Over the last several years I’ve been meditating regularly, and it has been extremely helpful to my relationship with my dogs. It’s a practice I’d recommend everyone for so many reasons. It’s like cultivating a super power by just investing 10 minutes a day. Normally it takes some time and discipline to start seeing results. Today while meditating I thought of with a way that someone who has never meditated can experience some valuable benefits in their relationship with their dog by just trying it once.
For this to work, you will need to follow the instructions below as they’re written. You may be tempted to read the whole article first. If you want to get the most out of this exercise, please follow the instructions carefully. Doing the exercise and reading this article should take less than 10 minutes. If you don’t have the time to do this now, please save or bookmark this article and come back when you have the time.
Read this paragraph, then stop and do the exercise as instructed. Set a timer on your phone or watch for 5 minutes. Close your eyes and concentrate on following your breath. If your mind wanders, simply return your attention to your breath. When your timer goes off, open your eyes and read the rest of the article.
If you’re reading this paragraph, one of two things has happened. Either you have practiced a simple 5 minute meditation, or you have failed to follow instructions. If the former is true, congratulations! Please feel free to continue to the next paragraph or just keep reading. If you didn’t follow the instructions, you might want to think a bit about why you chose to do that. You’ve already invested a few minutes to read this far, but you aren’t willing to follow instructions. You may think you can learn this lesson just by reading but I promise you that learning by reading and learning by doing are two very different things. Here’s your chance to stop and go back and try the exercise.
Ok, so what was the experience of meditation like for you? What did it feel like? How many times did you find your mind wandering?
Here’s the most important question. What did it feel like when you realized your mind had wandered? Were you frustrated? Disappointed in your lack of ability to focus? Surprised that it was difficult? If you had feelings along these lines, why do you think that happened? How did I know it would happen? The instructions did not tell you to feel that way. Not only that, they assumed your mind would wander and gave you instructions on how to respond when it happens.
I believe that this exercise gives you a great insight into the default way human minds operate when they are trying to control behavior. When we want a particular behavioral outcome, we mostly notice when we are not getting what we want, and we don’t like that. If it happens when you are trying to control your mind’s behavior, I promise you it’s happening when you try to control your dog’s behavior. We expect to get what we want, and we notice (and don’t like it) when we don’t. This sets us up to bias our training towards punishment. And though punishment can shape behavior, it is rarely as effective as noticing and rewarding when we are getting the behavior we want. This is an important trait to know about ourselves so that we can correct for it.
Though many people believe meditating means emptying your mind, it really is about learning to observe it. The practice I gave you is intended to teach you to notice when your mind wanders. Every time that you noticed it wandered, you were actually succeeding, not failing. The goal of the exercise isn’t to keep your focus on your breathing, it’s to notice when your mind wanders and refocus so that you can do it again.
If this exercise was worthwhile for you, I’d encourage you to try it again later with the insights from rest of the article in mind. I’d also love to hear if it was different for you and if so, how it was different. If you found these exercises fun, relaxing or interesting, I’d strongly encourage you to look more into meditation. I promise it will make you a better dog trainer, and will probably also make you a better person.