We can learn a lot from our furry four legged friends. Just observe how they stop to smell the roses on a walk, fully in the moment, as their mindless owner has their head buried in their phone, texting or updating their Facebook page. Dogs are fully alert, using all sensory perceptions to smell, see and hear their surroundings. We, on the other hand are typically a million miles away, drifting off with all the thoughts swirling in our head.
Dogs live in the present moment. They don’t dwell in the past or fantasize in the future, they are simply here now. We are the exact opposite, always replaying past events or conversations or thinking about what’s next. It’s like we have an adverse relationship to the present moment, constantly devaluing the now and always overvaluing what comes next. See if this feels familiar: you wake up and cannot wait to have your cup of coffee. But as soon as you pour your coffee, you’re thinking about an email you need to send. You look down at your empty coffee cup but don’t remember drinking it. You write your email all the while thinking about what you need to get at the market. When you get to the market, you’re thinking about taking your dog to the park and how relaxing that will feel. But once you get to the park, all you’re thinking about is making lunch. You finally get home and make a delicious salad but while eating it, you’re consumed about thinking what you’re going to say to your sister when you call her later that day. You put your fork down and wonder who ate your salad. The pattern just goes on and on, always living in the future as if the present moment is something to get over with. And, ironically, when that future moment finally comes into the present moment, you’re off to the next future moment trying to get over this one. We simply cannot tolerate being in the present moment. Is this not some sort of dysfunctionality? All the while, your patient dog is mindfully living each moment as if it’s the only one that matters…because it is!
We humans essentially have two minds, two distinct aspects of our inner being. We have an Observing Mind (OM), which is a silent observer. It’s like a video camera, simply recording all that you see without any narrative or judgment. Our Thinking Mind (TM) adds all the chatter to what the OM sees, adding biases, opinions, judgments, labels and commentary. It is where our ego lives, it is fully subjective and never stops talking.
Dogs simply have one mind, the Observing Mind (OM). They are therefore not lost in thought but simply always present as their OM serves as their internal camera, taking in all sensory perceptions. They see the world as it is, without the unbiased filter that the TM manipulates. They don’t have any of the mental commentary that we have to deal with. This is an amazing gift that we need to strive for. Dogs don’t think I can’t believe my owner took me to this ugly park; look at that chubby poodle over there; how embarrassing to get into this Ford, what will my friends think?; wow, that is one ugly terrier. We humans would certainly narrate a story with comments like these if we lived the life of a dog.
The ego is the unobserved TM. It is the world we live in when we are immersed in TM and unaware of our OM. We complain, nag, judge and constantly compare ourselves to other. When we are fully identified with our TM, we live through our ego. We tell ourselves we are superior to that person, better than another because we drive a fancier car or have a bigger house. Conversely, the ego can be damaging in the other direction too, where we feel morally inferior to someone else based on class, race or gender. Most of us live our entire lives this way, buying fancy cars or designer purses to stroke the ego and gain some perceived advantage. We feel better about ourselves but these joys are fleeting, leaving us to always pursue more in a constant endeavor to feed the ego. The ego has an insatiable appetite and drives most of your daily behavior.
Since dogs don’t have a TM, they don’t have an ego. Consider how beautifully this plays out at the dog park. Black dogs play with white dogs play with brown dogs; they are all treated equally. The AKC pedigree plays with the mutt, it could care less if you’re a purebred, carry certified documents or imported from Italy. The Golden Retriever with the shiny fur coat doesn’t look down condescendingly at the scraggly mutt; equally important, the mutt doesn’t feel inferior to the Golden Retriever. Big dogs are typically gentler than the feisty little ones, the exact opposite of what you see with the muscle heads in the gym. No dog is sizing up or comparing itself to the other. There’s no judgments on who is superior or inferior, no internal calculations, they just simply play and treat each other as equal. Imagine if humanity lived like this!
Dogs are just pure love. They are unencumbered by thought and therefore just free to be. They don’t live with a story created by their TM like we do so they exist as their authentic being. We have this essence within us too and have the ability to purposely choose not to listen to our TM and be our authentic self. Just try to be aware of your TM, the nonstop self-talk, and realize this is not who you are. So next time you’re out on a walk, try to experience it the way a dog does. Hear the birds chirping, feel the cool breeze, see how still the trees are as the leaves gently sway in the wind. Put your phone away and bring your full attention into the park, it may just be the best walk you’ve ever enjoyed