Ladies and Gentlemen, this is Charlie, my two and a half year old Groodle and he is an abundant source of joy in my life.
You might be asking yourself what a cute picture of my dog has anything to do with finding the Zen in every day activities, but think about it, owning a dog presents many, many opportunities to practice Everyday Zen.
The first opportunity to practise was participating in the all important training phase…
Training Your Dog
Charlie was only 8 weeks old when he came into my life and initially he needed to be taught where and when to sleep (crate training) plus, where and when to go to the toilet (toilet training).
Now, I don’t have kids but I would imagine that the frustration that I went through with Charlie doing this type of training would be similar but, to any parents out there, feel free to correct me if I’m wrong in the comments below.
When I was first training Charlie I became very stressed very quickly and this was because I hadn’t had any experience trying to teach a dog to sit or not to do their business in the house in the past.
After a while though, I eventually started to shift my focus on the outcome of the training and onto the endless amount of love I have for him.
I also recognised that the time spent training him was precious time that I could never get back so training became an outward expression of love and that made me feel calm and stress free.
Every time something went right Charlie was rewarded, every time he resisted I would close my eyes, take some deep breaths and try again knowing that this will pass and Charlie will break through the other side of his resistance.
Now, there are other opportunities to practise Everyday Zen that don’t require your dog breaking through their barriers of resistance.
Playing With Your Dog
This is one of the times where your bond with your pet is at its closest. Whether it be activities like throwing the ball, playing chasey or play-wrestling, really get involved with the activity, make it your singular focus and don’t allow distractions get in the way.
I normally take Charlie to a nearby dog-friendly park and throw his favourite ball around. I turn my phone off and immerse myself in the moment, just me and Charlie playing ball. I think I feel just as good as he does afterwards.
Paying Attention To Your Dog
This can come in many forms such as stroking fur, brushing hair or even just looking lovingly into your dog’s eyes. When you’re engaging in this sort of activity you want to make sure that you are fully engaged and that all you are doing with your mind and body is doing the activity.
Charlie loves me brushing his hair. As soon as he sees the brush he runs from wherever he is and jumps up on the couch next to me and waits for me to start. Personally, I can get lost in this activity and I find that if I’ve had a challenging day, brushing Charlie’s hair calms me down.
Preparing Meals For Your Dog
Of course all dogs have to eat and when your dog is a cross between a Golden Retriever and a Poodle, you know it’s going to love food (Golden Retrievers are notorious gluttons).
Charlie’s meals are a fairly simple mix of high quality wet and dry food but I try to make sure I take my time preparing his meal and put all of my focus into it.
Exercising Your Dog
Dogs need some sort of exercise every day and while this may be a challenge for some people, being mindful of your dog’s health and making time to exercise regularly is essential.
Now in saying that, most days I try to get Charlie and I out of the house either by walking or taking him to the nearby dog-friendly park for a run and some ball play.
When I’m walking Charlie I use the time to concentrate on my breathing and my feelings of gratitude that I’m able to get out of the house and enjoy the neighbourhood where I live and just like playing with Charlie in the park, I feel just as calm and relaxed as he does after a good walk too.
As you can see, there are many, many opportunities to be mindful through owning a pet. It’s even been proven through scientific study. According to the Harvard Medical School website in its September 2015 article Having A Dog Can Help Your Heart – Literally, it says that…
… several studies have shown that dog owners have lower blood pressure than non-owners – probably because their pets have a calming effect on them and because dog owners tend to get more exercise. The power of touch also appears to be an important part of this “pet effect.” Several studies show that blood pressure goes down when a person pets a dog.
Now, this article is of course solely based on my experiences with owning a dog and I’m sure that some of what is written may pertain to owning a cat or any other animal and then some of this article won’t.
I can assure you though, owning any pet will provide many and unique opportunities to practise Everyday Zen. All you need to do is look for the opportunities to be mindful, be still and be focussed in whatever activity you do for your pet.
In the meantime, be still and enjoy the silence,
The Calm Life