Six Ways My Pup Helps Me to Live Mindfully
BY Shannon Kopp
- She wakes me up early
Bella and I share a pillow at night, her head in front of my mine, the small curve of her back pressed against my chest, her soft ear brushing against my chin. She’s a cream-colored, Poodle/Terrier mix who looks part dog, part teddy bear. Bella sleeps in my arms and wakes up in them, too — and sometimes, her urge to play at six a.m. is as intense as my urge for morning coffee.
Quite suddenly, she wakes up, stands on my head, and then jumps off the bed. She pounces on a squeaker toy or a lonely sock, charging from one side of the room to the other until I finally get out of bed. I never appreciate her enthusiasm at the time, but later, I’m thankful for it.
If you want to meditate in the morning, it’s good to be awake.
- She teaches me the art of simplicity
I have so many books on meditation I hardly know what to do with myself. My inbox is full of Present Moment Reminders from Eckhart Tolle, and notifications from Oprah and Deepak’s meditation series, and mindfulness emails from the yoga studio down the street, and monthly updates from my local Transcendental Meditation Center. I’m the one that signed up for these things, and I’m glad I did, but sometimes I get so overwhelmed by all of my options I do nothing at all.
Bella does not believe in multi-tasking. She gives each activity her full awareness, whether that’s chewing on a bone, greeting a dog, bathing in sunlight. If she had a mantra, it would be the same one you see on the walls of 12 step meetings: “Keep it simple.” (“And play as often as possible!” Bella might add.)
- She sees the world with fresh eyes
When Bella and I go for walks around the neighborhood, she walks as far ahead of me as possible on the leash, and finds so much pleasure in the same route we take each day. She is a master of spotting and celebrating the newness of things, a flower in bloom, a different scent in the sky, an ant crawling across the sidewalk.
Rather than being lost in thought, her eyes sharpen to the present moment, and she notices the faintest of sounds, the tiniest of flowers and bugs. She stops to investigate all of it, never in a hurry. And sometimes, if I pay enough attention to her, this world becomes fresh for me again, too.
- She takes care of her body
When Bella is hungry, she eats. When she is tired, she sleeps. When she is thirsty, she laps up her water. Her thoughts have not disconnected her from her body, and she naturally takes care of it. She doesn’t overwork herself or starve herself or stay up all night jacked on coffee. She respects her tiny being, her precious life, — without even realizing she is doing so. And sometimes watching her take care of herself is the gentle nudge I need to put my computer down and eat breakfast. To go to bed. To take a deep, conscious breathe. To pause and ask my heart, body, and mind what it needs.
- She brings me back to the moment
I still frequently fall back into old but familiar thought patterns: harshness, perfectionism, anxiety. I hear the voice of my alcoholic father screaming when I was a child, or the rigidity that imprisoned me during the eight years I suffered from an eating disorder, and it makes me believe that peace is impossible. Maybe I should just give up already.
But then, this nonjudgemental, loving presence climbs into my lap. Bella loves me no matter how enlightened or unenlightened I am. She pays no attention to the pessimist or the worrier in me, and she doesn’t define me with the same limiting labels I use to define myself. When I hold her and look into her beady eyes, my heart calms, my awareness increases, and my seemingly inescapable problems fade into the background. I experience the here and now: Bella’s soft pant, the swish of her tail, the grassy scent of her fur, the air moving in and out of her lungs and mine.
- She is soft-hearted
Bella is soft-hearted, meaning she doesn’t wear some kind of armor around her heart to protect her from feeling. She doesn’t numb her pain with addiction, or feel the pressure to wear a “brave” face over her real, authentic one. Bella will never tell you she is “fine” or everything is “great” when it is not. Instead, she’ll tell you exactly what she’ is experiencing with the language of her body. She’ll tremble if she’s scared. She’ll leap into your arms if she wants affection. She’ll cry if she’s in pain. She doesn’t try to rationalize or justify what she’ is feeling;, she releases that emotion in the moment. And it reminds me to do the same.