Be here now

view of front of raft going down the Colorado RiverMeditation has never been a complete success or bust for me. I usually come away from attempts at it with a grocery list and the recollection of where I put those papers I need for filing taxes. Although ‘stillness’ is something I readily attain given a lawn chair and some sunshine, this ‘quieting’ the mind stuff isn’t so easy. Over the years I’ve discovered recreations which may not completely silence my inner chatterer, do slow her down.

White water paddling forces me into the moment in a way other activities do not. The attention that needs to be paid and necessity to make quick decisions, help me focus on what I am experiencing at that moment. There is also a soft gaze at the future, at what is ahead. Should I head left or right around that rock? Where will my choice put me? Should I slow down or find a place to stop and catch my breath and assess what’s coming up next? When on unknown waters or facing a challenging rapid, paddlers will stop and get out of their boats and scout the rapid. They’ll weigh their options, which route will be safest? The most fun? If something goes awry where will that put them? And then what?

I don’t get out on rivers as much as I used to and as much as miss the recreation, I miss the level of attention it forced me to practice. I’ve discovered that working with dogs, especially dogs who are not comfortable with people, require a similar kind of effort. It’s important that I accurately assess their behavior. If I make an error in judgment when paddling down a river, mistaking a ‘keeper hole‘ for a bit of white water we can easily float through, I, and my crew may end up having a swim. If I make an error in judgment when assessing a dog I may end up being bitten, or scaring the dog. As with paddling, I am constantly adjusting my responses as the conditions change. To do this effectively I need to 1) know what I am looking at and 2) know the proper response to keep everyone safe.

Entering into a conversation with a dog is exciting, challenging and potentially humbling. The effort put into understanding what I am being told was worth every minute and dollar spent. The energy required to remain present and flexible enough to quickly adapt to changing conditions is invigorating. When I am working with a dog I know that for that period of time I’m not going to be worrying about the mortgage or what’s next on my ‘to do’ list. If I am we may find ourselves somewhere we don’t want to be and there may not be a way to gather up all the pieces that end up floating downstream.


7 comments so far

  1. Camille on

    What a beautiful post. It is so hard to maintain a be-here-now atitude when working my dog who is frightened. For me, looking ahead is usually NOT a soft gaze at the future, but rather panic that that I will never learn the skills that I need to have to deal with the moment to moment behavior of my scared dog. We do seem to be making progress though, and I AM humbled.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thank you very much Camille. Practice and patience. My fearful dog mantra 😉

  2. Heather on

    Funny, I was just talking about this with my guru at the rescue I foster through as we reflected on it being almost a year that Mo got out of that puppy mill! I haven’t had him the whole time, but longer than I would have thought it would be OR that I might have been able to manage.

    And actually, part of his progress came from advice about shaping his ball catching. That has come along, slowly, but today, he had to hold his ball while riding in the car to the park. If he doesn’t catch it, he knows where it will land and can trap it. Still has to catch off a bounce, but he bounces like a playful dog with the ball. So, THANKS SO MUCH!!

    I feel where you are at Camille. All i can say is that little by little, my shy friend has taught me.

  3. engineer chic on

    Though not as exciting as whitewater rafting, I had a similar experience of “active meditation” when I built a deck. I’d never done it before and work a desk job … But every day I’d have sore face muscles from smiling. Lacking the normal skills of a carpenter, I had to THINK about swinging the hammer – not in a panicked way, but enough that I was paying attention to what I was doing.

    It was great to push all the other stuff out of my mind. I think playing in a safe place is like that for my shy/fearful dog. When he’s in his yard, he can focus on the frisbee or ball without concern for anything else (assuming there are no visitors at the house). I hadn’t thought about it until I read this post, but I bet that is how he sees frisbee and ball time in our yard. I should try to make that a more frequent occurrence.

    • fearfuldogs on

      I think that any activity we engage in which could result in serious physical harm can offer the same benefit should we not be paying attention. It does not however seem to be true of driving!

  4. diana on

    what a perfect title for this blog post!
    the mindfulness skills you have mentioned are a challenge for lots of people (i know, i’m one of them!).
    and i agree completely that working with (or even just being with) dogs effectively requires these kinds of skills.
    i so often see people who are not at all connected to the dog they are walking (some are having intense cell phone conversations) and i feel sad and sorry for both the dog and the person.
    what a wasted opportunity to deepen an intimate relationship!
    i often find my own mind drifting when i’m walking with any (my own or a shelter) dog and have to consciously focus my thoughts on the dog i am with.
    and i feel so rewarded when i’m able to achieve that ‘be here now’ state of mind.
    thanks so much for this reminder.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thank you for your comment. It is another of the gifts the animals in our lives offer us.

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