Dogs of Chaos

“When the world remains known and familiar – that is, when our beliefs maintain their validity – our emotions remain under control. When the world suddenly transforms itself into something new, however, our emotions are dysregulated, in keeping with the relative novelty of that transformation, and we are forced to retreat, or to explore once again." [1] Pg. 37-38

A Known Path

It was a typical morning, like any other. I arose and drank some coffee. Today, I thought, I would go for a run. I’ve done this same route many times before. It is in the woods of New Hampshire. A small country road with narrow shoulders. A road with a posted speed limit of 45 mph, but people usually drive 55-60.

It was a brisk day, but the sun was out, making the cold temperature not as harsh as one would expect. As anyone who has lived in New Hampshire knows, as long as you dress for it, you’ll be fine. It’s just a mental game to become motivated enough to layer up and get out on the road for a workout. Anyone who runs knows, it’s a few minutes before a run when we don’t feel like running that are the hardest. As soon as we start, usually that goes away, and if not, the reward after the run is always worth it.

Running allows us to push ourselves, to see of what it is that we are mentally made. After all, it’s about 80% mental and only about 20% physical if we are in any shape at all. As our mind continually pesters us to stop and we push on, then we become a little bit stronger. It’s like hardening steel. To do that we must heat it to a high temperature, form it with a hammer and then plunge it into cold water. This process makes the steel very strong. I had developed my mind on this run before, so it was familiar, or so I thought.

I have run this route many times. When the snow is pushed back enough, there is a small strip of the shoulder that I can run on so that I don’t need to run on the blacktop. 70% of the route is forest and lakes. The other bit is houses scattered along the way. Some of these houses are homes; others are vacation destinations for the summer months. It was mid-morning in the dead of winter, so there were fewer folks outside than on a summer’s day.

As I started, everything felt great. My body was responding positively to the stress, and my mind became more free and clear with each step. As I warmed up and got in the groove, all was well. According to my run tracker on my phone, I was making great time. Steadily I chugged along until I got to the halfway point of the run. This point is pleasant because the road comes very near to a medium-sized lake. There are a few houses around and some beautiful, open scenery. However, this is when everything changed.

Enter The Chaos

This point marked the departure from my historically familiar domain. My semblance of historical order was about to have a wild card thrown into it. I was about to face chaos, and I didn’t know it.

“The universe is composed of “order” and “chaos” – at least from the metaphorical perspective. Oddly enough, however, it is to this “metaphorical” universe that our nervous system appears to have adapted….What Sokolov discovered, to put it bluntly, is that human beings (and other animals, far down the phylogenetic chain) are characterized by an innate response to what they cannot predict, do not want, and can not understand….The notion that we respond in an “instinctively patterned” manner to the appearance of the unknown has revolutionary implications.” [1] Pg. 30

“The eternal knower...the process that mediates between the known and the unknown – is the knight who slays the dragon of chaos, the hero who replaces disorder and confusion with clarity and certainty, the sun-god who eternally slays the forces of darkness, and the “word” that engenders creation of the cosmos." [1] Pg. 28

I heard a dog barking behind me as I approached the exact halfway point. I paid it no attention because I’ve heard dogs barking on runs before. They are predominantly tied up in the yard. This time it was different. The dog had run down from the house and out onto the road. As I turned around reaching halfway, the dog was behind me. This scenario was a problem.

The dog was barking vigorously at me and seemingly everything around it. The dog would not have been a problem if I could have kept going forward. However, I needed to go back the way that I came, which was now barricaded by this dog. The dog was an Australian Sheppard, which I had not known to be too aggressive. The part that frightened me was two-fold. First, the dog barked continuously, and at all things, secondly, it had a bandanna around its neck, but I was not entirely sure it had come from the house that was now behind me.

Because it was barking at everything, that told me it was scared. Animals that are scared are inherently unpredictable. The fact that there were no owners around and I could not see a collar, suggested that it could have run away from somewhere days or weeks ago. If it was tired, hungry and scared, I easily could have been a threat. An animal in a fear based position is wild, aggressive and unpredictable no matter the amount of domestication.

“Fear is not conditioned; security is unlearned, in the presence of particular things (“stimuli”) or contexts, as a consequence of violation of explicit or implicit presupposition. Classical behavioral psychology is wrong – in the same manner our folk presumptions are wrong: fear is not secondary, not learned – security is secondary, learned. Everything not explored is tainted, a priori, with apprehension. Anything or situation that undermines the foundations of the familiar and secure is therefore to be feared.” [1] Pg. 56

So, the dog remained in the middle of the road for a few minutes. Several times cars came flying around the corner, almost hitting the dog. Luckily enough cars came that seemed to scare it back up into the yard. I thought to myself; this is my time. One car had slowed down and drove the way I needed to go. So, I calmly started walking in that direction. I thought if I ran, the dog would surely pursue in full force.

As I walked by the house, it saw me and came to the edge of the yard. Luckily for me, the yard was raised about 8 feet above the road, so the dog was at least discouraged from coming down to the road again. As I walked, yet still all of the cars drove off, and the dog followed me. It pursued me all the way down the driveway. It paced the length of the lane, barking the entirety of the time. It came down to meet the road again. Now it was just the dog and me on the road.

I kept walking, trying not to make eye contact, being as assertive as I could. I did not want to square off to it either, because that meant a battle would ensue. So, I kept walking, slowly and deliberately, keeping one eye on the animal behind me. It slowly started getting closer. Step by step, it was gaining on me. I knew that chaos was creeping in. I knew in the back of my mind, the only way that this was going to end, was in a confrontation.

Re-Establishing Order

I waited until the dog came within about ten feet of me, and I deemed that the limit of my comfort zone. I planted a foot, quickly turned and squared off to it. I immediately made myself as big and as loud as possible. I assumed that any domestication of this dog would have taught it what the command “go” or “go home” meant. So, I used that. I yelled “go” several times reasonably loudly, and that ended the chaos. The dog immediately yielded and began its retreat.

Perhaps this seems like an anti-climatic ending, but I’d like to point out a couple of things. The first is I have been running on the road off and on for about ten years in the United States and have never been chased by a dog. When I was in Europe on my bike, I was chased by several dogs and faced one that certainly had rabies. When you are on a bike, however, you have a significant mechanical advantage as compared to running. I knew there was no way that I was outrunning a dog.

The second thing to note is the remote location. If the dog had attacked me, I would have been in trouble. Cars pass in intermittent intervals, sometimes every 5 minutes, sometimes every 30. It would have most likely been just the dog and I duking it out. I now know why my Grandfather walks with a golf club.

“...despite our great storehouse of culture, despite the wisdom bequeathed to us by our ancestors, we are still fundamentally ignorant, and will remain so, no matter how much we learn. The domain of the unknown surrounds us, like an ocean surrounds an island. We can increase the area of the island, but we never take away much from the sea.” [1] Pg. 49


We must recognize that the things that are most familiar to us are not free from chaos. It can show itself in the most normal of places.

We condition our minds by facing the appropriate amount of chaos. If we face enough, we learn, if we face too much our emotions dysregulate and we panic. As we explore a new domain or new phenomena within a known area, we provide ourselves with these challenges and face a situation where there is a potential to gain new knowledge.

Delayed gratification comes when we push ourselves to do something that we might not want to at that moment. When we drive ourselves to go for a run, we reap the rewards later. This idea can be said for any scenario where there is goal setting with the hopes of a better future in place of the unbearable present.

Like the dog, when we are alone, we can become frightened of all things. We must be cautious not to become like the stray, where all things become interpreted as threats to our very existence. It is only through the realization that we are social creatures that thrive in a community that we will be able to abolish the lone wolf mentality.

As we face chaos, we must keep an even keel. Dogs especially can pick up on our emotions. If we are afraid and we allow them to see it, they will deem us weak and attack. This dynamic is the way of life. This notion is why confidence and assertiveness are essential. If we are considered to be weak, we will have things taken from us until we have nothing left.


[1] J. B. Peterson, “Maps of Meaning,” in Maps of Meaning, pp. 19–502.