“Love, the magician, knows this little trick whereby two people walk in different directions yet always remain side by side.”
~ Hugh Prather
Achieving a true connection with our Dogs is standing eye to eye and experiencing the present moment in the same way each other experiences it. In spite of how much affection we may have for each other, if our worlds are not aligned, we cannot share a genuine connection.
Establishing this connection with our Dogs is not always an easy task. Humans and Dogs put a different emphasis on conscious attention. We tend to focus on the past and the future, while our Dogs are focused primarily on the present. This complimentary difference is what makes us so successful as companions, and at the same time it makes it very difficult to form a solid connection with each other, because we experience the world on different planes. Mindfulness is a way to overcome this obstacle.
Mindfulness has been defined as “nonjudgemental, present moment awareness”. Our Dogs are far more skilled at this than we are, at least the “present moment awareness” part. If we are to connect fully with our Dogs, we must join with them on their playing field, so we can share this “present moment” experience.
I began my journey into mindfulness when I was in my late teens. Wanting to see the world the way my Dog saw it, I immersed myself into the study of consciousness, awareness and mindfulness. Because I knew that as a human, I was more skilled at “big picture” thinking, and that my Dog was more skilled in present moment, “detail” thinking, I studied and practiced (and taught) mindfulness to train my consciousness to experience what my Dog would experience. It wasn’t until many years later, with the help of my Dog Thor [read more here], that I finally had the breakthrough. Since then, my relationships with my Dogs have been deeper and more connected. I now teach this connection in my C.A.L.M. class, with excellent results.
C.A.L.M. stands for:
Connection + Appreciation + Love = Mindfulness
In other words, mindfulness with our Dogs is the integration of present moment connection, nonjudgemental appreciation, and self-transcending love.
As I mentioned above, to be connected with our Dogs we need to join them in the “Now”. When we are with them, our attention be completely present, and not be distracted by random thoughts of what we must do later, or persistent memories of what happened to us earlier. These thoughts will fragment our attention, making us unable to form solid and whole attachment with our Dogs. To achieve this connection, it is useful to have “anchor points”, such as focusing our attention to our breathing, our Dog’s breathing, or slow petting our Dogs. Each time our attention wanders, we bring it back gently to the anchor points. [Read more about this here.] This puts our awareness on the same level as our Dog’s awareness, and establishes our connection and alignment of experience.
What often gets in the way of deepening our connection with each other is our constant practice of evaluation and judgement. When we focus our attention on something we always think, “Is this something good, or is this something bad?” We do this with our Dogs, as well. In fact, an entire industry has been built on doing this to our Dogs, in the form of Dog training. It is rare when we can accept our Dogs just as they are, and not try to constantly make them into something else. This disconnects us from the present, and further distances us from our Dogs. When we attempt to create a relationship with our Dogs predicated on them pleasing us and meeting our approval (as with traditional obedience training), it shows that we don’t really value our Dogs for who they are. Our goal becomes manipulation rather than appreciation, and control rather than connection. To help us to respect and value our Dogs for the amazing beings they are, adopting what is known in Zen as “shoshin”, or Beginner’s Mind, is enormously helpful. This means that we suspend our judgements, opinions, and pre-preconceived notions about what should be, and only focus on what is. We see our Dogs they way a small child would see them, with wonder and openness. Einstein once 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.” We can easily replace the words “live your life” with “see your Dog.” This is where true friendships happen – beyond petty judgements. As Rumi said, “Out beyond the ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”
Of course we all love our Dogs, but what kind of love do we really have for them? Is it love based on what they can do for us? Or is it a selfless, self-transcendent love? Too often, we base our love for our Dogs on their usefulness to us. Once they no longer please us, our love ends. You only have to go to your local animal shelter to see this. This is because we view our Dogs as “pets”, which are disposable objects created for our own amusement, and not as true, equal friends. These animal shelters are filled with pets; there are no friends there. This is because a true friendship is a relationship based on selfless love, not selfish love. Pets are loved with conditions – that they behave they way we want them to. Friends are loved unconditionally – just for being who they are. In today’s culture of “selfing”, this is often a difficult concept to grasp. It begins by seeing our Dogs as truly equal in value and as beings that are deserving of the same considerations that we are. When we exploit and use our Dogs to feed our own egos and lust for control, we don’t really love them, we only love what they can do for us. Rabbi Twerski has a wonderful explanation of this on Youtube, where he describes what he calls “fish love”. To help us move past our own self-absorption, and to have a truly “horizontal” connection with our dogs as opposed to a “vertical” one, doing shared “metta” meditation, as described here, can be very enlightening. We also need to work on our empathy skills, and sense our dogs experience as if it were our own, moving beyond our “optical delusion of separateness”, as Einstein said.
Connection, Appreciation, Love and Mindfulness is a journey we can share with our Dogs together on the Path of Friendship. The more we walk this path, more faith we have in each other and the closer we become. When we have forged this connection with each other, we always remain side by side regardless of where the path will lead us.