Finding a Brave Heart and Overcoming Self-Made Limitations

“It is not uncommon for people to spend their whole life waiting to start living.” ~Eckhart Tolle

It was on the anniversary of Scottish poet Robert Burns’ birthday, or “Burns Night” as it is affectionately known as in Scotland, that my sister rescued a terrified stray dog who came to be named BraveHeart (or Brava for short).

We thought the name was apt as Braveheart is also a film starring Mel Gibson as William Wallace, who was a famous warrior during the Wars of Scottish Independence.

Brava is a big, long-legged black dog, with the limbs of a greyhound and a head reminiscent of a Pyreneean hunting dog crossed with a Labrador, but despite any theoretical physical shortcomings he is a handsome dog with a big mushy heart.

He is also a strong dog, and as his muscle builds up each day, we witness him getting stronger. Just as Michelangelo carved the angel out of the marble, so Brava is transforming into my sister’s guardian angel.

As the days progress, Brava is becoming much less fearful. He now likes to come out on long walks and enjoys exploring most new places.

He still likes to retreat to his own chosen sanctuary under a horse truck; and is still scared of most men but it is still early days. However, every day there is progress, and little by little, Brava is becoming who he needs to be, the dog he was destined to become.

During this short healing period Brava will figure out who he is, why he is, where he is, and what he is. We humans spend a lifetime trying to figure this out, but Brava does not have that luxury, he just is whatever he is in any given moment.  

Of course we all know dogs live in the now; or at least that’s what we keep on being told.

It’s become a buzz word for the hectic disinformation era in which we now live. We all strive for this simple peace in our own lives—a life without stress or worry. When it comes down to it, let’s face it: We all want to be Zen dogs.  But how do we best achieve this enlightened state?

Do we have to live in some kind of Eckhart Tolleian meditative nirvana? Do we need to experience the world as a blissful Never Never Land, eventually arriving at some heady point where we have forgiven ourselves and all those who have hurt us?

Do we need to have simultaneously connected with nature, our inner selves, and our outer selves, listened more, talked less, practiced compassion in every conceivable form, and sent out oodles of love to the universe at every available opportunity?

Wow!  If so, that’s one hell of a task list to be getting on with, and quite frankly none of it seems quite so simple to achieve.  And wasn’t that the point after all?

I think dogs teach us to live in the now on a much more fundamental and rudimentary level.

Because they do not live as long as most humans, and certainly not long enough; we only have a relatively short time with them, i.e. the now!

One day we are sharing our lives with a bouncing adorable puppy, and before we know it our dogs are older wiser sages, albeit a lot slower on their walks and often suffering various ailments that come from a life well lived.

It is a sad but inevitable circle of life which none of us like to dwell upon. That is why gratitude for all we already have is so important.

Brava is a good a mentor as any Zen dog. Some things are still frightening for him, and some things are now the norm, but he is not thinking about “why” this has happened to him; he does not think in this way.

And I think this is a fundamental difference between dogs and humans: Like humans, animals experience fear, but the difference is that we continue to re-run it in our heads like an old film long after the “danger” has passed instead of detaching ourselves from it. 

We feed our fears by routinely reliving the real or perceived wrongs done to us. Instead of moving on, we place blame and use our past experiences as a hook to hang our future transgressions on.

“So and so did this, hence why I am the way I am today.” “I can’t possibly be all who I can be because of x y and z.” So on and on the endless mind chatter continues, polarizing us so we are fixed in unmovable positions.

We can all be prisoners of our own fears. No one else is holding the key to our cell. We are or own jailers.  We either have too much or too little; it’s all too soon or all too late. It’s always someone else’s fault.

Ironically, we like to think that we are quite skilled at recognizing fear and “weakness” in others, but rarely do we recognize it in ourselves. 

And the less we recognize and acknowledge our open “fear wounds,” the more others, including ourselves, feed off of them.

We tell ourselves limiting stories about ourselves (“I can’t do this, I can’t do that”) and thus build our own prison walls. We attract others who live in fear and are willing to support our self-made stories about who we are and what we cannot achieve.

Brava is scared now, but this will not always be the case, this is just a moment in time. His heart is brave and true. It does not serve him to limit himself in any way. His objective is to survive and his savior is love.

He will break down his prison walls. He will conquer his fears. The question now has to be: will we? 

Will we unchain ourselves from our self-made limitations, live our lives on purpose, follow our passions, and disregard what others say or think? (In reality, no one is really that bothered anyway. You got it, other peoples opinions are a self-made limitation too.)

Or will we remain the frightened stray dog under a horse truck; reliving a thousand possible deaths, none of which really happened?

As Malcolm Wallace says to his son in the film “Your heart is free. Have the courage to follow it.”

Photo by o. denise

About Eleanor Goold

Eleanor Goold is a professional animal therapist and writer. She spends her time in Hungary, France and the UK and regularly travels around Europe for work. She is married to her therapist husband Mat and they are both currently “owned” by a Parson Russell Terrier named Ellie.

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  • Jaysonmickel

    My gf should def read this so im fwd it to her

  • What a coincidence that today’s post is about a dog! I had some “philosophical” thoughts about dogs this morning while I was taking an English Bulldog (named Tank) out for his morning walk. 

    There’s a path through the snow into the field next to the house. The path is wide enough for Tank to easily walk on, but he always seems to stay to one side of it. Along the side, there are mounds of soft snow and holes from feet that have strayed in the path. 

    All day yesterday I noticed (without really thinking about it), that Tank fell into one of the holes every time he walked the path.

    This morning, he did the same thing. He fell in the hole, got a face full of snow, shook it off and continued loping into the field. 

    And I thought, “He seems to flub up every time, but it doesn’t affect him. He just shakes off and keeps going.” He didn’t hurt himself, he wasn’t embarrassed, and the field was still waiting.

    I learned a lesson from Tank this morning. I can make the same mistake over and over again, but as long as I keep going, I’ll get to the place where I can run free. 🙂

    So glad I have your story of Braveheart to couple with my morning lesson from Tank! 

  • Tee Moo

    This is clearly taken from Tolle’s “The New Earth”, where he discuses the mindful ducks and their propensity to flap their wings to release and let go of resentful energy after an altercation and humans tend to play out extravagant stories in their mind long after the event is over.   Please give credit where credit is due.  Otherwise, I do enjoy getting this in my mailbox every day.

  • Eleanorgoold640

    Hi Jenna, Love your morning lesson about Tank. Your English Bulldog sounds very wise 🙂
    Hi Tee, I am afraid I have not read ‘The New Earth’ but I will certainly be investing in it now, I never knew that about ducks.  It never ceases to amaze me how animals teach us so much, thanks for your comment.

  • As a professional dog trainer and whisperer I loved the analogy. 

    No matter where it came from it has the meaning it took on for you and you shared it for others to process for themselves as well. 

    I have learned many lessons from dogs.  It is the reason I recognize much in myself as well as in others.  It makes life a place where I practice more of now and want to create than staying in what didn’t happen or what I’m afraid is going to happen.

    Aloha wags!

  • Thank you, glad you enjoyed it.  My little dog teaches me something new every day 🙂

  • tina

    lets not forget our cats too 

  • Lyndaeburgos

    Wow! So Tolle had a dog named Brava? Maybe they just happen to have the same general ideas. YOU should give credit where credit is due. Why would you try to discredit someones thought?

  • Isabelladurante

    Beautiful post.

    You may become my daily reading.

    Thank you for sharing.


  • Chrissy

    Hi there Eleanor,
    Although I read the Daily Buddha every day, I rarely ever comment… but your post spoke to me today.
    I am preparing for the biggest exam of my life in 7 short hours, and I am TERRIFIED! But your post has calmed me. As my beautiful husky, Buffy, sits here with me through my ups and downs of confidence and panic, she is always ready for a belly rub or to play and I will forever be reminded of your post every time she tilts her head and wags her tail : )
    Thank you… Eleanor & Tiny Buddha… for a brilliant post in my time of need : ) I would like to forward it to everyone I know ; )

  • Paleoworks

    “Every man dies, but not every man truly lives.”

  • Rose Eliff

    Beautiful post; thank you! A friend and I had breakfast last week on the Huntington Beach pier and watched dolphins playing in the water and pelicans (one of my favorite birds) doing their thing. Animals teach us how to Be, simply Be. They have no artificial borders between countries, no man-made laws, no worries about rent, food, etc. They exist, function, live and play purely in the moment. Who is more evolved?

  • This post comes at the perfect time for me. I am currently working on being more present. I spend so much time trying to control the outcome, plan for the future, or change where I’m at, that I miss the moment completely. I love dogs and how at ease they are with themselves. This was a great way to illustrate just what I am working on and to inspire me to keep at it. Thanks!

  • Victor

    Love this post is it interesting about the similarities and the differences between a Dogs life and a Human Being. Yet the dog is a Man’s best friend.

  • Hi Chrissy,
    I am so glad you liked my post.  Buffy sounds like a beautiful friend. Thinking of you today, I am sure you will do well.
    All the very best.

  • Excellent! Love the quote at the end.
    So many times we’re distracted by what our head says, which is where fear develops and breeds. If only we could play everything by heart, the world would be in much better shape. All the best to you on your journey through life.

  • eleanorgoold

    Thank you Craig.

  • sukha

    I volunteer as a dog walker at my local humane society and always leave a little lighter after spending time with their carefree souls. There’s one in particular that I walk out into the field and when we get to a certain spot, she just plops down in the grass and rolls around, soaking in the sun. She’s not thinking “woe is me, I’m stuck in this animal shelter with all these other yippy dogs” worrying about when someone will come adopt her, she’s just in the moment, enjoying the sunshine and fresh air. It’s been a great lesson for me, and I’ve even taken to trying out her approach occasionally when I find myself getting stressed out — I go into my living room, plop down on the floor and roll around. It works! I haven’t tried it in public yet, but….

    It also reminds me of an email I was forwarded not long ago about 16 life lessons you can learn from a dog. I’ve attached it below. I’m especially fond of number 11 and would love it if everyone did this 😉

    16 Life Lessons to Learn from a Dog

    If a dog was your teacher you would learn things like:

    1. When loved ones come home, always run to greet them. 2. Never pass up the opportunity to go for a joyride. 3. Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure Ecstasy. 4. Take naps. 5. Stretch before rising. 6. Run, romp, and play daily. 7. Thrive on attention and let people touch you. 8. Avoid biting when a simple growl will do. 9. On warm days, stop to lie on your back on the grass. 10. On hot days, drink lots of water and lie under a shady tree. 11. When you’re happy, dance around and wag your entire body. 12. Delight in the simple joy of a long walk. 13. Be loyal. 14. Never pretend to be something you’re not. 15. If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it. 16. When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by, and nuzzle them gently.

    Thanks for the post. I hope you find something to wag your entire body about today 🙂

  • that’s my sister from a photo she took with a friend a couple of years ago. where in the world did you find it??

  • Oh wow, it is? What a coincidence! It was on Flickr listed under the Creative Commons license:

  • ohh. the person who posted on flickr is her best friend. how awesome it got here!