We’ve just completed Module Two of the Transformational Leadership Training (TLT) in beautiful Gore, Virginia on a special property called The Land Celebration. It was an incredible week, helping our TLT participants really claim their leadership.
Suwaylu and her family are the custodians of The Land Celebration. Two of the most popular residents at The Land are Bodhi and Wallace, a couple of dogs with very different dispositions. Britta and my experience with Wallace became an important part of our week of leading transformational work at the TLT.
Wallace is a rescue dog. Before he came to The Land he was abused and mistreated. When we arrived a week ago he greeted us the way he greets most newcomers, with a howl and aggressive skepticism, all the while keeping his distance.
For Britta and me he came to symbolize the Defended and Wounded Selves. (Along with the Healthy Self, the Defended and Wounded Selves make up what we at COB call the Human Condition.) Healing comes when the defenses can be relaxed and the Healthy Self can tend to the deep needs of the Wounded Self.
Our simple and lofty goal was to pet Wallace. Since Wallace wouldn’t come near us, even for a treat, Steven Kimmelman, one of our COB co-facilitators and a bit of a dog whisperer, suggested we offer Wallace a treat by placing it on the ground, crouching down to his level, and slowly backing a few feet away. We did just that and Wallace took the treat. The next day he carefully took one from my hand and then went bounding off in the opposite direction before something bad could happen to him. The next day he took a treat from Britta and then he even stayed for a little while.
Each day he got more and more comfortable with us, taking treats until another important need kicked in – the need for companionship. He started coming up to us even when no treat was offered, just to be touched, to be with us, to lay down next to us. Eventually, he even gave us “the paw”, a deep sign of trust from a dog.
In the morning we’d find him laying in front of our cabin door, facing away from us, guarding us.
The lessons for us were clear. When we get wounded a defense forms to protect it, and we either growl or run like Wallace, avoiding contact with others who could possibly hurt us again. Wallace is proof that when a loving offering is made to the defended self, when needs are met, defenses melt and wounds can heal.
We need to make friends with the Defended Self, meet it where it’s at, speak it’s language, with patience, love and kindness. Never give up, no matter how much it growls.
And, in fact, that healed wound makes Wallace a faithful companion. Wallace’s buddy, Bodhi, is a good dog. He’s not particularly traumatized, he’s not particularly friendly. He does his thing without much regard for us. And that’s fine of course.
Wallace, however, is a very sensitive dog. And the wound that caused his strong defense has turned into a great ally. His sensitivity has become the source of devotion, even to us strangers, within a few short days. I imagine Wallace might be the kind of dog who’d run for help if his owner were hurt.
By the way, you can join us next year for the TLT and meet Wallace yourself as you simultaneously step into leadership and bring profound and lasting healing to your own Wounded and Defended Selves.