What follows is a verbatim conversation I had with my dog, Ruby, regarding mindfulness:
Me: Ruby, I’ve come up with an exciting business opportunity that could make us millions of dollars.
Ruby: I can’t eat money.
Me: Well for you that translates into dog treats. Lots of dog treats! (Ruby’s interest is piqued.) My idea is to teach you how to practice mindfulness. Then, we’ll write a book about our experiences so other dog owners can teach their dogs mindfulness. We’ll eventually go on speaking tours, host workshops and probably be invited onto Good Morning America!
Ruby: (raising her paw) Two questions: One, can I have my own agent? And two, what the heck is mindfulness?
Me: No, you can’t have your own agent and, as far as number two, I’m glad you asked. Mindfulness is a popular meditation technique used to promote mental and physical well-being. It is ubiquitous nowadays, especially among authors and workshop presenters as its mere mention seems to add a wow factor and an air of legitimacy to any endeavor.
Ruby: That would explain the “Mindful Roto-Rooting” truck I saw last week. So we are essentially trying to create a mindfulness bow-wow factor?
Me: Exactly. Now mindfulness techniques have their origin in Buddhist philosophy and the teachings of Buddha.
Ruby: What is a Buddha?
Me: Buddha was a wise man who lived many centuries ago.
Ruby: What did he taste like?
Me: What do you mean, what did he taste like?
Ruby: Did he taste more like a squirrel, rabbit, or a lizard?
Me: He didn’t taste like any of those things. You don’t taste the Buddha.
Ruby: I would. What did he smell like?
Me: I have no idea.
Ruby:Can you chase a Buddha?
Me: No. The Buddha sits in contemplation.
Ruby: So he’s boring.
Me: No he’s not boring. He was a very wise man!
Ruby: Did any dog ever bite the Buddha?
Me: No. I mean, I don’t know. These questions are absurd.
Ruby: They’re not absurd to me! You’re asking me to go along with some philosophy developed by some guy who, from my perspective, probably never existed given the fact that no one ever chased, tasted, smelled or bit him!
Me: Listen, we’re getting off track here. Perhaps we should move on to a mindfulness exercise so you can experience what it is like. One of the things mindfulness teaches us is to be more attentive to our physical senses so that we can be more rooted in the present and not so caught up in thoughts about the past or future. Now I’m going to give you a milkbone and as you chew it I want you to give full attention to the smell, taste, sound and texture of the milkbone. In other words, I want you to be totally present with the milkbone. (I give Ruby a milkbone.) Ok. You ate that pretty fast. You must have really liked it. Now tell me about your sensory experiences while eating that treat.
Ruby: What treat?
Me: What do you mean, ‘what treat?’! The milkbone I just gave you!
Ruby: You gave me a milkbone?!
Me: Yes, I gave you a milkbone!
Ruby: Jeez, I wish I would have been here for that!
Me: Alright, we’re going to have to try something else. Ok, I’ve got it. Ruby, Buddhism and mindfulness teach us that our thoughts, feelings and sensations are ephemeral; they come and they go.
Ruby: Like milkbones?
Me: Yes, like milkbones or, to use a mindfulness metaphor, like clouds moving across the sky. Mindfulness teaches us to not attach ourselves to our thoughts, feelings and sensations, to not identify with them but to merely let them pass. Now, is there anything that has been stressing you out lately?
Ruby: Yes, definitely! It’s that damn squirrel that keeps running across the backyard when I’m in my pen. He knows I can’t get him so he dances around at and taunts me!
Me: OK, that’s very good. Now, rather than getting worked up and hanging onto your thoughts about the squirrel, I want you to let the thoughts pass, like clouds in the sky or leaves floating down the river.
Ruby: How about dead squirrels floating down the river?
Me: Well that’s better, but it’s still feeding into your anger. Let your anger at the squirrels also float by; detach from your anger. Now what are you feeling?
Ruby: I’m feeling a pain in my stomach.
Me: Describe the pain.
Ruby: It feels like a lack of squirrels!
Me: Ok, maybe we’ll do better if I explain to you more of the philosophy behind mindfulness. Mindfulness is based on the Buddhist concept of anatta which is, basically, a metaphysical denial of the self. It implies that there is no “self,” no “me” and no enduring individual identity for any of us. It maintains this because all of our thoughts, feelings and sensations—both individually and collectively—are impermanent. Therefore, they cannot be the entity that persists throughout a lifetime.
Ruby: Question (again raising her paw) if there is no soul or self, no I or me, then the thoughts I experience are impersonal. They are not “mine” in the usual sense of the term?
Me: That is correct.
Ruby: Well then whose thoughts are they? And why do I have recurring dreams of squirrels, while Max across the street is obsessed with rabbits, and Hugo has delusions that the government is going to raid his home and take his chew toys? And why do my dreams change when I make changes in my life? To me this suggests that we have unique, yet enduring personalities which our thoughts and feelings reflect. What evolves must also endure.
Me: You raise some interesting questions, Ruby.
Ruby: Yes, and I think we must consider the possibility that mindfulness is actually a subversive plot by squirrels to keep dogs in a state of passive acceptance.
Me: That is a depressing thought.
Ruby: well, just let it pass like a cloud across the sky.
Copyright © Andy Drymalski, Ed.D. Excerpts may be used provided full and clear credit is given author with link to original article.