What Our Pets Can Teach Us

in Mental Health/Pets by

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 some time 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 don’t. 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. 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.

 

5 Comments

  1. This is so true and beautifully expressed. A pet can also give a person who lives alone someone to look after besides themselves, adding meaning to life. I found that, when my children were very small, they helped me to live in the moment in similar ways that pets do. The loving, all-accepting nature of a baby or a toddler really brings one’s attention to the wonder of the present moment that can transcend worries and cares. Our children begin to lose that quality all too soon.

  2. Exceptional post Hugh and you not only hit the nail on the head, but I can also connect/relate to your emotional joy when your beloved dog came into your life.

    “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.”

    This division, and ultimately conflict or dissonance between the socially/environmentally constructed “self” and the True Self, is the single most common psychic conflict in most people’s lives, as well as being the single most common regret of the dying (not living the life they wanted – look up Bronnie Ware study).

    Animals, pets, are oblivious (AFAWK) to those masks of the society/self and only see and sense our True Self and relate to that aspect of us unconditionally. They “see” us and so along with the affection and love they give us, they validate us as beings at a very deep level and so for those who can connect to themselves at that level, interactions with pets are deeply rewarding. I began the process of emotionally healing and dealing with the huge hole in my heart and loss of affection in my life following the end of a relationship, by getting a cat last Autumn and her effect on my heart and soul was almost immediate.

    “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.”

    So true Hugh! Yes, the attention and affection of a pet pulls us towards them and the moment, pulling back the curtains of our relentless monkey-minds and allowing the beauty and love of the moment to dominate our attention. The more we can do this, the more we can relax into this moment of awareness, the more we become aware that we are not our thoughts, not our emotions (as you said).

    There is heart and soul in this post that comes through loud and clear Hugh. Beautiful and thank you for this reminder of how important and valuable are the pets in our lives. 🙂

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