen. Notice how the results of relationships, communication and performance improve! It certainly did in a very conflictual relationship between two dogs I love.

If you want to learn more about paying attention to context and environment and how to listen to your body and the ways it tells you about what you need for right context and environment in creating peaceful relationships, then I invite you to attend my upcoming workshop Cultivating Joyful Living: Balancing Self Care Within Relationships, May 23-24. It promises to be the perfect spring tune-up and inner transformation to move you forward!

Peacefully & Namaste,

Shirley Lynn