"I didn't feel nervous at all."
That's what 9-year-old Lina Bowers of Belleair says about being backstage at the Late Show, seconds away from shaking David Letterman's hand and skating across the stage with Twig the skateboarding dog.
Lina is our neighbor. She's been training with our dogs, Twig and Chili, for almost two years now. And I think there's a valuable story here that may transcend the simple plot line of girl and dog go to Broadway, as cool as that is.
Learning to control stress and fear is an important journey for anybody at any age, 9 or 99. Stress has become widely acknowledged as a leading cause of disease. Just Google "stress and disease." You'll see what I mean. Reduced stress levels inevitably lead to better health, which in turn can lead to greater success. It's a journey, but like Twig and Lina's journey, the destination justifies the effort.
Dog trainers, including my wife Sandy, will tell you that "your emotions travel down the leash." Stay calm. Stay confident. Stay joyful. During their many hours of training together, Sandy has communicated this to Lina. It shows in Lina's work with Twig. On the Late Show, you could Lina's amazing calm and the result: Twig's total concentration.
That didn't just happen. It's been a journey. About two years ago, when Lina was in second grade, she fell in love with Twig and Twig's skating protege, Chili, an almost identical but much younger Sheltie. Lina decided she wanted to learn how to train dogs. Since then she's worked hard to be a calm, confident, joyful trainer. Both dogs respond by trying to do their best. It's inspiring to watch! Our local mail carrier and town workers often stop for a minute to marvel. The workers once rescued Twig's board when it sailed into the storm drain.
A few months ago, Lina's friend, Lucy Allan, also age 9, decided to join the fun. Now all four of them skate around the neighborhood together. They've performed at pet expos, school talent shows and recently at the SPCA 3K Pet Walk in St. Petersburg. Every time they perform, they help more kids discover the fun of dog training.
In the process, they've learned quite a bit about maintaining the right mental attitude so they can be there for their dogs and experience success together. They observe three important principles in their work:
1. Be unselfish. Focus on your dog, not yourself.
2. It's all about the qualities. Focus intently on the qualities you want to express while performing. Forget about impressing the audience. Just express those qualities.
3. Stay "in the bubble" with your dog. Stay connected. Create a peaceful mental atmosphere for your dog — no matter what's happening around you. Don't let fear control your thinking. Don't get distracted.
Lina totally nailed all three of those principles in her Late Show performance. And Twig responded by doing everything Lina asked. Great teamwork! Or as Lina would say, "flabbergastic."
Those principles are not unique to dog training. Anyone can apply them anywhere, anytime.
Right after Twig and Lina's appearance on Letterman, we all walked down Broadway to have dinner at a busy restaurant near Times Square. As we were eating, Lina's mother realized a diamond earring, one with great sentimental value, was missing. It seemed like a real long shot to be able to find it in those circumstances — masses of people, poor light, no knowledge of where the earring was lost.
I took a moment to pray for guidance before looking for the earring. I waited until I felt calm and peaceful, until, like Lina, I didn't feel nervous at all. Then I walked to the entrance of the restaurant and spotted the earring. It was sparkling in clear view of all the people standing in line, yet unseen and untouched by anyone else.
I was grateful that the earring was found, but even more grateful for further proof that all of us have the right to resist fear and stress, the right to feel a calm sense of direction, no matter what's happening around us.
And this peace can help us on our journey to some pretty amazing places.
Bob Clark is a Christian Science practitioner from Belleair. Read his blog at simplyhealthyflorida.com.