Gift of Darkness

This week, we continue our theme of ‘Darkness’ with a beautifully written post by Mo Henderson, in which she tells us about the past trauma and present behaviors of her refuge dog, Chiko, and in so doing reflects upon her own past hurts and how she faces them in the “here and now”



“ Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift. ”

Mary Oliver’s Poem-The Uses of Sorrow


Two refuge dogs are part of our family household at present. Shiny is 8 years old, a cross-border collie, who has been with us since he was 10 months old, and Chiko whose age is around 12-15 years, has been with us for the last 4 years. Sadly Chiko was abandoned and found tied to the refuge centre’s gate. We know Shiny was well-loved by his previous owner, who unfortunately had to move away with her job and her accommodation did not allow dogs. He is beautiful, loving, good-natured, and loyal. Chiko also has these qualities, he is adorable and although it has taken 3-4 years he is relaxed and stress-free at home. However, it is a different story when we take him out for a walk. When outside he becomes extremely stressed and is on guard the whole time, alert to any sign of other dogs. If he sees another dog he immediately goes into attack mode, therefore we protect him by keeping him on the lead. Occasionally, when there are no other dogs around, we let him run free for a little while, still, he is on full alert and watchful, his breathing indicates he is highly stressed. It is wonderful to see him spontaneously run free on the very rare occasion when his adventurous instinct takes over and he sees or catches the scent of something interesting to him. We have tried many ways to socialise Chiko with other dogs without success and at his ripe old age we think the old cliche ‘ you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ may be true for him!

We love him dearly and although we like to keep an open mind and would like to see him happy when outside, we will protect him (and other dogs) by keeping him on a leash outside and continue to freely enjoy his life with us at home and in our garden, where he is relaxed and happy. Not knowing his previous history, we believe he must have had some awful experience in the past, particularly with another dog/s and unlike we human beings, he cannot choose to let go of any past hurt or injury.

His care has been challenging and we are grateful that Chiko has grown to communicate with us and trust we understand and love him. He is not a silent dog, it took us a while to realise he was talking happily to us through barking and to many others who visit us. It seems to be his way of initially welcoming people to his home and he loves sitting and being part of any conversation. Happily, he settles down and then we can hear what visitors have to say too.


I ponder about what I have learned from Chiko and consider how I have dealt with my own past hurt and loss. By the time we as human beings reach old age, we all at some time or other have experienced some trauma and loss. My reactions to past hurts and losses have brought obstacles such as denying and distracting myself with other things to keep me busy, anything but be still and face my own vulnerabilities. In a sense it took just a few years for Chiko to learn to trust us, yet, it can seem like a lifetime to learn to let go of such experiences and to exist freely.


In facing the darkness in life I have not liked the feelings of being lost and vulnerable, sometimes it has felt easier to live with the narrative of past happenings and imagine future possibilities rather than simply be with life as it is now, not knowing what comes next. And yet, expecting an animal like Chiko to do so, when his little body may be carrying trauma must be an enormous task for him, not surprisingly he puts himself on high alert when outdoors!


The personal traumas and deep hurts human beings experience can become much lighter when learning to exist now, which, in a sense, is all that there is. I am not the same as I was before these things and never will be. I am learning to see and accept loss and hurt by knowing these things have happened without needing to identify and replay my story as if it is reality now. Somehow this allows space for those precious loved ones lost and for healing personal wounds. More importantly, to venture freely, appreciate, and be grateful for life itself and all the connections and expressions that brings.


Little Chiko helped with the gift of a ‘box full of darkness’ in my reflections on his life. I wish him well and best wishes with his struggles and that we can protect him in the best ways possible.

Love and merit to him as we venture out together.


Mo Henderson

4 Replies to “Gift of Darkness”

  1. Mo, your post speaks to me on many different levels. Firstly, my dog Poppy is very similar in character to Chiko. Unfortunately, I have had to cease her walks because she gets so stressed by other dogs that she pulls me over. I take her to a dog park, on the weekend, where she has a large paddock, all to herself and she runs like the wind and is able to be herself. Not ideal but better, I think , than spending her life in the dogs’ home. I also identify with your effort to not “live with the narrative of past happenings and imagine future possibilities rather than simply be with life as it is now, not knowing what comes next”. Living with life just as it is now is a challenge and it is easy, I find, to create the fantasy of past and future and play this in the mind. It is good to share these aspects of training and know that we are not alone. Thank you so much.
    1. Thank you for sharing your own experience Karen, Poppy sounds very much like Chiko, knowing she is bigger than Chiko I understand, when stressed, she can pull you over when you take her out on the lead! The paddock you describe sounds ideal where she can run at weekends, I’m pleased you have that facility. Similarly Chiko ‘runs like the wind’ in circles in our garden. Strangely, since we picked him up from the refuge centre, Chiko has always got on well with our other dog Shiny, he must have known that was good to do. Hence both Shiny and Chiko really enjoy chasing each other around the garden.
  2. Thank you Mo, I so echo everything that Karen has said. And also would like to add that Chiko is one lucky dog. Your thoughts have helped me to re-think my own way of dealing with ‘darkness’. I too find myself living in a fantasy future for much of the time – also known as worrying. I guess we all carry ‘a box full of darkness’ in our different ways. I find it helps to try to think that life is darkness as well as light and not to expect the darkness to be absent but to accept and embrace it. Not easy. Your words have helped me to re-focus.
    1. Thank you Chris and I agree with your helpful words: “I find it helps to try to think that life is darkness as well as light and not to expect the darkness to be absent but to accept and embrace it”. As Karen said “living with life just as it is now is a challenge” and I am so grateful for training. Although we each have our own training, I value very much our friendship in the sangha and sharing these things together is a real treasure.

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