What animals can teach us about mindfulness.


I’ve always believed animals are our greatest teachers. As humans, we tend to dismiss animals, thinking of them as lesser creatures with limited (or no) intelligence. We think that just because they can’t read, don’t speak, don’t wear clothing, and don’t create art, music, or multi-national corporations, that they don’t have anything to teach us. If anything, we try to make animals conform to us, dressing up lapdogs in cute outfits or teaching them tricks to impress our friends.

Animals have much to teach us, and in many ways, if we acted more like them, as a species we humans might be better off — and a lot happier too. Mindfulness is a skill that helps many of us cope with daily life and eases the symptoms of depression, trauma, and many mental disorders — and there is no person more mindful than a cat, dog, or other animal. Even the Buddha was never as mindful as that Labrador retriever who looks at you with such soulful eyes, or that cat that sits peacefully in your window purring his little heart out.

If you have pets, watch them closely. They don’t worry about the future or fret over things that happened in the past. They don’t obsess over themselves or what others are going to think of them. They don’t beat themselves up over past transgressions or worry that they might not be acceptable. They live completely in the moment, reacting only to what they need to in order to survive and be happy. When they are given food, they happily nosh down on it, thinking about nothing except how good it tastes and how nice a newly-full stomach feels. If you ask your dog if he wants to go out for a walk, he doesn’t sit around sulking because he thought your tone was condescending; he happily jumps up and starts to dance around, sometimes even smiling (I am certain dogs can smile). If you scritch your cat under the chin, she will turn her face up to you, squint her eyes so they are almost closed, and begin to purr. She doesn’t worry that you might think she has bad breath.  She doesn’t care!  Watch a group of otters at play. They are like happy children, enjoying the water and the bliss of splashing around and swimming in it, and the joy of being together as a group.

Humans are the only creatures who unfairly judge their own kind, are cruel and unjust for no good reason except to boost their own egos, and seem to look for things to be miserable about, even when things are going well.

Many people think we make ourselves miserable due to our higher intelligence that makes us think about everything way too much, and that could be true. But what exactly is intelligence? How do we know that animals don’t have just as much of it as we do, even if they have a different kind of intelligence? Just because we can read words and earn a paycheck doesn’t mean we’re better or have a superior way of thinking. Case in point: have you ever witnessed some people with Down Syndrome? While their cognitive abilities may be impaired, they are some of the most joyful and affectionate people on earth. I remember one day standing on line at the supermarket. Ahead of me was a young man who clearly had Down Syndrome, and he was happily smiling and waving at everyone who looked his way. People smiled in reaction, not because they were being “polite,” and not because they were laughing at him, but because he was spreading joy. You couldn’t look at this man and not feel a little of his natural happiness. Studies have shown that people with very high IQ’s are more prone to mental illness and depression. People who aren’t as “smart” do seem to be happier. Sometimes I think too much in the way of cognitive intelligence actually gets in our way and keeps us from living in the moment and just enjoying life.  Children at play have a lot to teach us in that department too. We can learn from them.

I’m not comparing the cognitively challenged with with animals and kids to be offensive, but I do think it’s important to point out that all of these groups seem to be more able to live in the moment, and living in the moment is what mindfulness is really all about. Mindfulness and staying in the present leads to joy. So who really is smarter?

Instant joy:

If you’re depressed or feeling bad, just go to Youtube and watch videos of cute, funny and happy animals (or babies, if you prefer).  There are thousands of them.  They are popular for a good reason: they make us feel better and can make us laugh and smile when we’re down.    It always works for me, at least a little.

15 thoughts on “What animals can teach us about mindfulness.

    • We rescued an old Otterhound back in 2004 who was so smart, he seemed like a superior being in fur. He LOVED to watch Animal Planet. One day, he started to chase a couple of black bears that were running across the TV screen. Then he stopped, and looked around with an embarrassed attitude, like “Oops… I hope nobody noticed that!” He was a great natured dog, but he hated to be laughed at. He would put his tail between his legs and hang his head in shame, so we learned never to laugh at him, no matter what he did.

      His name was Farley. Sometimes we would call him Farles. When we did, he always held his head up and pranced around, like he thought being called Farles was the best thing in the world. I miss that sweet old boy.

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      • Farley sounds like a doll! Dexter (my daughter’s dog) loves Animal Planet too! He barks at the dogs on the screen, lol. I have noticed that dogs seem to get embarrassed pretty easily. Dexter had this phobia about anyone watching him eat. He wouldn’t take a bite until everyone left the room, and then if you came back in and “caught” him eating, he’d look all embarrassed and stop eating!

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        • Aww, Dexter sounds so precious.

          It’s funny, I was always a cat person before I married my hubby in 2004. I like their soft fluffy fur, their purrs, and how low maintenance they are. They don’t bark, hump your leg, and have to be let out several times a day and taken for walks.

          But my husband is extremely allergic to cats. Five minutes around cat dander and his eyes swell almost shut! So we have dogs. Now that I know how delightful dogs are, I never want to live without at least one dog again.

          I do miss having a cat, though.

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          • I’ve always been more a cat person too, being a working person who isn’t home enough for a dog. I’ve always had cats, I feel like I can relate to them. But I also really love and appreciate dogs, though I prefer them if they belong to someone else. Sort of like kids, lol. Too high maintenance for me, but I love how funny, expressive, and loyal they are.

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  1. Yes, animals are more into present time than most people. Also, they are not destroying the earth. Cats are furry little psychopaths, however. Did you ever see a cat look guilty? Dogs, on the other hand, are often looking guilty.

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  2. Animals can be great therapy, too. The Pitbull-Boxer mix I rescued off the streets last July hasn’t stopped wagging her tale since we brought her home! Except when she is asleep, or very tired, her tale is wagging non-stop. And yes, she does smile sometimes. What a joy she is!

    However, I have learned from living with our rescue dogs that they don’t always live entirely in the moment. For 8 years, we had a sweet Red Heeler Australian Cattle Dog we rescued from a no kill shelter, who had a terrible history of abuse and abandonment. She had PTSD as a result. During her first year with us, she rarely fell asleep without having a terrible nightmare that caused her to howl and cry in her sleep. Certain gestures and situations would cause her to be triggered and “flash back,” sending her into a wild panic. And the sight or sound of a particular type of truck would cause her to freak out. Most trucks she totally ignored, but that one type of truck never failed to freak her out.

    Most of the dogs we have had, though, do seem to live just in the moment. Especially the little Poodle we found abandoned and starving on the highway two years ago. The one exception to his carefree attitude was a year and a half ago, right after our Cattle Dog died. For two whole weeks afterward, the Poodle cried every time I took him for a walk, whenever we would pass the yard of another dog. He had never done that prior to our Cattle Dog’s death, and after a couple of weeks, he stopped doing it. I believe he was grieving during those two weeks. Lady, the Cattle Dog, had died in my arms, you see — while Scrappy, the Poodle, was kissing her face.

    I ❤ our rescue dogs.

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