Mindfulness is a Dog’s Specialty. Want Some?

Mindfulness is this ‘buzz word’ these days, but it really isn’t a fad.  Fads are dumb.  This mindfulness stuff, though?  It’s actually a real thing.

If humans would ask their animal friends about mindfulness, we would help them understand it so much better.  We try to show you folks mindfulness all the time.  It’s just that very few of you pause to listen.

Mindfulness is “being here, now.”

Which seems like it would be simple, only, it isn’t.

Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.  – John Kabat-Zinn

The human brain is special, in that it is equipped to be able to be able to “travel” to three different places.  The lands of Past, Present, and Future are all possible places for you to visit.  It’s like having your own DVD remote controller inside of your head!  You can and do hit rewind, fast-forward, or play—-all on the television screen of your own imagination.  You, because you are a human, can project yourself back into the (imagined) past, or off into the (imagined) future—all inside the invisible (but oh-so-real-feeling) walls of your mind.

It will even seem as if you are really there, and your body will even physically respond as if it is real (even though, technically speaking, your body can only be in the present moment).  Even your body forgets where it is when your mind is telling a story.

In short, your mind is POWERFUL.

Just hanging out on the floor, minding my own business, innocently waiting for the humans to leave…

And that’s been a real tool for humans.  Because humans could look at the past and look towards the future, people could learn from past mistakes and build amazing things to improve their futures.  This has benefited humans in innumerable ways and has also benefited the dog family, because I can’t plan very well for tomorrow.  Someone with a brain-that-thinks-ahead was able to build this house and bring in these comfy couches (that I’m not supposed to lay on, but no one can tell me no if they leave me here all alone, now can they?)…

Good thing someone around here can think ahead!

Dog life is simple.  Let me sum up my current thoughts:

  • Am I hungry?  YES!
  • Are you fixing my breakfast right now?  YES!
  • So, do I feel happy?  YES!

Life is fairly uncomplicated when you are a dog.  We make a good team, my sidekick and I, because her human ability to think both forward and backwards has a lot of nice perks.  For example, my human sidekick could use her time-traveling brain to plan ahead and stock me up on treats for a month (cough)…

Your amazing time-traveling brain is a wonderful tool, too, but only as long as you are in charge of it.  Because, for most humans, your brain tends to focus more on the negative than it does on the positive.  It was wired to help you survive in harsh conditions, after all, right?  So, just because you live in a cozy apartment right now doesn’t mean that your survival-level brain programming knows to lay off the problem-focused thinking already.  It’s still living in the world of caves and saber-tooth tigers

This means, perhaps late at night while you are falling asleep, your brain is more likely to travel back in time to think depressingly about what it thinks went wrong, or anxiously muse itself into a projected future full of what will go wrong.  And that sort of time-travel doesn’t add anything helpful to your life.

“Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are?  Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?”  —-Jesus Christ

It’s not that you want to get rid of your time-traveling brain.  It’s an amazing tool and it does you a lot of favors.  You just don’t want the time-traveling brain to be the boss of you.  Because, when it tends to wax negative, critical, and hopeless (which then gets you all depressed and/or anxious), you need to be able to pop out of that mind-story-world and into the world that actually exists.

You want to be the boss of your story-telling mind, and not the other way around.   So, take charge of the remote!  But how do you establish boss-hood with your mind?  You learn how to make contact with the present moment.  You teach yourself how to mindfully visit the present moment whenever you desire.

“Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).” –– James Baraz

You aren’t actually in the past.  You aren’t in the future, either.  Those things are just stories that your mind is telling you.

Sure, some of the difficult memories might even be helpful to mull over, as maybe there are lessons to be learned from them (and you certainly can’t learn from things unless you thoughtfully reflect on them), but that’s different than getting stuck in them.  That’s different from beating yourself up about them, mired down in depression, with nowhere to turn but yet another story about the awfulness of everything.

No one learns from beating themselves up.  You want to be able to mull over painful experiences constructively and when you choose to, not when your story-telling brain says you have to.

And, sure, you need to be able to put yourself into possible future scenarios, because that’s a requirement in order to make and set goals, to delay instant gratification, to get organized, and enjoy the fruits of your labors.  But that’s different from getting stuck “future-casting” some negative hell-story of your brain’s own making.  Isn’t that what anxiety is?  Imagining scenarios where everything goes wrong, where you are wrong, where they are wrong, where everything is a disaster…?  No, thank you.  Get out of that imaginary scene!

How can you do that?  Establish contact with the present moment.

You are here.  Right now.  Breath.  Because, right now, everything is okay.

How do I know this?  Well, what is happening where you are right now in this big wide world?  Look around you with your eyes and notice what you see.  Take a deep breath with your nose and notice what you smell.  Reach out with your hand and touch what you are sitting on and notice how it feels.  Listen with your ears and notice what you hear.

You are right here, right now.  And, right now, everything is okay.

And that, my human friends, is the essence of mindfulness.  To be able to get yourself out of your time-traveling brain’s story, because you are actually here, right now.  Just here.  Not telling stories about what is here, not analyzing what is here, and not judging what is here (that’s all your mind, chattering away, and we’re ignoring it right now). Just be here.

Strategic Sunbeaming.
Maltese: Level Boss

Watch me and my little Maltese buddy whenever a sunbeam shines through the window.  Do you know what we do?  We go lay in it.  We don’t worry that the sunbeam will move or disappear soon.  We don’t gloom over the fact that the sunbeam wasn’t there yesterday.  We live in the present moment and, because of that, we rock that sunbeam.

So, if you need extra tutoring, check in with your pet.  We are experts on this.

“The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.” ― Thich Nhat Hanh

Right now is a good place.  You are a good person to be here with.  There are a lot of things going right for you, here, in the right now of this moment.

“Mindfulness is loving all the details of our lives, and awareness is the natural thing that happens: life begins to open up, and you realize that you’re always standing at the center of the world.”  —Pema Chodron

Even in the midst of whatever messes you may be struggling with from your past or for your future, beautiful things are still all around you.  Right now, you are okay.  All you have to do is enter into Right Now, being here in this present moment, and you can see it for yourself.

Your five senses are your guide to getting here.  Let those amazing five senses tell you all about what it happening, right here, right now.

I don’t know where you live, but Spring is here in the great Far North, and being outside is a fantastic place to practice being mindful.  Some people call this “grounding,” which I like, as I am a big fan of the ground.  There is mud to romp in, now that the snow is melting down (which is especially fun right after a nice bath, because it makes my sidekick emit these hilarious noises).  Birds are singing, worms are crawling, and there are all sorts of things to taste, such as a few bones that I buried last summer that are probably perfectly ripe now!  Somewhere…  (That’s the one problem with being so good at having a “present-moment” mind).

No worries, because digging is fun in its own right.  I think I’ll start in that one spot that my sidekick’s calls, “the Flow Er Gar Den.”  Something about that spot just inspires me.  Green stuff is coming up there, so if I can’t find my bones, at least I can enjoy munching on some tasty bulbs.  And if I can’t find the bulbs, it’s thrilling just to bury my nose in the earth and use my powerful legs to spray that dirt all over the yard.  That’s my kind of “grounding.”

Whatever it is I’m doing, I’m fully present while I’m doing it.  Because there are so many wonderful things everywhere.

Join me.  Be here, now.  Delicious moments of bliss abound.

“Life is a dance. Mindfulness is witnessing that dance.”   ― Amit Ray

Can Counseling Help Me? Where Do I Start? Because John Wayne Didn’t Go to a Counselor…

Dear Hagrid,

My wife says I should see a counselor for help, unless I’d rather move out.  I’d like to be mad at her for the ultimatum, but, honestly, I can see where she’s coming from.  I always said I’d never be like my dad, but I think I’ve turned into him. I don’t hit her, like my dad did to my mom, but I know I’m a butt when I don’t get my way.

Growing up, we made fun of people who went to counseling.  You were supposed to be John Wayne, I guess, and just figure it out by yourself.  Well, that hasn’t worked.   I know that I can be better than this. And I don’t want to lose my wife.  I love her.  But, counseling?  Can you help me understand how getting a counselor could help?

Ex-John-Wayne

Dear Ex-John Wayne

Thanks for being real.  Humans tend to like talking in circles, avoiding the truth, and thus never really getting anywhere, whereas in the canine world, our noses are quite adept at scenting baloney.  You smell like a man who is ready to work to make needed changes, despite your anxiety about counseling (and those are elements of John Wayne that are worth keeping).  You also sound like a man who loves his wife.

Counselors are Like Trail Guides

Here’s the thing about going to counseling.  You are still the boss of you.  So don’t worry about losing your ability to make your own decisions about your life.

Some people go to counseling looking for someone to fix them.  Literally.  Like the counselor will have a magic wand to wave and all problems will be solved.  Like, they won’t have to take any actions or make any changes.  But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that change requires, well, change.

Without my help as a trail-guide, my sidekick would be stuck walking on the boring parts of the path, only staying on the paved trails, and thus missing out on all the best stuff. Thanks to me, she has had to run all over the place…

The counselor or therapist isn’t the one actually living your life.  You are.  It’s your path.  So, for change to happen, change has to be something that you commit to and then you follow that up by actions.  New healthy actions.  Over and over.  Until they become old habits. The most caring or skilled counselor in the world can’t make a dent in your problems unless you are willing to do the work, inside and outside of the counselor’s office.

Seeing a counselor is a partnership, of sorts.  They walk with you on your journey, like a mountaineering guide helping someone through a particularly difficult terrain—one you haven’t been able to get through all by yourself—but  it’s always your journey.  I know a lot about this because I help my human with this all the time. Continue reading Can Counseling Help Me? Where Do I Start? Because John Wayne Didn’t Go to a Counselor…

On Saber-Tooth Babies and Learning the Fine Relational Art of Compromise

I want a cat, but my mom is allergic. What can I do? – PandaBear900

Hello.  You may have gotten a question from my daughter asking about cats. My question is: How do I get my kids to stop asking for more pets?!  – Panda’s Parent

Dear PandaBear900 and her Parent,

It’s a tale as old as time.  When my great-great-great dogparents were lying about around the fire, their human pals Ugh and Oog were having the same conversation that you and your parent are having.

“Me want this.”  Ugh beats his chest and points to the confused-looking baby saber-tooth tiger sitting at his feet.

“Me don’t.”  Ooh stomps his foot and looks at the saber-tooth cub with shock and annoyance.

And so on it goes.  It’s one of those things that happens when you live in a community (and a family is a type of community) and you have a sense of self.

Ants and bees don’t have this problem.  They have the blessing (and curse) of hive mind, where they each have a task and do it without having personal wants, needs, and dreams to muse about.  No self, no problem. Individuality can be a real pain in the rump. Continue reading On Saber-Tooth Babies and Learning the Fine Relational Art of Compromise