Friday, 15 November 2013
My Dog as Mindfulness Therapist
So let me introduce her. She is a cross between a Malamute and a Samoid - a fluffy Husky - or 'Siberian Wolf' as a number of people have characterised her! She is big, but thinks she is no bigger than a chihuahua and therefore plays with gay abandon with all sizes of dogs. She is a highly sociable animal and leads me into a lot of really positive conversations with strangers. Her name is Smilla (for those who ask I can tell you this was inspired by the novel 'Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow'). She is my companion - I miss her when I go on holiday and she goes to her favourite 'pet hotel'. She can read my moods - which change frequently. I love it when I am lying on my sofa and suddenly a massive paw lands on my tummy to assure me that she is there for a cuddle when needed. Above all, she is dependent on me in a way that I have never allowed any human being to be for fear of letting them down. This ball of fluff relies on me for all her needs - and yet she is supremely chilled about this fact - she trusts me to look after her. That is strangely liberating.
After more than a year of DBT skills training Smilla has become an integral part of my mindfulness practice. She is a skilled coach in the following Mindfulness skills:
1) Just Notice - Smilla is nosy. She stops to smell everything of interest, including, people, small animals, birds, plants, trees etc, etc. Through her I have discovered that there is a wealth of wildlife very close to my home. One day a small vole was deposited at my feet in a macabre 'show and tell' and I noticed! I wasn't distracted by any internal ruminating in that moment.
3) Participate. Smilla engages entirely in every activity. From the tip of her nose to the very end of her fluffy tail every part of Smilla demonstrates her enjoyment of playing with her friend Farai (a Black Lab). When asked to sit the whole of her body holds itself in readiness for the expected praise and in that moment every part of her is invested in the task of sitting. How often do I do things 'mindfully' without fully engaging and therefore miss out on the benefits of the mindful experience?
Smilla: Yar, yar, yar (large paw banged on knee)
Me: Oh dear, I'm so tired - do you think I'm being lazy?
Me: Should I get up and out of bed.
Smilla: Yar, yar, yar - (while moving to stand at the door of the bedroom)
Me: Right then.... up I get.
Smilla: Yar, yar, yar, yar (as she exits the room with tail wagging).
Some days this doesn't work, the environment is too strong for her to change. So she accepts and she adapts her expectations for the day. I love her for her acceptance of me on my worst days, when she would really rather be taking me for a long, exciting walk. On those days, she accepts the quick out and in round the block that is necessary.
I have realised that my DBT Therapist was right - Smilla is an essential part of my life, but she is a reminder to live in the moment and to enjoy the moments I can enjoy without letting the past or the future rob me of that joy.