‘If you can sit quietly after difficult news;
if in financial downturns you remain perfectly calm;
if you can see your neighbors travel to fantastic places without a twinge of jealousy;
if you can happily eat whatever is put on your plate;
if you can fall asleep after a day of running around without a drink or a pill;
if you can always find contentment just where you are:
you are probably a dog.’
– Jack Kornfield
I love this quote. It is a great reminder that being mindful does not mean that we no longer react to things. Being mindful doesn’t mean having no emotions and no preferences. And having a mindfulness practice doesn’t mean that we are mindful all the time.
However, this is also a reminder that our pets can teach us about mindfulness.
I have recently adopted a cat with my partner. She is an 8 year old Snowy Bengal rescue cat with three teeth and the most beautiful eyes in the world. Already she has taught me to be more present, more appreciative, and to just be. I am a bit of a workaholic and struggle to relax, even at the weekend. The first morning after Sheema arrived, I was sat in my living room with my ‘to-do’ list and she promptly came and sat on my list and demanded attention. Before I knew it an hour had passed and I had been fully present in the company of my new best friend.
Spending time with a pet can be a wonderful meditative experience. We can practice mindfulness by simply tuning into our senses in the present moment, by paying attention to the touch of our pet’s fur (or scales or feathers), or listening to the sounds our pets make (there is something really soothing about hearing a cat purr or even hearing a dog snore!). I love to watch the gentle rise and fall of Sheema’s belly as she breathes when she sleeps on my lap or by my side.
Even the not so pleasant aspects of caring for our pets can be mindful. For many Zen practitioners, sweeping the floor can be a form of meditation. Maybe we can apply the same to cleaning out a rabbit hutch or a litter tray?
According to Shoukei Matsumoto in the Guardian:
‘Cleaning practice, by which I mean the routines whereby we sweep, wipe, polish, wash and tidy, is one step on this path towards inner peace.’
Animals are generally in the present moment. As far as we are aware they do not plan and ruminate and worry in the same way that we do – (although of course our pets can experience anxiety). As long as Sheema has food, somewhere to sleep and plenty of cuddles she is basically pretty happy. And that is a reminder for me to get some perspective. I have all of my basic needs met and more – and Sheema can help me to be grateful for that!
Finally, pets are wonderful at helping us to embrace our silliness. Maybe it’s throwing a frisbee for your dog or playing with some string with your cat, it is hard to take yourself too seriously whilst playing – and that is really helpful. In spite of being middle aged in cat years, Sheema is very playful. She loves attacking shoelaces. She loves chasing random things around the floor (and losing them under the sofa). She even plays with her actual toys! What a lovely reminder to stop taking everything so seriously?