The Dog Days of Summer

1st day April 9 2011 9 week old Indie 005.jpg

Our wonderfully evolved and intelligent minds are powerful and essential, but sometimes we work too much, think too much, and make life unnecessarily difficult by listening too intently to the ongoing crosstalk in our mind. But there is an alternative. Humans have often looked to the natural world for clarity, inspiration, and for answers to our profound questions. In the completely integrated web of Nature, everything has its place and its purpose.

In so many ways, the antidote to the overwhelming complexity of our minds and the world is the simplicity on display in Nature. I often find myself gazing out the window to admire the lovely animals in our backyard. Each species seems to have a message for us. Should we busy ourselves like the birds that continually look for food and twitter away with their friends? Should we take off our shoes and romp in the soft green grass and doze in the cool shade like the bunnies?

The lessons to be had by looking at our animal friends are intriguing and liberating. In our case, our sweet Sheltie “Indie” sets a great example for us. (As a fun side note, his named came from our favorite ride in Disneyland, The Indiana Jones Adventure. We knew life with him would be an adventure, and boy was that an understatement!) He is remarkably aware and smart…perhaps too much! Indie understands a wide range of words and phrases so we literally must resort to spelling things out like parents do around young children. He is so full of unconditional love for us that he becomes visibly upset when we leave and continually scrutinizes us for clues and cues about our intention to do so. He has memorized many actions and sounds that might alert him to our latest intentions and plans. What he really wants to do is play, as this is an act of love and connection for him. Whether it is a game of keep-away with one of his many stuffed animals or chasing a ball, nothing brings him more joy than simply being with us and playing.

That intelligence means that he clearly has awareness of the past and the future, but it is obvious that most of the time he simply lives in the moment. He only does one thing at a time and he gives his full attention to the event. We humans create anxiety for ourselves when we dwell too much on the past, worry about the future, or multi-task. We would all benefit if we learned a few lessons from Indie, such as being more mindful. The first is that the past is done and gone. We can learn from the past but it is not worth obsessing over. Likewise, the future is important but it will play out the way it’s meant to. Sure, Indie is not immune to the uncertainty of the future; he shows his anxiety when one of us prepares to leave. But as soon as the door closes, he instantly lets go of his stress, find a comfortable spot and rests up from all the previous activity. Like we would be wise to do, he accepts his current situation and makes the best of it.

He has many other life lessons for us.  He drinks water when he is thirsty and eats when he is hungry.  Like a mindful yoga practitioner, he stretches when he gets up in the morning and after a nap. He plops down with a deep sigh when he is tired. If he is angry with us for leaving, he picks up his toy and shakes his head from side to side while he growls (which is absolutely hilarious and we break out in laughter). When he feels the need, he grooms himself and rubs his face against a couch or the bed to scratch an itch. He continually locks his expressive eyes with ours and communicates volumes through subtle changes in that expressive and adorable face. Who says our pets can’t talk? In short, he truly seems to live and thrive in the present, and his heart is full of unconditional love.

Our culture’s obsession with hard work means that we usually succeed in our goals and plan well for the future but often at the expense of our daily happiness. We listen too intently to society’s messages and we may not realize the wisdom in questioning the incessant thoughts in our head. If we simply took a few lessons from our beloved pets we’d be more mindful, happier, and life would be more meaningful. Without a doubt, we would have more fun.

If one phrase reveals the gist of Indie’s message it is the one on a popular bumper sticker that eloquently states: “Wag more, bark less.”

Indeed, Indie!