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December 2012

a dog's lessons on mindfulness





Lately I've been really struggling to stay present. With Bella being sick, I'm constantly worried about her eating (something that's always been a challenge but is now a vital aspect of keeping her weight up) and I'm frequently stressed about when she took her medicine and when she'll take it again next. Staying mindful and in-the-moment has become a lost art for me lately. But not for Bella. 

No matter what, Bella -- and every other dog I know -- seems to do a pretty good job of staying mindful. She's not fretting about what happened in the past and she's not worried about what will happen in the future (or at least not in the distant future -- her barking signals that she's worried that someone will come in and threaten her in some way in the immediate future). Bella manages to stay in the now, focusing only on what's happening to her in the moment. 

In this way, my tiny little pup has been an inspiration for me lately. When I find myself struggling to be mindful, I look to her and notice how present she seems to be. Here are some of the mindfulness tips I've learned from Bella . . . 


Bella's Mindfulness Tips 

  • Do less every day. Bella doesn't overwhelm her schedule with to-do lists and appointments. Bella knows how to take it easy. She spends most of her day relaxing with some occasional playtime thrown in. Sure, we would all love to play all day long, but since that's not an option for most of us, we can at least take a tip from Bella and just do less. Make fewer appointments. Schedule fewer activities. Spend more time living in the moments you're experiencing right now.  
  • Worry less often. Bella doesn't worry too much. Sure, she gets stressed out when the FedEx delivery person comes to the door and she gets a bit of anxiety when I leave her for too long, but, generally, she's not a worrier. She doesn't worry about things that are out of her control, the way us humans usually do. We could all take a tip from Bella and try our best to worry less. After all, worrying never makes the situation we're fretting about any easier.  
  • Experience more joy. There's no joy quite like that of Bella with a new toy. It doesn't matter what it is, but if you give her something new and call it "new toy," that tail is wagging and she's all over it, pawing it and biting it and flipping it up in the air with excitement. Even when she's not feeling her best, she's thrilled with a new toy and she fully understands what it means to live with joy. When she's giving a new toy (or a treat she loves), she doesn't hold back her joy. Unlike people, she doesn't question whether or not the joyful feelings are appropriate; all she does is experience them fully, enjoying every moment of her happiness.  
  • Stop judging. To me, this is one of the most precious assets of any pup: they don't judge. Bella doesn't judge me when I make a mistake (even if it somehow effects her, like if I oversleep and don't take her out until later in the morning). And, maybe more important, Bella doesn't judge herself. She accepts everything for what it is and goes with it, something I truly aspire to do. Sure, it's easier for dogs since they probably don't have the ability to judge things the way us humans do, but even when it's hard, we should all strive to judge less and accept more.  
  • Avoid complaining. Life has some pretty dips from time to time, and sometimes it can be difficult not to complain, but look at how dogs handle most situations. They deal with whatever comes their way. If they're hot or cold or tired or hungry, they cope with it. Yes, sometimes there's a little bit of whining involved, but generally they wait patiently until things get better. It's important for us humans to keep in mind what dogs know well: complaining gets you nowhere. It only take us away from being present. 
  • Don't create drama. Whether you want to admit it or not, most people create a little bit of drama for themselves. Sometimes it's purposeful and other times it's unconscious, but, either way, it's something many people do. Dogs don't do this. They face whatever situations they're given and they deal with them directly. They don't avoid or rationalize or blame -- and we'd be a lot better off if we didn't either! Pay attention to the drama in your life and take note of how you've contributed to it (and how you can stop). Less drama equals more mindfulness. 
  • Form deep connections. Those of you who have (or have had) a pet probably know this: the bond between a pet and his/her owner is one of the strongest bonds out there. I love Bella pretty much unconditionally and I know she loves me unconditionally. It's rare to find a close connection with anyone, let alone a dog, but it's an important thing to have. Bella has taught me that close connections are one of the best ways to stay present. The more you enjoy those you're with, the more you can enjoy the moments you spend with them. 
  • Learn to be at peace. Right now, Bella's resting at my feet and she looks completely at peace with the world. Lying down, she's observing the world around her, looking as if she's contemplating life's big mysteries. But she's not. She's just in the now. She isn't worrying about what could happen in the future; she's not wondering what she could have done differently in the past. She's at peace because she's accepted what's happening right now. Staying peaceful is trickier with a human mind, but it's something we can all learn. It just takes some practice -- and consciously choosing to be mindful.  
  • Pay attention to your surroundings. Bella's always looking around her, nose in the grass or carpet, hunting for something special. Yes, she's probably looking for the scent of other animals or a crumb left behind by the vacuum, but she's inadvertently taught me to pay attention to the little things. Even the most routine things for her are exciting and, when I see that little tail wagging with joy, I can't help but be reminded that everything, even the most mundane things like taking a walk down the same sidewalk, is worth paying attention to. The more you pay attention, the more present you'll become. 

Bella has clearly mastered something that most of us never fully do: living in the now. No matter how much I want to focus on living in the now, it's always a bit of a struggle (especially when it comes to dealing with Bella's illness). And it's for that reason that I'm so thankful to have Bella in my life as a constant reminder to stay mindful. Looking down at her now, curled in a ball beneath my desk, I'm yet again reminded of the sweet serenity that comes with living in the present, in living without dwelling on the past or frantically preparing for the future. Bella, like all animals, is a constant reminder to be mindful and appreciate each moment for the fleeting miracle that it is. 



30 day gratitude photo challenge (2012 edition)

Gratitude Challenge 2012

Last year on November 1, I launched the 30-Day Gratitude Photo Challenge (see here) and it was such a hit! People loved taking part in a challenge that helped them to feel more grateful -- and I really loved seeing all the photos here on Flickr. This year I decided to revamp it a bit and launch another challenge. The premise of this one is the same -- take photos of the things on the list in order to stay more present and grateful -- but I've changed some of the items and added some new ones. Here are the things you need to know about the challenge: 


  • You don't need to be a photographer or even all that interested in photos to participate. All you need to be is interested in staying present and focusing on things you're grateful for. 

  • It's not so much a "challenge" as it is something to inspire you to be present. Don't let the word "challenge" scare you and prevent you from participating. There's no reward, no punishment -- just an opportunity to be more present. 

  • You can take your photos anyway you want to -- with your phone, with a digital camera, with a DSLR, Holga, Instax, SLR, Polaroid. Anything goes when it comes to your photos!

  • Feel free to start the challenge at any time. You can start on November 1 and do it for the month of November -- or start any day of the year!

  • If you post your pics online, feel free to share the links in the comments section. Or if you post them on Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, etc., use the hashtag #Gratitude30. You can also join the Flickr group here.  

  • I printed out the challenge for myself and posted it on my wall. If you want to print and post the challengedownload 2012 Gratitude Photo Challenge print out here.


Over the years, I've realized that being grateful for the things around me -- both big and small -- really does help me to be more present and more positive. If you're struggling with gratitude (as I sometimes do!), I'd highly recommend taking part in this challenge -- or creating one of your own. Having a challenge like this serves as a reminder to focus on being grateful and the more you practice the art of gratitude, the more it will become an effortless part of your thought process.  


Speaking of gratitude... I need to give a shout-out to my boyfriend, for whom I am extremely grateful for. Yesterday we celebrated our third anniversary and I'm so thankful to have him in my life. He is amazing, wonderful, fantastic, incredible, and every other positive adjective you could possibly imagine. I am so thankful for him and for the three awesome years we've spent together. xo