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Walking The Dog

I've been thinking about meditative activity and whether, or how, it may relate to formal meditation. Is there a relationship, and if so, what is it?

Sure there's a relationship--the two are not at all the same, but they certainly inform one another. For many of us, meditative activity is all we want, or need. And that's OK. Long distance running, yoga, rock climbing--whatever the case may be. And, of course, walking the dog. Especially in the Fall, when the weather is so dynamic and the squirrels are so active.

Have you ever noticed how locked in a dog is, when it's stalking a squirrel? Complete focus. Silent, still, and alert. Maybe dogs can teach us a thing or two about mindfulness and meditation? I'm willing to entertain the notion--if we can gain wisdom from the mouths of babes, then why not from watching animals? I've heard of stranger things.

In a prior post (Black Lab Consciousness ), I argued that dogs are not mindful (at least, not in the way we humans define that term). Instinct is not the same as knowledge, or cultivated awareness. But dogs can teach us something about the meditative state that precedes formal meditation--silence, stillness and alertness is where meditation begins. Maybe not where it ends, but certainly where it begins.

By analogy, our thoughts and emotions are a lot like squirrels. A meditator watches eagerly for thoughts and emotions as they emanate from the mind, with a combination of curiosity and non-judgment. It's a catch and release kind of thing. We observe our thoughts and emotions, then let them pass, without attaching a particular significance to them--as we are so often want to do.

Unfortunately, dogs get the catch-the-squirrel part, but they're not into releasing them. And that's where the brain-training happens! Learning not to catastrophize or blindly react to our thoughts or emotions--not to immediately leap to the worst possible conclusion --is where the rubber really hits the road, for meditators.

The oft-repeated observation of Austrian psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl,
is particularly apt on this important point: Between stimulus and response, there is a space. And it is in that space, that we choose our response. Meditation--regardless of tradition-- is about finding that "space", and enlarging it so we can respond skillfully, rather than react impulsively.

But I digress. We were talking about walking the dog. Granted, it's not meditation, but it sure can be meditative, and that's a good thing. One thing will often lead to another!


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