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Meditate like you walk the dog: with intention, flexibility and a retractable leash

July 8, 2012

Cody the Wonder DogHere’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!

4 Comments leave one →
  1. July 9, 2012 10:32 am

    What a great post. Your advice always inspires. Thank you.

    • July 9, 2012 10:34 am

      Thanks Sonia. I love to hear that. This practice, while feeling quite solitary (and sometimes daunting) is really one of connection and shared humanity. My hope is that this is one small way that I can help remind people of that!

  2. July 11, 2012 12:16 pm

    First time coming to this blog. I like your way of describing the mindfulness meditative technique. The dog and leash are a great metaphor. You might like the way I describe and portray a person trying to do the same in my novel: This Moment Is My Home. More about it at The main theme of the book centers around the pursuit of meditation, a kind of rise and fall of the meditative ability for the character. The middle section is all about a solitary meditation retreat -slash- vision quest on a wooded mountain. I am a trained vipassana meditation person, and deeply wanted to share my experience with others in an entertaining way. There is an interdimensional entity encounter as well as ghost characters. It’s a book unlike any you have ever read, I’ll bet.

    • July 11, 2012 12:26 pm

      Thank you for your kind words. I took a look at your blog and am intrigued by your book. In my opinion, there is a significant shortage of good books that incorporate vipassana and interdimensional entities 😉 Looks like we are birds of a feather when it comes to keeping it lighthearted and playful too. I will list your blog on our blogroll.

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