For my thirtieth birthday I received an amazing gift: an opportunity to assist in wolf training. (If you live in the US and want to do this, it's awesome and you can find more info here.) My boyfriend and I packed our bags and headed to the Virginia coast to check out the wolves and see how we could help train them. I didn't know what to expect (the website was a little vague), but when we started the training session, it turned out to be amazing. First, the trainers told us a bit about how they train the wolves (all positive training, just like I do with my little Barkley pup!). Then they demonstrated some of the training with two gorgeous, majestic wolves. Finally, each member of the audience was invited to ask a wolf for a behavior, followed by encouragement and a treat.
For the hour or so that we were able to learn about and interact with the wolves, I was captivated. I wanted to be nowhere else and I was thinking only of how beautiful the wolves were, how lucky I was to be so close to them, and how wonderful it was to be able to communicate with them. I was fully in the moment and loving every minute of it. It was only later—after the high of being so close to such impressive animals—that I thought about how inspiring the training session truly was.
What struck me most about being there with the wolves was the bravery. The trainers were brave, getting right in there with the wild animals and doing their best to keep them happy, entertained, and stimulated. The wolves were brave for finding ways to thrive in an environment that wasn't exactly their natural habitat. And, in general, all the people around the world who seek the truth of underlying the lives of wolves—the knowledge that they are simply wild animals trying to survive and not vicious or evil predators out to get humans (as they're often depicted in films and books).
The word "brave" kept coming back to me as I thought about the wolves and what it was like to train them. Even though I was secured in a spot above them, knowing they were relatively tame and could be called by one of the trainers, I felt brave, standing there, looking into the eyes of a big, beautiful wolf. Though I can't say I did anything all that daring, it felt gutsy—almost courageous—to be standing mere feet away from (and communicating with!) an animal humans had been taught to fear for centuries.
That the gaze of the wolf reaches the soul sounds a tad dramatic when considered in an abstract way, but to be standing there, with the wolf looking right at your, it really felt true. Maybe it's just me and my crazy love of animals, but I felt connected to the wolf, as if in some odd way we knew each other, or at least understood one another. The connection I experienced was a lesson in and of itself, but perhaps more important were the lessons I took away from the training session. These are things that were established for the benefit of the wolves and trainers, but what I learned can benefit anyone striving to live a positively present life.
When it comes to training the wolves, the trainers stressed the importance of balance. Too much training and the wolves would get tired or bored. Too little and they'd forget what they'd learned.
Likewise, we all need balance in our lives. If you spend too much time on one aspect of your life—work, family, love, a hobby, etc.—whatever that aspect is can grow dull, tiresome, and even stressful. No matter how much you enjoy something, it's important to balance it with other aspects of life to keep it fresh and interesting. In addition, engaging in a variety of other activities often helps you come up with new ideas or techniques that can be applied to the task/relationship/etc. that you must enjoy.
Positive training is all about praise and recognition. When training the wolves, "bad" behavior is ignored (not punished) and good behavior it rewarded.
While not all bad behavior should be ignored when it comes to humans, there's something to be said for letting some things go and choosing instead to praise and reward the positive interactions with others. Positive reinforcement won't work for every human-to-human situation, but there is quite a lot to be gained from choosing to reward rather than punish those you interact with. (For more on positive training as it applies to people, check out Positive Reinforcement: A Powerful Positivity Tool.)
To effectively train wolves, both the wolves and the trainers have to be in the moment, staying aware not only of their own actions but of each other's actions as well.
Staying present is often a difficult task, but the more effort is put into it, the more rewarding interactions with others become. Perhaps it might be beneficial to imagine you're dealing with a wolf rather than a human when you find yourself drifting away from the moment. If a wolf, rather than a person, were standing in front of you, you'd probably be more in tune with it's body language, movements, and expressions. The more you tune into people that way, the better your relationships will be.
Just like us, wolves get bored if they have to do the same exercise over and over again, which is why the trainers constantly switch it up, keeping them stimulated with new exercises, activities, and even smells.
Creating variety in life is similar to having balance (don't put all your eggs in one basket!), but it's taking it a bit further. Rather than dividing up your attention between the current aspects of your life, why not try adding in something new? Pick up a new hobby or embark on a spontaneous adventure. If you've already got too much going on, consider how you can switch up your schedule or mix up your daily routines. After all, variety is the spice of life.
Listen to the trainer's tone in the video. She sounds excited and energetic, right? To get wolves excited about what they're learning, the trainer has to also be (or at least appear) excited.
Honestly, sometimes it can be really, really hard to get excited about life. Between the routines and stress and the unexpected upsets, being enthusiastic can sometimes seem impossible. But, even if you must force it, make an effort to be enthusiastic. No one wants to work with/live with/be friends with someone who is bored and blase about life. And you're not doing your mental state any favors by choosing to have a lackadaisical attitude. So get excited. Make it your goal to find reasons to be delighted by life.
You might have noticed that I used B.R.A.V.E. as an acronym for the lessons. I did this because I believe that, as basic as these lessons sound, each of them requires a bit of daily bravery. In theory these ideas are simple, easy. But in reality, it's much more difficult to adhere to these simple-sounding concepts. To really encorporate these elements—balance, recognition, awareness, variety, and enthusiasm—into life requires courage, especially when you're facing tough times. Bravery doesn't have to be reserved for dangerous acts. Bravery can be a quiet kind of courage, taking form in the small, everyday acts of striving to live a positive and present life.