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Wellbeing

What my dog taught me about mindfulness

You can't teach an old dog new tricks, nor can you teach a slow dog how to go quick. We love our dog to pieces but as much as he adores going outside on adventures, my family don’t jump at the chance to accompany him. As a rescue dog who was found tied up to a pole and starved almost to the point of death, our little fellow understandably rebels against being restricted and this includes being walked on a lead.

He is perfectly behaved when out for a walk, he never runs on the road or towards other dogs, he just moseys along at his own pace and herein lies the problem.

Jango is the slowest dog in the whole wide world.

Not because he is tiny and his little legs don’t carry him very far but because he sniffs every blade of grass, examines every rock, stone and flower, rolls in the worms, shuffles dirt with his hind legs and pees on every tree that lies in his path. Totally uninterested in what lies ahead and only concerned with what lies between, our dog has redefined the concept of taking a dog for a walk.

Last week on our daily sojourn, my frustration at how long it was taking reached its peak.

I was busy. I had work to do at home, emails to send, programs to plan. Come on, Jango. Will you pleeeease hurry up.

… and as I waited for the zillionth time for him to sniff the grass, scratch the dirt and pee on a tree, one of my favourite quotes by mindfulness guru, Jon Kabat-Zinn came to mind

You can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf. 

And the penny dropped.

I was getting annoyed because Jango wasn’t going at my pace. Human pace.

It was meant to be his walk, not my walk.

I was trying to control the shape and direction of the waves and causing myself angst that I didn’t need or enjoy.

I could continue willing my slow dog to go quick, or I could try doggie paddle and see the world through his eyes.

I did and this is what I learned.

If you want to know what mindfulness really looks like, watch a dog in action.

Mindfulness is a key tool that I use in my personal life and in my work but watching Jango in action gave me a new level of understanding.

Dogs embody mindfulness.They are completely immersed in the present as they read their surroundings through their senses. They live in the moment.

Every whiff, lick and prick of their ears serves to inform them of their place in time and space.

In encouraging me to slow down, my pooch was extending the invitation and reminding me of the importance of doing the same.

When I paused and let go of the need to keep moving forward I was literally able to stop and smell the roses.

I became acutely aware of my surroundings. As cliche as it sounds, I suddenly noticed the trees around me, their colour and shape. I felt the breeze against my skin. I heard children playing, traffic noise and the sounds of building work. I noticed how relieved I was to soften the clanging of my brain. It was so simple and the sense of calm was instant.

For dogs, the journey is the destination and the old is always new.

It doesn’t matter how often a dog walks the same path, everything along the way is met with fresh eyes and genuine excitement.

For many of us now working from home day after after, the same routine can dull our senses.

When we operate on auto pilot for long enough we lose the invigoration of sensory stimulation and the boost it gives our brain.

As I slowed down I saw houses I had never noticed before. Gardens with interesting water features and sculptures that made me smile. Simply opening my eyes and seeing what was around me instead of looking in the direction I was heading gave me a new perspective on what I had passed so many times before.

Like Jango, I was seeing the old as new. A light in my brain switched on and my vision became clearer.

If you want to get a bit healthier during lockdown, move like a dog.

Humans focused on a destination move the straightest line between A and B.

When the journey is the destination there is no straight line.

Dogs move where their senses lead them and cover more ground in doing so. From fence to nature strip, from power pole to tree. When off lead and allowed more freedom they are driven by their curiosity.

Exploring our surroundings in the same way not only keeps it interesting but immediately adds more directions for us to move and steps to our daily tally. Discovery stimulates the mind and movement in the fresh air stimulates the body.

Double the bang for your buck.

By the time we arrived home at doggie paddle pace, I was calm, focused and energised. Everything you would want from a walk.

We hadn’t gone quite as far as I had intended but with infinite canine wisdom, my funny slow dog had shown me what I could learn if I didn’t go quick.

This post was written by Marisa Lawlor, owner and director of  Just Believe Fit in Melbourne.

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