Happiness is not a trail of events, it depends upon the tides of the mind” – Alice Meynell
Pets are great teachers.
Every weekend, I take my dog (named Ben), to a local park. It has a paved mile long walking loop in a lush outdoor auditorium surrounded by trees and encompasses a play- ground, soccer field, baseball field and pond. It attracts people from neighboring communities - adults and children alike. Just being there gives me a sense of peace, and the fresh air always clears my mind.
Something almost magical happens every time I take Ben there.
His excitement, as evidenced by fast paced tail wagging becomes
infectious – attracting children, other dogs, and saunters. Ben, who is a
rescue, is often shy around strangers….except of course, when he’s at the
He loves to play.
Whether it’s catch and chase with other dogs, or solo with a ball – his delight always magnetizes a crowd who can’t help but smile as they watch.
He stops to rest.
We often walk more than one lap and if he’s tired or hot, he just plops himself under a shady tree. He has no particular exercise agenda (unlike his owner) and he listens to what his body needs. When he needs to slow down or stop, he does.
He asks for what he wants.
At the beginning of the loop there’s an inlet to the pond, and oooohhhh how Ben loves to swim. We have a routine when we go there: I throw out a stick for him to fetch – and off he goes…paddling with a mission, head above water and tail
wagging the whole time. But since the rule in my home is: if Ben goes in the pond – he then goes in the tub for a bath – fetching a stick in the water isn’t something he always gets to do. Each time we approach the inlet, without
fail, Ben runs down the sandy beach, wags his tail and waits. When I know he’s not going swimming on a particular day, I keep walking and call him to me. He comes- then runs back to the water –hinting that he still wants to swim. I
say “no”, keep walking, and soon, he follows.
When he doesn’t get what he wants – he lets it go and moves on.
How I wish I could do that!!!
Now, in some ways, it’s much easier for dogs to play, rest, ask for what they want, let go and move on. They don’t have the same kinds of life stressors that we humans have, and their brains are wired much differently than ours. They don’t have a prefrontal cortex – so planning and thinking isn’t something they do. They can’t get stuck obsessing about something that happened, or worry about something that may happen. However their limbic brains are much bigger
than ours – so feelings like: happy, excited, scared etc. are experienced
deeply by them.
My psychotherapy clients have often talked about their pets and animals in session. And now I know why. Animals can never be disingenuous – and they
never loose connection with who they are. Even though we can train pets to behave in a particular way – they can never try to be or do something that they aren’t or can’t. Barring a threatening or abusive home environment – they are always just happy to be alive. They want to be petted, fed, and loved. That’s it.
And that’s what most people long for. To simply be who they are, play, rest, love and be loved.
So the question becomes, how do we live the Zen life of a dog? How do we learn to just be? After all we are human beings – Albeit – living in a culture that sets us up to be “human doings”.
I think the answer is simple. Take time to play, rest, love, and learn to let go.
But it’s not easy.
We have to make time to play.
We need to take time to rest.
We must grieve in order to let go.
And often learn or relearn to love in order to love.
It’s a challenge.
A worthy and rewarding one, if we dare try.