A few weekends ago I went to a monastery for a silent meditation retreat. It was located in the middle of the mossy woods along the Columbia River. It was beautiful, secluded, and serene. As I pulled into the parking lot and began walking up to the front doors, I had an overwhelming desire to get back into the car and drive straight home to my pup. I was gone just a few hours, but I already missed him terribly. As I was having this thought, I was snapped back to reality by a dog barking. I looked around and saw a small black and tan pup running toward me. She was wiggly and wagging her tail, barking excitedly as I approached. She came up to me and placed her head in my hand, and let me stroke her neck and chest. I was soothed by her presence, and knew that in a few days I would be reunited with my own dog and everything would be ok.
As the retreat went forward and we entered silence, I had several moments where my brain told me to leave. “Just walk out those doors, get in your car, and get back to your dog.” But each time I had these thoughts, Link’s face would appear in my head and I would remember why I was there. My mind and body would settle and I could resume my silent meditation journey. I didn’t realize I would miss my dog quite so much.
The retreat had a lot of participants. Sometimes it was difficult to find a spot without others, and it was all I really wanted. A place where I could be alone, and focus on my own existence. One of the few places I could find this solace was in the forest. The monastery had about 100 acres of forest land, pieced together by trails, creeks, and trees. I found myself standing in the forest quite often.
One afternoon, after a two hour seated meditation, I went out into the forest. A lot of others had the same idea as me, and it took some effort to find a solitary place. When I finally did, I was able to just stand and be. I could take in all the green of the moss, grass, and leaves. I could hear the running water of the creek and the birds singing overhead. I could feel the mud squish under my shoes and the cold air sting my face. I could taste the dew and the sweet dirt as my feet stirred up the earth underneath. I could smell everything. It was really a magical moment. And then, my thoughts were interrupted. I could hear barking in the distance. I closed my eyes and listened. I could hear the barking getting closer, accompanied by the soft padding of feet and the light chime of dog tags. I took a deep breath in and opened my eyes. About 20 feet from me stood the black and tan dog, looking up at me and wagging her tail. When we made eye contact, I lightly patted my thigh and she came trotting right over to me. I knelt down and gave her soothing tTouch pets, a special kind of hand placements that can be performed to promote bonding, calm, health, and love. She pressed into my hands and licked my face. I thanked her (silently of course), and she trotted away to resume her afternoon forest jog.
As I watched her prance away into the green woods I felt a wave of peace wash over me. Though I was trying to take a break from work and my normal life (which is about 98% dog), I was unable to escape it completely. This black and tan pup continued to seek me out throughout our weekend. She popped up while I was meditating on a bench, when I was mindfully weeding the garden, and when I was wandering the grounds. She always made sure to come all the way to me and place her head in my hand. I was unable to speak to her, but that didn’t matter to either of us. The connection was established simply by existing together, and it was strengthened by our bodies touching in a particular and intentional way.
Adventure Pup Mindfulness Challenge #2- Massage
For our next Mindfulness Challenge we are going to do something that sounds incredibly easy, and possibly like something you’ve done before; giving your pup a massage.
Every dog is different, but most dogs enjoy the loving touch of their human. Some dogs like head scratches, some belly rubs, and some are all about the butt! Whatever your dog’s preference is, the exercise will be the same. During this challenge, we are going to try to discover something new about our dogs.
First, I’d like you to take five minutes out of your day and give your dog a bunch of affection. Pet them how you normally do, and pay close attention to their response. Do they get wiggly, excited, calm? Then note your response. Do you get wiggly, excited, calm? How do you both interact and behave in these moments of physical connection?
For the next part of the exercise, I’d like you to wait until both you and your dog are in a calm headspace. Trying this activity while your dog is excited or while you’re annoyed will not work. Try this after a long walk or a Chuck-it session. Perform this task in a quiet room, without distractions or noise.
Sit on the floor beside them and allow time for you both to relax and settle. This works best if they are laying fully on one side, but any position is ok as long as they are calm. Place one hand on your dog’s shoulder, feel them breathe. Take note of how their body feels under your hand, note their breath, note your breath, and give yourself a moment to absorb. Then use your other hand to stroke their entire body, beginning at their head all the way to their tail. Use a light, slow touch. Some dogs might find this a bit unusual at first (I’m always surprised by how many people only pet their dogs in vigorous, excited movements), but just be patient and allow them to adjust to this new, soft touch. Slow down and ease up. Breathe with your strokes. Slowly inhale as you rest your hand on their body, and slowly exhale as you move your hand across their coat. If they continue having a difficult time with this type of interaction, either lighten your touch or apply a little more pressure. Every dog has a preference, take time to find yours.
Continue applying light strokes to their entire body, making sure to include the face, legs, and paws (avoid any areas that are sensitive for your dog). After a few minutes, move up to their head and focus solely on that area. Test out different pressures, areas, and movements to see what your dog enjoys most. Watch their body language, feel their breath. Take their ear between your index finger and thumb and slowly drag your fingers from the base of their ear to the tip. Perform light circular pets with just the tips of your fingers to their muzzles, cheeks, and face. Lightly grasp small tufts of fur from the top of their head between your thumb and index finger, then softly pull up on the hair so the skin pulls away from the skull a bit, then slowly release pressure, allowing the skin & coat to drop back down against the head. Do this across the entire skull, breathing in when you pull up and releasing your breath as you slowly release the skin. Keep your mind calm throughout this entire process. Having music or the tv on in the background can completely influence your mind state, so silence is best.
Note how your dog is responding to these touches, and notice how you feel. Are they behaving the way they normally do when you pet them? Do you feel how you normally feel?
There is a special style of massage called Ttouch, where you perform specific energy releasing pets to your dog. This style of energy work originated with horses, and has been proven to create calm within the animal, help prevent & fight against health issues, and promote a stronger bond between the two of you. The suggestions I give above are examples of some Ttouch practices, but if you would like to learn more I urge you to read Getting in Ttouch with Your Dog by Linda Tellington. It is filled with pictures and detailed descriptions on a variety of different touches. I have been using this method with dogs for many years and it has always given me positive results. Learning this practice will help you further your peaceful moments together and create an even stronger bond between the two of you. It could also help alleviate health concerns such as arthritis, muscles injuries, hip dysplasia, and much more.
This is one of the most accessible practice, as you don’t have to go anywhere or do anything. All you have to do is sit by your dog and remain calm and quiet. It’s a great way to unwind after a long day of work, and is an excellent exercise to teach children. Each member of your family can easily learn this practice and benefit from it, but children often gain even more from the experience. Children already come with a beginner’s mind, they haven’t been clouded by years of human existence and hard work. They experience wonder and awe much easier and more frequently than their adult counterparts. When given a task like “mindful massage”, they can get really into it and form bonds with pets that they had no previous connection with. This activity could also help kids calm down, experience less anxiety, and feel seen by someone they love. Adults can also gets these benefits from this practice, it often just takes a few sessions to tap back into that beginner’s mind we’ve been neglecting for so long.