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3 Things My Dog Teaches Me About Mindfulness

Friday, 05 June 2015 Clare Foster

Clare talks about how her dog, Watson, reminds her of some important principles of mindfulness...

A couple of years ago, I did a mindfulness-based cognitive behavioural therapy (MCBT) course, to help treat depression - and blogged about it for Mind. It really helped, and I still practise it - it’s helped to reduce my use of antidepressants a bit, and helped me to manage my anxiety and depression day to day.

This is about how my dog, Watson, helps me keep up my mindfulness practise - helping keep it part of my life, and reminding me of core teachings of the course.

1. Acceptance

Watson takes experiences as they come. He doesn’t make judgments about what’s going on in his head, or think he should be feeling differently. He just feels! Sometimes he does feel rubbish for a bit - for example, when he's eaten something he shouldn’t in park and he throws up. Or when he's been told off for eating the fluff from his bed… or he's just bored at home.

But when he feels better, he embraces it, he doesn’t dwell on the times he felt bad and let that seep into his better mood. And I try and learn from that. I have a tendency to judge experiences all the time, usually on autopilot, for example thinking something is 'not what I should be feeling'. And this leads into feelings of blame, a rumination cycle in grooves of negative thought.

It’s hard to get out of that sense of 'if I could just find answer', trying to use thought to solve a feeling. But Watson doesn’t use his intellect for problem-solving like that. He encourages me to feel in the moment, to just wait until negative feelings change and do something to distract myself until I’m ready.

"Watson reminds me to sometimes just go for it without thinking..."

2. Gentle Curiosity

Wherever we go, Watson is sticking his nose in. If we have new thing in the house he sniffs it all over, and he's always checking every corner for the smells of what’s been there before. This encourages me to approach my mind and body with a gentle curiosity like that, to take time to experience my feelings and emotions – even more negative ones – instead of immediately trying to push them away.

Doing this helps me recognise how my body and mind interact. For instance, when the weather is hot or humid I can feel more anxious, because they’re feelings similar to having a panic or anxiety attack. That gentle curiosity that Watson has helps me to take time to explore my physical sensations before a spiral starts... Perhaps I’m just hot? So, take time to cool down.

3. The joy of pointlessness

When I’m down I often find I have to start doing something before I want to do it e.g. - it’s not until I start going for a run or meditating that I remember how it helps and want to carry on. I find it hard to make decisions when I’m depressed which makes it even harder to get started on anything. 

But Watson reminds me to sometimes just go for it without thinking. To let go and express myself, do things whether I feel they have a point or not… like he did earlier when carrying an enormous stick around the park, just because it’s fun to do!

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