Many of us would agree that dogs are fantastic companions. I’ve been thinking recently about how they can also help remind us of some of the core teachings of mindfulness – acceptance, curiosity, living in the moment, and the pure joy of pointlessness.
Dogs take experiences as they come. They don’t make judgments about what’s going on in their head or think they should be feeling differently. They just feel! They might feel rubbish for a bit – perhaps when they eat something they shouldn’t in the park and throw up. Or when they’re bored at home and no one wants to play.
But when they feel better they embrace it. They don’t dwell on the times they felt bad. We can learn from that. Many of us have a tendency to judge experiences all the time – “I shouldn’t be feeling this way”. And this leads into feelings of blame, a rumination cycle that falls into grooves of negative thought.
Dogs encourage us to feel in the moment, to just wait until negative feelings change and do something to distract ourselves in the meantime.
2. Gentle Curiosity
Wherever you go a dog will stick his nose in. If there’s a new thing in the house they’ll sniff it all over, checking every corner for the smells of what’s been there before.
This can remind us to approach our mind and body with the same gentle curiosity. Take time to experience feelings and emotions – even the more negative ones – instead of immediately trying to push them away.
Doing this helps us recognise how our bodies and minds interact.
For example, when the weather is hot or humid some people can feel more anxious, because feeling hot and breathless are feelings similar to having a panic or anxiety attack. A gentle and curious approach could help you take the time to explore these physical sensations before that spiral starts. Perhaps it isn’t an anxiety attack. Perhaps you’re just hot and need to take action to cool down.
3. Living in the Moment
Dogs don’t worry about the future or ruminate on the past. Nor do they make comparisons with others’ experiences. Mindfulness encourages us to explore and accept how we feel right now, without trying to think our way out of it. But we can also try to be ‘in the moment’ in other ways. How often do we worry unnecessarily about the future or go over and over something that happened earlier in the day or week?
Next time you catch yourself doing that, bring yourself back to the present moment and try to focus on what you’re doing right now. Remember that when you’re feeling low you can only remember the negative times and you project those bad times into the future too. You’re not thinking with a clear perspective. Let the past go and let the future unfold as it happens.
4. The Joy of Pointlessness
When we’re low we often find we have to start doing something before we want to do it. For example, it’s not until we start going for a run or meditating that we remember how much it helps, and we want to carry on. It can also be more difficult to make decisions when we’re depressed. This can make it even harder to get started on anything.
But dogs can remind us to sometimes just go for it without thinking. To let go and express ourselves, to do things whether we feel they have a point or not. Let’s chase squirrels we’ll never catch and carry an enormous stick around the park, just because it’s fun to do right now!