Meditate like you walk the dog: with intention, flexibility and a retractable leash
Here’s a picture of Cody, my oversized Golden Retriever. He’s not the brightest flame in the canine candelabra, but he’s got charm, personality and a goofy disposition that suits his goofy human quite well. He discovered cottage cheese this weekend and appears to have a certain fondness for it.
Am I just trying to get your attention by the tried and true social media marketing way: using cute photos of animals? Well, that might be part of it, but it’s largely because walking Cody has taught me a lesson that has ultimately benefited several people in my mindfulness meditation classes.
Have you ever noticed that, when in meditation, you seem to be at the mercy of your mind? You know the feeling, you’re sitting there minding your own breath when the mind serves up a juicy thought. Perhaps you find yourself contemplating Tom Cruise’s marital woes and your odds for stepping in as his next love. Maybe it’s just the enticing smell of dinner simmering in the other room. Did you ever see the Disney Pixar Movie Up? There’s a dog in that movie (named Doug) who wears a device that allows him to talk. Bright and cheerful, Doug can carry on quite a conversation, but let him catch sight of a bushy-tailed rodent and he immediately exclaims “Squirrel!!!!” and he’s off on the chase. That is how our minds tend to be, doglike and distractible.
So what to do? We can’t change the nature of our dogs, and the same is true of our minds. They are of the nature to follow thoughts, especially if they are compelling, seductive and promise an adventure of one sort or another! However illusory or ultimately preposterous (Cody wouldn’t know what to do if he actually caught the bunnies he spots every now and then. He’d probably just lick it till it drowned in dog slobber! Or ran away.)
So how about if you cultivate the neural equivalent of a retractable leash? You know those handy devices that are spring-loaded and allow your dog to go off on little mini-adventures here and there, investigating fascinating smells, scurrying creatures and the occasional impassive feline, while you blithely continue down the path you have already chosen. You stay on track and your dog has his or her own adventure.
How do you do this with your mind? Meditate. Notice your mind doing what it does with playful curiosity, tolerance of it’s tendencies and still with a sense of intention to stay where you are. Little by little, when we let go of needing our mind/dog to go exactly where we intend to go, we find that we stay on our path and the mind follows dutifully (or at least it hovers somewhere in the vicinity). So mindfulness cultivates an allowing of the peccadilloes and idiosyncrasies of our mental activity, all the while staying on task, which is to notice. Just notice!
Next time you are sitting and your mind finds its latest squirrel, watch the chase with calm abiding amusement. Trust that if you stay here, it will return eventually, and sooner than if you had chased after it and tried to subdue it.
Give yourself a new leash on life/meditation, and make sure it’s retractable!