Humans are too good at thinking. We decide on emotional choices based on what seems rational; what makes sense; what is statistically likely.
Sometimes we think ourselves into loops, or to places our hearts tell us are not quite right. This causes us to mistrust what our feelings tell us – to ignore good advice when our more essential selves speak.
And way too often, our persistent ego voice tells us we are unworthy. When our mood state is not quite right, this is the last thing we need. When the clouds gather, it’s light that we need, not dark reminders of our shortcomings.
A beautiful puppy came into my life a couple of weeks ago, and her presence reminds me of what people have taught me about mental and emotional health – and how much they haven’t.
People divide and define themselves against everything else. We constantly construct our unique identity as foreground; the shared background of our human and physical environment is so much distraction and difference. Perhaps this drive to separate ourselves from others, and to thereby compete with them, is a key to our success as a species. It is also likely true that a great deal of unhappiness and confusion flows from this predisposition.
Animals tell us about acceptance, not division. They don’t care about what you know, or what you do. They accept us simply, and without condition. In a human relationship, this makes many of us uneasy. Trust is always the issue. Our pets put that worry to rest.
It takes time to accept unconditional love and inclusion, particularly when life has been marked by rejection and betrayal. But it’s worth giving it a chance.
Animals tell us about the excellence of every moment.
We find ourselves too often thinking ahead, planning, and judging. Even when we should be enjoying our beach walk, we find ourselves playing the “could-a, should-a, would-a” tape over and over.
An animal companion can remind us to lay off that thinking already – to simply experience our moments on their own terms. This is the art and practice of mindfulness, through which we can understand that our thinking need not confine us – that we can simply experience our senses and feelings moment-to-moment.
Animals tell us about fearless hope. By their nature, they don’t live in the past and they don’t fret about the future or worry about what may come. They simply move forward, in the direction of time, and do so with an enviable joy.
Now, I’m not suggesting that people should simply blunder without care into tomorrow. But I do think that by paying attention to an animal’s essential courage we can learn how better to deal with anxiety and depressed moods and worry less about what may come.
Dogs, in particular, promote touch and exercise. Depression frequently leads to isolation, so the requirement to interact physically with an animal pal is almost always beneficial. A pat, a cuddle, a walk – these are all good things.
Finally, pets promote responsibility. They need us as much as we need them, especially when an unquiet mind has caused us to skip some of the practical routines of life.