When I first got my precious little puppy, Kobe, I was trying to socialize him. We saw a small dog at the park one morning so I slowly maneuvered toward the owner, casually asking if her dog was friendly. She nodded yes. Kobe playfully approached the dog, only to be met with a ferocious attack. The dog growled and pinned Kobe, biting down on his neck. I immediately sprung into action (Helicopter Dad to the rescue!) and grabbed the dog off of Kobe. The dog was the same size as Kobe so no major harm done but I was livid. I thought you said he was friendly, I yelled. The owner calmly replied that he is once he establishes domination. He does this all the time, she said nonchalantly, adding they can play now that he has let Kobe know who is boss. No way, I furiously replied, adding an expletive I’m not proud of.
We drove off as I continued to drop a few more expletives, talking to no one but my insane self. Kobe was calm, totally relaxed and not in any physical pain at all. He had moved on from the incident, cheerfully putting his head out the window and happy as can be, wagging his tail. But not me, I was reliving the moment, over and over again.What a crazy lady, what an evil dog. I fantasized about all these scenarios of how I would tell her off next time I see her. Even two hours later, at another park, I was still thinking about the dramatic event and working myself up in a frenzy. All the while, Kobe was sniffing around and looking for new friends, completely living in the moment.
Why do we keep reliving the past? We replay the scene in our minds over and over again as we cannot let go. Is this helpful? Does it serve any purpose? Of course, we learn from our experiences but I’m referring to the compulsive, habitual thinking pattern of constantly reliving a traumatic experience. We often fantasize how we will fix it, yelling at the person who violated us next time we see them or managing it in a completely different manner. It’s almost seductive as we play out these fantasy scenarios, as if we could turn back the clock and replay the moment or experience with a different outcome. But we cannot rewind, we cannot go back and undo the past; all we have is the present moment.
And yet we do this all the time; dwelling in the past or fantasizing in the future. We carry it around with us, keeping it fresh in our mind. We talk about it to everyone that will listen to us. Can you believe he said this, can you believe she did that. The situation is long over but we keep a fictitious conversation in our mind as an inner dialogue. Is this not some sort of madness?
Observe your self talk and you will notice patterns of repetitive thinking, almost as if they are on a loop. You probably have a Top 10 list, a greatest hits compilation, that you replay over and over He betrayed me, I’m not worthy of love, bad things always happen to me, she ruined my life, I’ll never be happy, I’m so unlucky. If you can look at it objectively, this is totally dysfunctional behavior. Many are mental judgments certainly not rooted in fact. We are so identified with our mind that we cannot see clearly, it’s like a dark cloud that follows you around everywhere.
If you are a dog owner, use your dog to still your mind. Observe how they use all sensory perceptions as they are so keenly aware of their surroundings: every scent, sight, or noise is immediately given full attention. Meanwhile, the dog owner is lost in thought, immersed in his dark cloud or smartphone, totally oblivious to his surroundings. How much more present would we be if we behaved like our dogs? Our excessive, compulsive thinking robs us of so much joy and beauty. If we could consciously awaken, we would enjoy being out in nature as much as our furry friends do.
Next time you’re out on a walk, emulate your dog’s awareness. It’s already within you, you just need to release your thinking mind and let go of thought. Use your sensory perceptions to awaken you, to go deeper into the present moment. Feel the breeze, see the stillness of the trees, take a few deep breaths. Your troubles and bills can wait, just enjoy the moment and see how liberating it feels. You may now come to understand why our dogs are so happy to go for a walk now!