Ginger, the Great Golden Guru
What my dog teaches me about mindfulness, appreciation, and what matters most.
The first time we met Ginger she was several weeks old and was intently staring at a tennis ball. Brett, my husband, thought that this was indicative of retriever prowess and the pup's bright future as a "bird dog". That was two years ago. Ginger has never retrieved a single duck or flushed anything other than the killdeer that roam our neighborhood. But in our long walks together and our shared routines, she is persistent and unassuming in reminding me about what matters most. Here are a few pearls of wisdom from Ginger, the Great Golden Guru:
Presence: Smells, sights, sounds, sensations, oh my!
Butterflies, thistles, roadkill, tree trunks, a dropped piece of fruit, the garbage truck .... they are all fascinating to my dog. I recall walking her near the river one afternoon. My mind was caught in some narrative in my head until I noticed Ginger's behavior. She was exploring the weeds as though they were the most interesting vegetation on Earth; and as though we hadn't walked though this precise spot dozens of times. This struck me. Each moment is new to Ginger. She explores with her senses. Our senses are doorways to the present moment. Research finds that our minds are wandering roughly half of our waking hours, and, when wandering, are usually focused on something stressful. Our five senses bring us back to the present moment; back to the opportunity to be deeply, meaningfully, engaged in our lives.
Appreciation: Sniff out the good stuff. And there's so. much. good stuff.
Ginger LOVES hiking with her humans. She especially loves hiking anywhere she can stop for a swim along the way. Sometimes her adventures involve wandering, off-leash, through beautiful natural settings where she can swim in a cool stream. Other times her walks are on-leash around the neighborhood. (This seems analogous to my experience jogging on a wall-facing treadmill after I'd run down a road at the foot of the Tetons at dawn!) The thing is, Ginger doesn't seem to compare. She loves connecting with her humans, stretching her legs, and smelling whatever scents are drifting in the air each evening. The tail wags, the nose is in the air, and she appreciates each walk for is own unique sensations and opportunities. Mindfulness naturally gives rise to appreciation. When we are mindful and present we are liberated from the conditions and evaluations of the comparing mind. The result? More joy and appreciation of what is before us. Wag, wag, wag.
Connection: We're all in this together.
Ginger savors connection. She finds other hikers, our neighbors, the kids' friends, other dogs, and even our old, cranky cat intriguing. Most mornings I awaken to the sound of her paws on the side rails of my bed and her face looking directly at mine; greeting me with a wagging tail. When we all caught the stomach flu last month she hung close, but not too close, as if offering compassion from the side of the couch. Sometimes connection occurs in close emotional and physical proximity. Other times connection occurs through a glance, the sharing of space, or a mutual appreciation for a trail or season. Relationships can last a lifetime or mere moments. Seeing one another and being seen in these big and small ways connects us to our humanity and our hearts.
The invitation: to spend a few moments "living like Ginger". Take in the sights, smells, and sounds. Let comparison fall to the wayside for a moment. Look at someone's face with kindness and curiosity. Couldn't we all use a bit more wagging?