Deconstructing Zen Dog

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In case you haven’t heard, I love my dog Brooklyn. Lying with her, running together, watching her eat lasers—any time spent together is refreshing. And it’s not just me; walking through downtown Lincoln has shown me the profound changes people experience in Brooklyn’s presence. How often is a complete stranger overcome with joy and happiness right in front of your eyes? It makes me wonder, “What is it about dogs, and animals in general, that transforms us so profoundly? And what can we learn from them?” In today’s Monday Mindfulness, I’ll attempt to tackle these questions.

  1.  Dogs embody nature’s calm. Their lives have so few complications. They eat when they’re hungry and sleep when they’re tired. They never ask themselves, “Does life have a meaning?” Our human minds are amazing and powerful tools, but we pay a price for them. Powerful tools aren’t peaceful. They take responsibility to operate. You wouldn’t want a jet engine in your room while you’re trying to fall asleep, but often our minds seem just as loud. Brooklyn helps me learn to use my mind more responsibly. When I’m with her, she brings me into the present moment—I imagine I am her, focused only on what’s happening here and now. For that moment, I mentally come home. I am calm.
  2. Dogs have no opinion of themselves. For example, when Brooklyn gets sprayed trying to befriend a skunk, she doesn’t say to herself “Oh Brooklyn, what were you thinking? You can do better.” Instead, she learns from the mistake and moves on without second thought. On the other hand, we humans have a voice in our heads—an inner judge—that is always monitoring and assessing our actions. If I’d made the same mistake, I would have immediately beaten myself up. I can find my way back to peace like Brooklyn, but it takes more work. I have to notice my inner judge, dismiss him, and forgive myself. I have to ask myself, “What did I learn from this mistake?” so I can flap my wings and let it go.
  3.  Dogs love themselves unconditionally. Since Brooklyn has no opinion of herself, there are never any barriers to her loving herself. She’s completely content sleeping alone all day, or laying in the grass watching for squirrels and rabbits all afternoon. Obviously, she has needs—like exercise, play, and eating—but she doesn’t beat herself up when those needs aren’t met perfectly. Because Brooklyn always loves herself, she loves everyone unconditionally. She teaches me how easily my mind gets in the way of me loving myself, and when I’m with her I feel her love. And for a moment, I love myself unconditionally.
  4. Dogs show us how to live. They get us out of our minds and into the world – into nature, into a game of fetch, into life, into our bodies. Brooklyn’s mind isn’t loaded with words, so she’s more connected with her body—with her senses. Because of this, she experiences life as if for the first time. She teaches me a profound lesson: While our minds are powerful tools, they sometimes get us into trouble. And we can get ourselves out of that trouble by learning, letting go, and coming back to them.

Ask yourself: "What do I love about my dog or pet? How does he or she keep me sane?" I'd love to hear your thoughts!