“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”
— Anatole France
Pets play a fundamental role in contributing to the health and happiness of humans. Making eye contact with your dog can trigger the release of oxytocin while cuddling your furry friend can increase the production of serotonin. Not only are they a loyal companion who offers unconditional love, they’re also a great teacher of mindfulness, given their ability to naturally live in the present moment.
Mindfulness is most easily described as bearing witness to the present moment — being aware of the sights, sounds, smells, sensations and tastes — and accepting it all without judgement. And interacting with your pet provides you with an opportunity to practise mindfulness by focusing your attention on the moment you’re sharing. As a spiritual teacher and author Eckhart Tolle once said, “I have lived with several Zen Masters — all of them cats.”
Being mindful with your pets
If mindfulness is a tool we can use to be present, then pets can act as a powerful catalyst for us to put mindfulness into practice. Whether it is a dynamic experience such as playing or a more gentle form of interacting such as resting, you’re invited to share that same sense
of presence as your pet by simply tuning into the present moment.
Presence in moments of doing
Not only is mindfulness practised in the spaces between the doing — the moments of being — it is also experienced during many forms of doing, such as while walking. The next time you take your dog for a walk, take note of what they’re doing. Is their head up high? Is their tail wagging? Are they alert? Are they taking in all of the surroundings? You’ll notice though observing your pet’s behaviour that they are often open to new sights, smells, sounds, people and other animals, which are all ways of being mindful and living in the moment.
Your pet can also connect you more intimately with nature, which is another gateway into presence. From breathing in the fresh air on a morning or evening walk to observing a light show across the sky with the rising or setting sun, a simple walk can turn into an adventure of discovery, appreciation and awe. Perhaps even a form of moving meditation that allows you to tread the earth with more care.
Presence in moments of being
Experiencing mindfulness with a pet can be from tuning into the more subtle qualities of the moment. I’m completely captivated while gazing into the bright blue and green eyes of our puppy, Poppy. It’s easy to be enamoured by the feeling of her soft fur between my fingertips, by noticing her soft blonde eyelashes, tiny teeth or delicate whiskers, or the intricate ways her brown spots intersect with her white coat.
In those quiet moments when I’m witnessing Poppy simply just be, there’s an invitation for myself to also practise presence. While watching her gentle breath, I can feel my own; while cuddling her, feeling her heartbeat allows me to become more aware of my own. When she’s curiously meandering through the garden, it’s a reminder for me to also move more gently and mindfully not just in this moment, but also perhaps throughout the rest of the day.
Mindfulness is a lifelong practice that trains your awareness of being in the present moment. Simply just being with your pet and noticing the way your lives intersect can allow you to cultivate gratitude and joy, along with a sense of calm awareness. The everyday nature of spending time with your pet can turn into an appreciative experience worth savouring. And perhaps the practice of being mindful with your pet may allow mindfulness to become more accessible in other facets of your life too.
Ally McManus, the founding editor of Being and the editor of WellBeing Yoga magazines, is a freelance writer and editor in magazine and book publishing. When she isn’t working on copy or interviewing talent, she is teaching
yoga and meditation on Victoria’s Bellarine Peninsula.