“We are all so much together, but we are all dying of loneliness.”
~ Albert Schweitzer
Schweitzer’s words, written over 60 years ago, ring truer today than at any other time in our history. In our age of endless social media, texting, Skype, and emails, we have lost the art of physical and intimate connection. We’ve replaced genuine laughter with “LOL”, a pat on the back with a “thumbs up” symbol, and our authentic emotional responses with smiley faces, sad faces, and a cacophony of emojis. Symbolism is beginning to overtake reality as we become more and more separated from each other.
Our Dogs can be the antidote for for this disconnected and lonely way of living. By connecting with our Dogs, we can relearn how to better connect with each other.
When was the last time you sat next to your Dog and pet her? I’ll bet it was rather recent. When was the last time you recall sitting and petting your Dog, without the television playing in the background, or your smart phone turned on? Probably a lot longer. In fact, I’m willing to wager that more often than not, we physically engage with our Dogs while we are distracted by other things such as watching television, checking our emails, or seeing how many “likes” we got on our photo of last night’s dinner plate we that just posted. When we do this, we are missing one of life’s most precious gifts: the ability for two living beings to connect with each other.
The benefits of a one-to-one connection are too numerous to count. Touching helps our brains produce the neurotransmitter oxytocin, with is a natural antidote to stress. Physical contact allows for the bi-directional flow of feelings. We get immediate feedback from another living being when we touch, as opposed to a one-way output via a smiley face emoticon and a “thumb’s up” response. Even talking to our Dogs and having a conversation with them where we can look into each other’s eyes is more engaging, more satisfying, and more complete than typing on a plastic keyboard and staring at a glass or plastic screen. (Recent studies have shown that talking to our Dogs is a sign of intelligence.)
There is an an art to this, and it is fast becoming a lost art. We can use the the acronym A.R.T. To help guide us through the process and help us remember what we knew when we were children. A time when a “tweet” was the song of a bird in a tree.
A.R.T. Stands for: Awareness/Appreciation — Respect — Trust
If we remember that our dogs are constantly changing, dynamic individuals like us, then awareness and appreciation will come naturally. Living things are not static. Our dogs are different moment to moment, and to look away is to miss the miracle of the moment. Einstein said: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” This is exactly the way we must look at our Dogs. If we are to fully connect with them, we must see them as a miracle in each moment. The practice of Mindfulness is a great way to enhance our view. Mindfulness is simply experiencing and engaging with the present moment without judging or evaluating. It is not a “means to an ends”, but the ends themselves. When we are with our Dogs, our attention should not always be on what to achieve with them. It should be pure awareness of them right now. This will allow us to appreciate the miracle. It’s like listening to a symphony — there is no goal but the enjoyment of the music itself.
The next time you are with your Dog, be aware of all the little things you may have missed because you were distracted. Notice how their fur feels under your touch. Pet them slowly so you can, as one of my teaches used to say, “feel each individual strand of fur.” Look into their eyes when you talk to them. Do their eyes change? As you touch them, notice any spots that make them tense up, or that make them melt into relaxation. Listen to the sounds they make, smell their scent, feel their feelings. A great exercise to do is Shared Mindfulness, and you can learn more about that here.
As Aretha Franklin said, a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T goes a long way in creating a solid connection. This means we are never going to force our dogs to sit with us and engage with us. Dogs are self-determined beings and must be treated with the same respect we would want for ourselves. If our Dogs do not want to be touched, then we don’t touch them. If our Dogs want to chew their bone, nap, or get involved in another activity rather than sitting with us, that is their right and we are not to interfere. When we are with them, we must be sensitive to the places they are not happy being handled. If they don’t want their feet or face or ears, etc. touched, then we avoid doing that. We should always ask the question, “Do we have our Dog’s consent?” This respect is the foundation of trust.
As we become more present with our Dogs, and connect deeper, then trust will grow. Trust is not something that can be forced, it is an organic process, and any forcing will surely kill it. We wouldn’t pull on the stem of a flower to force it to grow faster. The more we are aware and appreciate our Dogs in each moment, the more they will feel appreciated and validated. Like us, they have the desire to be recognized and accepted. The greater our respect is for them, and the less we act as owners and more like friends by allowing them their freedom and space, the closer they will get to us. Trust is something sacred to all life. The greater the trust, their deeper the connection. It should never be taken for granted. We must always be honest with our Dogs. We should never use our moments of connection as a “training” exercise, or to try to cut their nails, etc. Connection is never to be used for the purposes of control.
Trust, once broken, is difficult to repair. Fortunately, our Dogs are much wiser than we are when it comes to trust, and are pretty forgiving. That is a truly amazing gift they have, and one we must cherish and never abuse.
Modern technology has been a great benefit to us in so many ways, but it is a double-edged sword. And as with anything, extremes can be damaging. We have to balance the digital world of instant gratification with the intimacy of a one-to-one connection. Our Dogs are a great way to help us find this middle way. We all know how to do this, we just need to be reminded. Our Dogs are willing teachers. We must make the time every day to truly connect with our Dogs, our Human friends, and the world around us. This way, the next time we hear a “tweet”, maybe instead of staring at our phones, we’ll close our eyes and listen to the birds.