This little gal is named “Lady”.
She’s my new puppy. My first puppy, actually.
I rarely call her by her name because, in my book, she’ll have to earn her name and, so far, she has a long way to go for that to occur. So most of the time she’s just “puppy”.
Puppies Are Impulsive
Tonight, like most nights these days, I was carrying “puppy” as she spazzed at anything that we went by: a cat, a dog, a piece of paper, a kitty litter box (her favorite snack bar!).
I watched her as she noticed each new thing.
I realized that there was essentially no separation between her taking notice of each new thing and her expression of an emotional and physical reaction to each thing. She saw, she squealed, she wiggled violently.
It was obvious that she felt a powerful longing for, an overwhelming and immediate need to have and interact with, what she noticed.
I listened to her mournful moaning as, after each reaction, she was cruelly held back from the objects of her desire by her evil master (me). I noticed myself trying to sooth her with soft distracting noises, and my attempts to replace her misery with pleasure from a new source – me scratching behind her ears.
I felt real empathy for my little Lady. I knew what she longed for. I knew the pain that she felt. I was sorry for her misery. I wouldn’t wish the experience on anyone.
What Puppy & I Share
And I couldn’t help but identify with this puppy’s experience. Why did all of this feel so familiar?
At that moment I began to realize how much of my own everyday existence I live much like this dog.
I recalled my own analogous experiences. For example, a typical ubiquitous memory of me noticing a random beautiful woman – and my instant and immediate longing to have her now, and then the cruel head-jerking control of my master (my own discipline), holding me back. “No” I’d say to myself, almost unconsciously. And that was that.
I also recalled those times when I let myself have what I impulsively wanted. Often to smooth over my earlier feeling of loss. These incidents usually involved food. I have a belly to prove it.
I realized that I constantly engage in activities that are not tied to my true life goals. These are repetitive habits that at the time seem justified by some practical value. Like checking my email for the ten-thousandth time. And then enjoying a yummy snack (you gotta eat!).
I realized how much of my day I spend engaged in this purposeless dance.
My Impulsive Habits
I will notice a stimuli (the “woman”), feel the emotion, the pull, the urge, the longing neeeeed for whatever it is I think I want, all followed by the harsh denial and then, typically, my quick focus on a distraction (the “email checking”) to help me to avoid feeling this pain. Often these moments are followed by an allowed substitute (the “food”) as I try to experience some of the pleasure I think I missed through my earlier self denial.
If life is defined by the way we spend it, then this behavior constitutes a great portion of my life.
So I ask myself, “Is this all that my life is about? Stimulus-response? Denial/distraction/substitution? The passing of time – my life, really – while engaged in these mindless activities? Shouldn’t there be more?”
Why do I spend so much time doing this shit? And what can I do about it now that I’m aware of it?
What I am describing is the process of becoming self aware, also called mindfulness.
When we hear the words self aware and mindfulness most of us think of a Buddha, sitting there like a statue.
In fact, it is a statue. Sitting on a shelf in your living room somewhere. Your hippie cousin Angie gave it to you three Christmases ago and you thought it would look cool sitting in your formal living space. It would show your friends that you had a “deep” side. Besides, it looked too expensive to throw away.
It looks peaceful. It looks deep. It also has no practical relationship to your real life. Who has time to sit and meditate all day like the little fat smiling guy? Get real!
Well, that impression of mindfulness comes from popular culture. And you’re right, it doesn’t feel relevant to most of us most of the time.
But being mindful is actually much simpler than that.
Why Mindfulness Matters
Think about the word. Mindful. It just means being aware of you. Of what you are doing, and thinking, and saying. Right now. Not later or yesterday. As John Lennon said, life’s what happens while you are planning other things. Or while you are munching on a donut trying to forget about that hot new babe in accounting.
If you are not mindful then what are you?
Well, if you’re not in your mind then you must be out of it. You are a zombie, really. Lost in thought about tomorrow or what’s coming up next. Or worrying about yesterday. And while we walk around lost in our thoughts our bodies live out a program of stimulus-response designed to govern the life of my puppy.
Are You Mindful?
How do you live your life? Are you mindful? Or do you, like me and most people, spend an incredibly large portion of the precious moments of your life in a fuzzy haze of habits and stimulus-response behaviors that do nothing towards taking you to a better life – the kind of life that you’ve always wanted to live?
My puppy taught me that I am not much better than she is. She may not be able to rise above her situation. But I think I can. At least I’d like to try.
I believe that doing so is the first big step to living a better life.
All the best,
P.S.: Tell me about your mindfulness experiences (or lack thereof). I’d love to hear about it! Leave a comment below and let me know what you are thinking.