“Your dog is so mindful!” my neighbor yelled across the street.
Although my kind neighbor was referring to my dog’s obedience, I smirked at the literal thought of my dog’s mindfulness. Mindfulness happens when we notice everything in the present moment. In doing so, we are often more grateful and more content. Sunshine, my 7-month-old Golden Doodle, certainly can be mindfully aware and content.
My thoughts drifted to an illustration that I often show my child patients. It uses the example of person walking with a dog to demonstrate the concept of mindfulness. The person’s thoughts are a jumbled mess of memories and worries, while the dog is focusing on what is happening in the moment. Most children seem delighted that the dog in this illustration appears wiser and more content.
As lovely as this illustration is, I can honestly say that Sunshine is not always mindful.
She can urgently tell me to wake up and take her for a walk, and does not patiently wait until I am ready. She can become overly absorbed in smells on our walks – so much that she has to run hard to keep up. Also, if I am busy or tired, she can become insistent that she needs attention, and does not appear to enjoy any moment when she feels ignored.
But, there are a number of ways that Sunshine helps ME become more mindful.
Sunshine and I love to go for long, quiet walks. When we walk, the stress in my life seems to fall off, and I notice the beauty around me. Most special to me are the walks at the nearby local or state parks. Oftentimes, we are alone, and I can notice all of the beauty in nature: the green grass, the trees, the water. I can feel the earth beneath me, hear the frogs chirping and the birds singing. I love the smell of the wet earth or the lake when the breeze blows its scent my way. I love the feeling of the soft wind, or invigorating temperatures on my face. When I walk with her, I slow down. Her crazy dog antics of leaping and running never fail to make me laugh.
A few weeks back, I read a meme that resonated with me. It said, “The more hectic your life, the more you need quiet.” The wisdom in that statement rings true for me. I am a psychologist, a small business owner, and an employer. I am in a professional of talking, problem-solving, and thinking. I use my brain to its full extent every day. Also, I have a family of two great sons, and a spouse. All who require communication, love, and support from me. Which includes talking. A friend of mine, who is also a school principal, told me that sometimes she tells her family after a long day, “There are no more words.”
Sunshine offers me quiet, contemplative support without words. She will often lay at my feet while a sit in my chair, looking out the window. I like to notice the feeling of her springy, soft fur beneath my toes. Her love and support flows freely when she looks at me, leans on me, and rolls over for me to pet her tummy with my feet. My mindfulness improves while she is there; I notice the sound of the birds singing and the smell and taste of my coffee or tea. Again, I feel the urgency of the future fall away, along with the stress of the previous day. It is such a gift.
Finally, I think that unconditional love from my dog nudges me towards a more compassionate state. Her love nurtures my self-compassion. One day, I had been genuinely sad about something that had happened to a friend. I sat in my favorite chair, noticed my breath, curled up in a blanket, noticed its softness, and closed my eyes. Without prompting, Sunshine came up, and laid her head on my lap, as if to say, “It’s alright, I’m here.” Her presence made it easier for me to remember that everyone experiences sadness, and that being kind to myself was important for my health. So, there we sat, together in the quiet, listening to the birds, feeling the breeze through the window, breathing and resting.
So, whether you have a dog, a cat, a turtle, or any other pet, maybe it’s time to listen to their wisdom.
It’s possible that by connecting with them, and enjoying them, mindfulness may also be easier for you. Just because we are noticing the present moment, and all the comfort and beauty that it holds, doesn’t mean we must experience it alone. The kind companionship of an animal friend can be a kind link to a more mindful experience.