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

The Myth of “Bad” Feelings, Morality Isn’t For Emotions, and Soul Gardening

POPULAR MYTH:  Some Feelings are “Bad.”

ACTUAL FACT:  It’s impossible for feelings to be ‘bad.’

Feelings are just feelings.  They aren’t moral.  To moralize something means to decide that it’s an issue of goodness or badness.  If something is a moral issue, it requires you to decide what side it’s on.  Is it good?  Is it evil?  Better get it right!

But feelings aren’t moral.  They just are.  Dogs know this, but it’s something that humans can sure struggle with, especially when they come from communities or families that moralize feelings.  I call that “Good/Badding.”  That’s when you can’t feel anything without having to decide whether that feeling is good or bad.  What a pain in the rump.

We dogs just feel what we feel.  And it’s okay.

Are some feelings uncomfortable or unpleasant?  Of course.

But the feelings aren’t morally wrong.  Because feelings aren’t bad.  Some just aren’t very fun to experience.  That’s quite different from being bad.

Moralizing feelings creates all sorts of problems for humans.  Once you moralize something, you have to act on what you’ve moralized.  If it’s bad, you’d better defend yourself against it (or attack it, or RUN).  This is why the human brain, having decided that some feelings are bad, will then do all sorts of wild things in an attempt to get rid of the “bad” feelings.  Because “bad” is something that you naturally want to protect yourself from.

Examples of the natural protective urges include rage, defensiveness, self-righteousness, silence, sarcasm, stuffing, denial, self-sabotage, condemnation, shame, avoidance, contempt, and so much more.  These are all things that harm our relationships with others and with our own selves.  Ugh.  Interestingly, while these things are all done in order to avoid those big “bad” feelings, the attempts all end up causing even more difficult feelings in the end.

In actuality, the problem isn’t the difficult feeling.

The problem is how the human is relating to the feeling.

If you are alive, then you’ve felt an unpleasant feeling a time or two.  Emotions like sadness, anger, frustration, shame, anxiousness, terror, disgust—those can all be so difficult to experience, especially when they are intense.  But they aren’t bad.  Emotions aren’t right or wrong.  They just are, so please do stop good/badding them.  Why?  Because how we think about our emotions makes a big difference in how we can then choose to handle them.  If you aren’t wasting your energy making an emotion bad (which then makes it a threat to you), you will then have energy to relate to the emotion in a healthy way.

This one time, my human buddy took me to a hockey rink to sit in the stands with her and, I swear, I thought that the bleachers were going to swallow me whole!  She kept telling me that I was safe, but I was having big feelings and they were NOT fun to feel.  My whole body was shaking and I just wanted to run away.

She just kept petting me and reassuring me that I was going to be fine.  That was nice.  I’ve noticed that when humans get mean (or scared) about their unpleasant emotions because they mistakenly think the emotion is bad, they never make it through to the other side of them.  So do try to pet your poor anxious self when you are feeling the feels.  Especially focus around the ears.  Oh, yeah.  That spot right there.

The Holy Book of Animal Wisdom, written into my DNA code, says,

“Be nice to yourself when you are having difficult emotions.”

I do wish humans would read from that book more often.

It can be hard to not be afraid of your unpleasant emotions if no one ever taught you how to be nice to yourself way back when you were a little pup.  But you can still learn how to take care of your feelings now.  It’s never too late.

If you think about this scientifically, emotions are part of our built-in survival network.  That’s not a bad or good thing.  It’s just biological.  I have anxiety about some things for a reason.  My body and brain are wired to keep me safe.  When I encounter a new thing that I don’t yet have information about, such as (big, loud, bright, populated!) hockey rinks, my wonderful and amazing brain logs it as something that might be a threat.  The surge of anxiety it sends helps me stay alert and ready to respond, if needed, to a problem.

That emotional response of anxiety is there to help me to stay safe.  It’s natural.  I don’t create it or think about it or cause it.  It’s a feeling.  It just happens to me.

I don’t have to obey it.  But I also don’t have to discount it, run from it, or stuff it.

I can just notice it.

“Hm.  I’m feeling anxiety.  Would ya look at that…”

My body wasn’t sure if this was safe, so it filled me up with a feeling so that I could be ready to run or fight if needed.  Makes sense.  In this case, though, I was safe.  (Or so my sidekick says.  I’m still working on this one).  She is the soothing voice that helps me learn that it’s okay to be in this bright loud place.  As I slowly learn that the rink is not a threat to me, I can gradually relax and then can adjust my worldview to incorporate hockey rinks as yet one more fun place to spend time with my humans.

I can look at my emotions kindly, with curiosity, just noticing them, and then I can decide what to do with them.

Because I am willing to endure the feelings, walking through my anxiety, I will get to move out to the other side of it and get more of what I want out of my life, which happens to be to accompany my humans EVERYWHERE they go.  Maybe next they will let me try going to that ska-oool place.  It looks amazing.  All those kids just sitting around with no dog to pet.  And so many pencils to chew on.  Mmmmm.

Being sentient beings on this planet means that we will have unpleasant emotions.  Making peace with this is an important part of embracing life.  And learning what in the world to do with the emotions, once we’ve made peace with the fact that they will be there, is where gaining wisdom comes in.

As I mentioned earlier, some people ascribe to the method of getting rid of The “Bad” Feelz.  But when you say no to one sort of emotions, you also say no to all of the other ones.  There is no such thing as only shutting down the “bad” emotions.

Think about all of the things that you might feel during a typical day.  There are a lot of emotions happening, aren’t there?  Unpleasant emotions often come all mixed together with enjoyable emotions.  Emotions can be a lot like a big ball of yarn.  Yes, I said that especially for my cat loving fans.  Even if cats are mostly unpleasant.  But I digress.

If you run around moralizing the unpleasant emotions, calling them bad and trying to get rid of them, you will have to throw out the whole ball of yarn and end up missing out on the lovely emotions that were there for you to experience!  What a bummer that would be.  Especially if you have a cat.

Fortunately, there is a simple fix for this.  It’s found in not good/badding your feelings.  Because feelings, in and of themselves, aren’t moral.  They just happen.  You don’t choose them.  They instantly and naturally arise.  They just pop up, like bubbles from the bottom of a spring pond.  It’s what you do with the feelings that can become an issue of good or bad (or healthy versus unhealthy).

Adulting is hard. Frequent naps are recommended.

Though, yes, it’s hard work to handle feelings in a healthy way, especially if you haven’t learned how to do it yet.  It takes some effort and practice (and a lot of compassion for yourself while you’re trying to grow yourself up).

It’s a lot like planting a garden, only this one is in your soul.  You have to dig around a lot in the dirt.  Your back might get sore.  You will probably need to consult books and expert gardeners for help from time to time.  Your fingernails will definitely get gross.  You will put in a huge effort and then it will just look like nothing is happening for awhile.  When (finally!) some evidence of your hard work starts becoming visible, it will be only be in the form of little baby shoots of green.  Tender.  Delicate.  Looking nothing like a mature plant.  Ugh.  You will then have to carefully weed on a regular basis, because unwanted things might try to grow in all that nice fresh soil.  And there still won’t be any actual fruit for a while.  You will have to trust the process.   But it’s worth it.

There is a really nice harvest, for those who are willing to get their hands dirty.

Feelings aren’t bad.  They are part of who you are.  And you aren’t bad.  If you doubt me, consult your Holy Book of Animal Wisdom.  It says that you are precious and definitely worthy of love.  Trust me.  I’m a dog.  I know stuff.

The Anxiety of “What If”–Finding the Right Path, Getting it Perfect, and the Terror of Change

How do you know that you are on the right path in life?  I’m in college and almost done with my nursing degree, and I’m terrified that I made a really stupid decision that I’m going to be stuck with.  I’m 24 and only getting older. What if I don’t like being a nurse?  I feel like I just wasted four years and I’m panicking.

Dear Nice College Student Person,

Old?  As a 24-year-old human, you aren’t even a 3-year-old dog yet.  Just saying.

As for your almost-completion of nursing school, that’s quite an accomplishment.  Nursing degrees are tougher than most, or so my RN pals tell me, so you clearly have some brains and the ability to use them.  But, I know, that’s not actually what you are asking me about.

Nice Human, you are suffering from a malady that infects most members of your species, and, though I can teach you how to cope with it, I’m not going to be able to cure you of it completely.  This is because, while it is certainly a pain in the ass, it’s also one of the great gifts that comes with having a human brain. Continue reading The Anxiety of “What If”–Finding the Right Path, Getting it Perfect, and the Terror of Change