Truly Know Each Other, Part 2: Observation Without Evaluation


“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind there are few.”
~ Shunryu Suzuki

Many years ago when I was immersed in studies of Mindfulness, Zen and Taoism, my teacher and I were standing by the Waits River in Bradford, VT. “What’s this?” he said, pointing to the water.
“A river”, I answered.
No, NO!”, he said, “River is a word.” “See it, experience it, with Shoshin.” (Shoshin is the Japanese word for “Beginners Mind”.)
As I looked, I started to notice the myriad of all the details: the whirlpools, the ripples, the various textures of the water… I began to see and experience the river, which I had passed hundreds of times before, for the first time as an ever-changing, kaleidoscopic and dynamic being. I then realized that the word “river” was a poor representation of this wondrous entity.

In our last post, we discussed the limits of naming, labeling and classifying our Dogs. Today, we will explore seeing and experiencing our Dogs with “Beginner’s mind”.

People often tell me that they know their Dog, but I wonder if this is really the case. I’m sure they know the classification they put their Dog in, but when was the last time we really saw them? Our Dogs are like the river. They are an ever-changing and dynamic flow of energy. They are not the same moment by moment, so to say we know them is to try to fixate them. Over 2000 years ago, Heraclitus said, “You can never step into the same river twice, for it is not the same river and you’re not the same person.” He could have also said, “You can never pet the same Dog twice…” and he would have been accurate. We must see them fresh each time we are with them without assuming we know them.

There is a Chinese word “Li” that can be translated as “organic pattern.” It is used to describe the grain in wood, the markings in jade, or the patterns of water in a river. For us to truly know our Dogs, each time we see them, we must see their “li” – their natural and organic patterns.

There are a few ways we can get in touch with our Dog’s “li” using mindfulness as a guide:

  1. The next time you are with your Dog, take a few moments to clear your mind. Allow all the chatter of your thoughts, expectations and evaluations that are going on inside your mind to quiet down. To help you with this, focus your attention to your breathing for a few minutes. Each time your mind wanders, gently bring your attention back to your breath.
  2. Look at your Dog and see her as if you were seeing her for the very first time. In fact, see her as if you were a baby who has not yet learned to speak, with no pre-conceived notions and ideas. You don’t know what a “Dog” is, you only see this unknown being in front of you. You maintain your sense of wonder.
  3. See your Dog not as a separate thing “in” the environment, rather see them as a part of an ecosystem. Your Dog does not end at the boundary of her skin, but she is an integral part of her surroundings. Notice the overall pattern.
  4. When seeing your Dog, avoid evaluative terms such as “aggressive”, “shy”, etc. Rather, just notice the movements and actions as a pure empirical exercise. Nothing is either “good” or “bad”, it is just what is happening now.
  5. Use all your senses in your observation. The more dimensions you observe, the more nuances and subtleties of your Dog’s “li” you will notice.

Our Dogs are with us for a very brief period of time. By seeing them new in each moment, we can see their true selves at each moment. Therefore, each moment will be like the first moment. The excitement and wonder will always be a part of our friendship.

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Author: Path of Friendship™

Corey Cohen is an animal behaviorist, mindfulness and emotional intelligence instructor with over 33 years of helping people connect to their dogs on a deeper level. His unique Mindfulness-Based Animal Behavior Therapy™ and his Path of Friendship™ programs are inspiring alternatives to standard dog training. His mindfulness seminars for individuals, universities, wellness centers, and top corporations has helped reduce stress and anxiety and given people a fresh perspective on life. He is the owner of A New Leash on Life Animal Behavior Services in Northeastern PA and Northern NJ. He’s also the owner of Awakenings Meditation in Northeastern PA.

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