Monty is a middle aged Bijon Frise. White haired, curious and very friendly. Next year he and I share our 56th birthday within a few days of each other (8 doggy years x 7 = 56!). So what can a four legged middle aged creature teach a two legged one about mindfulness, consciousness and the self?
Monty is a creature of the moment. His day is shaped by routine and it is coloured by sensations and experiences. He is a conscious creature, aware of his surroundings and stimulated by what he perceives. He sense of smell is of course, acute. At any meal time, whilst food – especially meat – is being prepared or eaten, the patter of his little feet approaching the kitchen can be heard.
His sense of hearing is (allegedly) 10 times more sensitive than ours. I can be on one floor of the house and make a cat noise and Monty, on the top floor, will come thundering down the stairs in the hope of seeing, or perhaps catching a cat.
Monty experiences emotion. He experiences fear: loud traffic noises, flying objects, fireworks and certain dogs in the park all stimulate a strong desire to run back home to safety. Something he has done several times, fortunately dodging traffic as he careers across busy roads.
He seeks out contact. He likes to be be stroked, held and played with. Apparently, when we stroke a dog serotonin is produced not only in our body, but also their’s. Are they experiencing a feeling of well being?
Like Monty we are also experiencing our life through the sensations, thoughts and feelings that arise in our consciousness. Monty though, lives solely in the present moment. This is his greatest teaching.
This doggy moment
Monty has a vocabulary of 30 – 40 words. Each of these words will stimulate a response. Cat, food, sit, No, go, Bijon, sausage, wait etc are all associated with an action. And whilst we do talk to him as though he understands, language is of course a concept too far! So when I talk to him about a cat he saw earlier in the day, Monty will perk up and look for the cat in the room now. Not only is language a concept too far, so is the past or future.
Both the past and future are concepts we have created to explain and cope with the passage of time. We are smart enough to imagine that the past actually exists. But, of course, it does not. It is a construct we have created and that we hold in our consciousness. The past is not a reality. You cannot touch it or experience it in any way, apart from in our imagination. If you attend an experience that recreates the past – a play, film, themed event – you are experiencing the present moment, albeit a present moment that is shaped to look and feel like the past.
Similarly, the future never exists. For when we reach a particular point in time it is the present!
Monty knows this. He only knows that there is this moment right now. Monty lives in the present moment. The mindful hound!
The doggy self
Monty has one other lesson for us. Another trick up his furry sleeve which helps him to be present in this moment. Monty has no concept of self.
If I hold Monty up to a mirror he may look at himself briefly, but pretty quickly his gaze slips away to what is behind or next to him. There is no curiosity. No checking out how he looks. There doesn’t even appear to be a recognition that he is looking at a dog, or that the dog is him.
So the idea that there is such a thing as the ‘self’ does not trouble Monty. He experiences his day a series of sensations, feelings and thoughts arising and passing. Each one is a singular moment and each one is experienced in that moment.
We though get sidetracked. Our mind has created a construct it calls ‘self’. This construct is constantly being refined, developed, coloured and shaped by our sensations, feeling and thoughts. Above all it is the thought that we are an independent self, different from the next person that separates us from this present moment awareness.
This morning we had a meditation group in our house. 8 people and 2 dogs attended. All of us sat in our space experiencing what arose in our consciousness. Humans and dogs.
For me it was the noises, the warm sun on my face and the thoughts, always the thoughts. Sometimes I noticed that I had drifted into a thought and returned to a physical sensation. Sometimes I had a thought about watching the thoughts. All of the time I had a sense that it was me who was experiencing what I was experiencing. My concept of self is strong and is reinforced every moment of every day. Sitting in meditation or following any mindful practice has the potential to remind us that it is only our consciousness receiving. There is no self experiencing. The self is an illusion. An imaginary beast. A construct created and recreated by our conscious mind.
Monty will have just been with the experience of the moment. They are fine teachers, our canine friends. Guru Monty has much to teach me!