“Mindfulness” — the term is everywhere these days. Enthusiastic stories praise this practice and its benefits for emotional well-being.
So, what is mindfulness? Well, to me it means keeping my focus on what is happening right now (vs. ruminating on the past, the future, or random thoughts), “viewing” my beliefs and feelings more objectively (vs. getting wrapped up in them), and purposely and fully experiencing life with its many wonderful and challenging moments.
As a professional counselor, I am aware of how difficult mindfulness is for most of us. We aspire to achieve it, but often cannot figure out where to find it in action. Well, I have a suggestion — let’s look to our pets! Through decades of watching, engaging with, and loving the many rescue dogs who have been part of my life, I have noticed five of their natural behaviors that reflect mindfulness and strongly remind me to make this practice integral in my life.
Here are five ways my dogs remind me to be mindful:
The first mindful action my dogs Chuck, Stowe, Harris, and Luna take each day is to calmly wake up. As the alarm beeps, we humans often toss and turn and grumble, “Ugh, it’s already 6 a.m.? Blah. I don’t want to face this day.” In contrast, my dogs stretch (always big stretches first), open their eyes, get vertical, and greet my husband and me while displaying the attitude of, “It’s another day; that’s cool.”
We can sense their acceptance of each part of the morning schedule (walks, breakfast, playing, back to resting) and also in the way they seem to take each day as it comes. When I find myself waking up in a grumpy zone about how the day might not be easy, I think of my dogs and how they embrace each day. I then try to move to this mindful position as well.
The second mindful behavior I notice in my dogs is their complete focus when mealtimes arrive. “Time for breakfast!” and “time for dinner!” human shout-outs result in complete attention from our beloved canines. When they eat, they eat. All other activities cease. There is no canine multitasking consumption.
In contrast, as we humans eat while reading, checking our mobile devices, and watching TV, we are missing the true appreciation of our food. As I catch myself in scattered attention while eating and then compare it to my pooches’ consumption habits, I am inspired to bring myself back to a mindful, singular focus.
A third mindful activity is apparent when Chuck, Stowe, Harris, and Luna (especially Luna) are playing, either alone or with one another. When engaged in play, at that moment, 100 percent of their minds and bodies are there. When Luna is digging another hole in the backyard, that objective is all she is about. Eyes, ears, and paws are fully engaged in the dirt removal project she has taken on. (Okay, some of her mindful activities are not kind to our property.) When we go on walks and she seeks an oversized stick to conquer and carry home, this is her complete mission.
Again, I compare that to my own tendency to work on one project while also thinking about another (checking my emails when writing an essay, for example), and I bring myself back, with Luna, the digger and branch carrier, as my mindfulness model.
The ability to wind down, relax, and achieve peace is the fourth mindful behavior my dogs display. When sitting down in the evening to watch TV, our human brains can struggle to wind down. Instead of allowing ourselves to sit, stay, and enjoy our show, disruptive thoughts bubble up. “I should unload the dryer.” “Oh, hit ‘pause,’ I have to send an email.” Meanwhile, the pooches have each chosen a soft dog bed or couch section, circled sufficiently, and are in complete relax mode. It’s time to chill, and chill they do.
The fifth and perhaps most important mindful action my dogs take each day is their acceptance and ability to move forward when their plans are interrupted or if they experience challenges. If, for example, Chuck gets reprimanded for jumping up on the counter and I give him a “Chuck, off!” response, he is able to get down and become interested in his next activity.
We don’t sense him questioning his feelings and actions with a human-like “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I make my people happy all the time?” When Stowe’s day suddenly includes a bath (an activity that water-avoiding Stowe would not choose), she grins and bears it and moves on. Canines seem able to accept problems, change course, and keep going.
So as I read about, consider, and continue my journey to become more present in the moment and less consumed by and tied up in my thoughts and emotions, I remember my pooches and their five key mindful behaviors. With enough canine reminders, I believe there is a chance for us. We may eventually reach the level of mindfulness they have already so naturally achieved.
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About the author: Chris Corrigan Mendez, M.Ed., PLPC, NCC, is the proud guardian of four rescue pooches and a professional counselor in private practice. Chris leads a pet illness and loss support group and provides individual counseling to bereaved pet guardians. Chris practices under the supervision of Helen Conway-Jensen, M.A., M.Ed., LPC, NBCCH, LIC #2002021231. Follow the author at www.ccmcounseling.vpweb.com and www.facebook.com/ccmcounselingstl.