In the blink of an eye he was gone. My friend of 12 years. Although I knew this day would be coming for some time now, when it arrived it hit me with the suddenness and impact of an earthquake. My friend Cosmo was gone, and my world was shaken to its core. Where did the time go? There was so much more we needed to do together; so much more I needed to learn from him. It’s been over a year that he’s gone and I still miss the way he looked at me, the feel and scent of his fur, and the friendship that we shared.
Our dogs are with us for only brief a time, yet they leave the most profound mark on our lives. Our dogs make us whole and fully human, yet, they leave us way too soon. On average a dog has only one-sixth the lifespan of humans, a mere fraction of the time we have.
“The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long.”, said Lao Tzu, and how brightly our dogs shine during their short time here on Earth.
I often question why this is so. Why do dogs live so briefly compared to us? After all, we are connected at the deepest levels – evolutionary, biologically, culturally, and, I would strongly argue, spiritually. So why are we together for so short a time? I have several thoughts on this, and although none are very comforting, they help to satisfy me in a small way.
Maybe dogs are with us for so short a time because they have less to learn than we do. Perhaps they are born with a greater understanding of the “meaning of life” than us, and don’t need as much time on earth as we do. Lord Byron said, about his own dog that he had “…all the virtues of Man without his Vices.” In fact, I would go as far as to say that they are here to as teachers along our paths, to help us find wisdom and spiritual understanding. We need many teachers with different perspectives to help us understand life, and this is why each teacher (dog) is with us only for a short while. We just have to be willing to learn. This is why it’s so ironic that we have taken the pretense that we are their boss. It’s this arrogance that proves our ignorance.
To lose a friend is a painful and traumatic event. Maybe the reason dogs live shorter lives is that it spares them the pain of losing us. They live out their entire lives protected, cared for and loved by us, and because they are such devoted friends that they never have to endure the suffering of being without us. That is our burden to bear. Of course, when you look at dog abuse and abandonment that exists daily, it makes you wonder if we have learned anything at all from them, or if we are even worthy of their friendship.
The reason dogs only spend a small part of our lives with us is not so important. What is important is that we spend the precious time we have together savoring each moment. Too often, I see people with their dogs spending their precious time checking the latest social media post, or reviewing the days’ emails as the minutes tick away. At times, I am guilty of this as well. With Cosmo I looked away for an instant, and I almost missed his life.
There are a few things we can do to to connect more often and not waste the time we have together. First, talk to your dog often. Tell her about your day, discuss the latest news stories, confide in her about your feelings. If you’re watching the latest series on television, talk to her about it. Will she understand each word? Of course not. You are sharing these experiences with her. She’ll know your spotlight of attention is completely on her, as hers is on you.
Touch your dog a lot. Nothing brings you and her together more than physical contact. Practice Mindful Breathing together, massage, gentle petting, even give your dog a hug if she like that. What I miss most about Cosmo is the way his fur felt beneath my hand. Seek out opportunities to physically connect. Your dog’s fur feel much nicer than a cold metal smart phone.
Gaze into your dog’s eyes. Studies have shown that gazing into your dog’s eyes releases oxytocin, a hormone in your brain that has been dubbed the “love hormone” or the “bliss hormone.” In fact, other than another human, a dog is the only creature on earth that can release that chemical in our brains through eye contact as we release it in theirs.
Of course, enjoying activities together is a great way to appreciate each moment. I do Shinrin-Yoku and go hiking often with my dogs, and if you are on the trail when we are you will definitely know I am there because I am talking to them all the time. We are hiking together and sharing experiences together. You can also take them with you when you shop, do errands and visit friends. Play hooky from work. Call up your boss and tell him that your taking the day to be with your dog.
This is the fifth and final principle of the Path of Friendship: Savor Each Moment Together., and I would argue the most important. So when you get home today, or the next time you are home with your dog, go sit with her and tell her about your day. Maybe she’ll be more interested in licking the ketchup stain off your shirt, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that you’re together. Spend each moment together as if it were your last, because one of these days you’re going to be right. So don’t look away, and try not to blink.
Path of Friendship™: The Five Principles
1. Always Put the Friendship First.
2. Relate to Each Other as Equals.
3. Truly Know Each Other.
4. Give Up Control and Help Each Other to Grow.
5. Savor Each Moment Together.