“The greatest gift you can give another is the purity of your attention.”
~ Richard Moss
Recently, my wife and I went hiking in Moab, Utah. One evening we decided to have a nice dinner out. While sitting at the restaurant (it was an outdoor patio, and our Dogs could dine with us) a young family of four sat at the table across from me. After giving the server their order, each one of them immediately pulled out a phone and became immersed in whatever the tiny screen offered. That went on for the entire meal. Although they were sitting together, they were all in their own separate worlds. I couldn’t help thinking about how this happens all to often with our dogs.
In my last post, Devotion of Time, I stressed the importance of taking the time to be with our Dogs. However, physically being with your Dog is not enough. We must be attentive and focused on them as well. Sitting next to them while we are checking our smart phones, binge-watching the newest mini series or catching up on the latest viral-video on social media is not really being with them at all. If our spotlight of attention is elsewhere, our Dogs will know it and feel it.
We live at a time where we are under tremendous pressure to be productive. Multitasking has become synonymous with success. We have almost unlimited ways to connect with one another, yet that connection is fleeting, shallow and substandard. When Albert Schweitzer said more than 60 years ago, “We are all so much together, but we are all dying of loneliness,” he couldn’t have imagined how those words would be so relevant today. Being distracted has become normalized between Humans – but our Dogs don’t agree.
Our Dog’s attention is focused on the present moment. They aren’t thinking about their weekly agendas or answering emails or ruminating over what a co-worker said earlier that day. They are connected to the present moment, and if we are to truly connect with them, we must share that awareness. Petting your dog and thinking about what to have for dinner is not devoting our minds to our Dogs. We need to be completely and totally present when we want to connect with them. This tells them that they are our priority, that they matter, and that we are devoted to them. Our Dogs can feel the difference when we are there in body, but not in mind. It’s the same sensation we have when we feel the stare of someone behind us. Attention is like an energy beam. The more sensitive we are, the more we can feel that energy. Our Dogs, because their minds are not as distracted and littered with random symbolic thoughts, are very sensitive to our attentiveness. To become closer to them, we must shine our spotlight of attention wholly on them when we are with them.
There are a few ways we can practice attentiveness to our our dogs:
1. When petting them, slow down the tempo. Try to feel each strand of fur beneath your hand. Feel the texture of their skin, the shape of their bodies. Take your time and explore.
2. When your Dog is relaxed and lying comfortably, rest your hand on her ribcage and feel the rising and falling of her breath. Try counting each exhalation up to 10, then begin at one again. Try synchronizing your own breath with hers.
3. Instead of asking your Dog to follow you when she’s outside, follow her instead. Examine each thing she sniffs, and allow her to lead the way and be the “tour guide.”
4. Mirror your Dog’s movements. Get on the floor and become a Dog, copying what your dog does. (You will get a lot of reciprocal attention when you do this!)
5. Talk to your Dog a lot. She may not understand everything you say, but she will know for certain that at that moment she is the most important thing to you.
6. Make lots of eye contact. If you have a good relationship with your Dog, this will release the hormone oxytocin in both of you, deepening the friendship.
A genuine friendship with our Dogs begins with devotion to each other. Devotion of the Heart, where we love and accept each other unconditionally; Devotion of the Spirit, where we completely commit to the relationship; Devotion of Time, where we learn to fit together seamlessly; and Devotion of Mind, where we are completely present for each other. With these roots of devotion our relationship can weather the most severe storms.