Just Like Dogs

July 14, 2014
This past weekend, I went to a dog trialing event called Mondioring. It’s a sport that combines obedience, agility and protection. Most of the dogs were Belgian Malinois, an incredibly strong, smart, agile, and protective breed. It was amazing to watch the intensity of focus in both the dog and the handler, and it occurs to me that dog training, mindfulness and meditation have a lot in common. All three train us in present moment awareness for the purpose of clear, skillful and appropriate response.
My German Shepherd Dog, Olive, teaches me this every day. If I don’t keep up on her steady regular training and practice, she gets rusty and sloppy which she demonstrates beautifully by ignoring my commands. It’s a lot like my mind. When my meditation practice loses momentum or gets off track, my general level of mindfulness gets sloppy and my mind seems to ignore my commands, too!
Just like the dog obedience basics sit, stay, heal, and down, there are basic components of mindfulness and meditation that support our practice.
Zeal and Passion– the drive that brings us back to practice over and over again. With something as fundamentally difficult as training the mind, focusing the attention, and developing skillful response, we need zeal and passion to keep us going.
Energy, Courage and Persistence – mindfulness and meditation practice have their normal cycles. Sometimes it’s easy, accessible, peaceful, insightful, rejuvenating and invigorating. And sometimes it’s just plain impossible, inaccessible, painful, boring, and exhausting. Finding the energy, courage and persistence to stick with it is essential to cultivating the long-term benefits of practice.
Patience, Return, Begin Again – truly the way it is. The mind pulls us in thousands of directions and the practice is to return, again and again. It certainly requires patience, and beginning again is a relief. It doesn’t matter where we’ve been; we just come back, take a breath and begin again. The shining gem of practice is this very precise moment when we notice we’re someplace else. It’s in this moment of knowing that we are absolutely present. And then we lose it. Give yourself the gift of patience by opening the door to come back and the gentle permission to begin again.
Investigation, Curiosity and Creativity – the fun part. Without curiosity and creativity, practice can be utterly flat. Wherever we are, whatever we’re doing, whether in meditation, or work, or doing the dishes, when we bring curiosity or investigation to the task, we open the doors to a wider experience. Be creative with your practice, whatever it is. Experiment.
Some traditions have specific rules for practice. But within the tradition of mindfulness meditation there’s a lot of flexibility; noting emotions, naming thought patterns, focusing on the breath, the body or sounds, investigating whatever arises, resting in open awareness, or even metta practice. Like dog training, find a way that works for you and do it. Just sit down, breath and watch your mind.
“Wisdom arises with practice
Without practice, it decays. 
Knowing this two-way path for gain and loss
Conduct yourself so that wisdom grows.”

The Buddha, The Dhammapada, verse 282