Being present with my animals -- either my own or someone else's -- is one of life's joys for me. Listening to their soft breathing (and yes, snoring) as they nap next to me, feeling the softness of their fur, observing the curve of their small paws, noticing the look of trust and devotion in their eyes, and taking in their scent as I bury my face in their fur are just a few ways I can be mindful with my pets. I find that if I focus on these things, closing my eyes and taking it all in, I soon find myself feeling relaxed and content. Aside from the actual physiological benefits of this (lowering of blood preassure and heart rate) it brings a smile to my face and for that moment, all is right with the world. I recently came across this article from Portland Mindfulness Therapy, entitled "Animals as Mindful Teachers" that I thought was very interesting.
Besides lowering our blood pressure through their soft, gentle companionship, animals show us what pure awareness looks like. They are not confused by verbal thoughts, so they easily and naturally model for us the simple presence of mindfulness.
By paying close attention to our animal companions, we can learn more deeply how to practice mindfulness. By entering the rich experiential world of a dog or cat, you will discover what responding to the world can look like without any trace of verbal thinking. It is direct; it is pure; it is immediate. It is very refreshing to experience.
We cannot be like other animals, because we are verbal creatures. This is not “bad,” it’s just what we are. Verbal behavior has allowed us to build a world of wonders, an incredible world of technology and culture. But our verbal capacity also has had costs; one such cost is the loss of access to our pure, immediate experience.
Before we were 2 years old, we had access to that world. Under the influence of mind-opening but potentially very harmful drugs, some of us have accessed that non-verbal world. Others have a natural talent for accessing that part of our experience.
For the rest of us, there is mindfulness practice, a slow but certain road to an increasingly direct, refreshing, and satisfying experience of this existence, this life that we are. Animals can be our teachers in deepening our practice. If we are closely attentive to them, we automatically learn from them.
By watching, by communing with, by connecting to and “becoming one with” our animal companions, we can benefit from moments of contact with the pure awareness they model for us.
If we are practicing mindfulness meditation regularly and with determination and devotion, these encounters with animals can help us make greater and greater contact with the world of immediate experience — the only world that satisfies the heart’s deepest desire.
So when you change that litter box or take that dog for a walk, consider how much that animal is giving you. Are you present to them, enough to learn what they are offering you every day, effortlessly?
If so, you are on your way to experiencing perhaps the greatest gift of Human life: to be a verbal animal, who has regular access to the bright, rich, satisfying world of pure experience: the best of both worlds. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?
Give it a try for yourself!