Cultivating Presence & Love: What Dogs Teach Us About “Being”

imageEight months ago my husband & I got a dog (Winston, pictured left), and amidst the process of potty training and curbing his desire for chewing corners of furniture, we found ourselves with a new best friend.

Further, in my little journey of puppy parenting, there are these small moments – flashes of insight – in which I feel like I am learning from our small companion…

Presence

“The rest of the world is zooming by at full speed. Left alone with ourselves, without a project to occupy us, we can become self-critical about what we should be doing & feeling. This can be so uncomfortable that we look for any distraction rather than allowing ourselves the space to be as we are.” ~ Dawna Markova

I have grown to love walks with my dog. Winston loves to take his time, smelling trees and rolling in the grass. I admire him as I notice how he so naturally enjoys just existing, taking in the simple pleasures outdoors. He is great at being present. I cherish these moments; yet, there are other times when I sense an inward pull to something else. I can suddenly find myself tugging on his leash with the words “Come on, let’s go” spilling out as impatience begins to grip me. I notice how quickly and easily I can rob myself of these lovely opportunities for stillness. Suddenly in my mind the walk becomes a nuisance: a chore to get through and onto the next thing…

And onto what exactly? What feels so urgent? Typically nothing is so urgent or in need of immediate attention that I cannot relish a moment longer in this serenity. Quite possibly, I find that I’m merely rushing to the next thing because I am so used to “the next thing”: the next distraction. Much like Dawna refers to (in the quote above), there is a good possibility that as humans we have become uncomfortable with simply being, and this restlessness within ourselves pushes us to find something, anything to occupy the space.

Love:

Most dog-owners recognize how easy it is to spoil their pet. Ours is similarly well-loved. What has our dog done to receive all our love? Nothing. He just is. We love him because we get to experience life with him. He does not need to impress or perform and neither do we. There is love between us regardless. What a beautiful way of being. Yet, can we dare to be as accepting of ourselves as persons for being persons as we are of animals for just being animals? Perhaps loosing our hold on expectations for one another and ourselves allows for the simple, pure pleasures of love, play, and acceptance to flourish.

I wonder how these challenges –  to be present with oneself and to love oneself – are deeply linked? The distractions, the “somethings” we fill our spaces with – the new project, the new goal, more followers & likes on social media – how are these things too often merely a way of seeking love in the moment? How do they make us feel smarter, more well-liked, and successful for a brief time yet quickly fade, leaving us with that still deep desire for a deeper sense of love, acceptance, and worthiness?

To practice presence and love likely entails being aware of the small, daily, seemingly insignificant moments when we face the anxiety of existence and the pressures to be productive and prove our value. In these short seconds, can we resist the pull to “hustle”? Can we instead lean into the discomfort, recognizing the anxiety for what it is and choose to let ourselves breath and be?

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Thanks for reading. Learn more about Lydia Minear, MA, LAPC’s counseling practice @ East-West Psychotherapy Associates here.

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