3 Mental Health Benefits You Can Learn From Your Dog

If You Need Some Spiritual Love, There Is No Better Messenger Than Your Dog To Deliver It

I used to associate dharma with Buddhism only, and later, with the miraculous series “Lost”. If you were a fan, then you will know how was ‘Dharma’ involved in the story and what does it have to do with the dharma of dogs. If you were not a fan, the intermezzo of this TV snippet is almost irrelevant. Now, my favorite association of dharma is with dogs and the astounding psychological lessons I get from an army of three mischief makers that live in my backyard. The extent to which they provide therapeutic food is remarkable, both in the healing, balmy way and in the cognitive processing way.

At this point, I really need to address the issue of credit recognition. “The Dharma of Dogs” is a book edited by Tami Simon containing stories about dogs wisdom collected by spiritual teachers, among whom is Eckhart Tolle. I admit that I haven’t read the book. But I have seen Eckhart Tolle’s reference to it, and without delving into too much detail, I can almost imagine how he speaks about the dharma of dogs with his gleeful half-smile and half self-sufficiency. At least, it is a breeze seeing what do dogs have to do with the ‘Power of Now” or with the ‘New Earth’.

Without devaluing the priceless work of Eckhart, the three strays that have set a kingdom in my garden and opened a school of dog psychology without an invitation are my master teachers. While I am feeding them with dog food, they are feeding me with dharmic and cathartic lessons that often put me to shame. They are so present and intentionless. I have never doubted that dogs have a soul but many people deny them that depth. Then again, most of these people deny the soul’s existence in humans, too. I am sure that if they spend enough time with dogs and stay away from humans at least for a while, they will experience a 180-degree turnaround.

From what I have witnessed, dogs are the least neurotic beings, have the best sense of boundaries and know how to respond instead of reacting. I sometimes think that I know a lot about this behavior, but when the three dogs effortlessly surpass me in any of these three activities, carrying them out with an inborn ease, I feel as mature as a three-year-old kiddo throwing a tantrum for having its toy taken.

#1 – Unprecedented Lack of Neurotic Behavior

If you are not sure what I am trying to say, let me illustrate this with an example. My three canines are strays whose dad is living nearby. He doesn’t have a human ‘boss’ so he spends most of his time freely wandering through the wilderness and doing dog stuff. Occasionally though, he visits his three heirs. This often happens when I feed them. (I decided not to feed him because I wanted to put a limit on how many dogs I am taking care of, and he was on the critical line). I am well aware that he is coming for the food but the main point here is how he is reacting when I chase him away. He runs away after some negotiating with me. It sometimes takes a simple ‘Go’ but more often than not it takes picking up a pebble and threatening to throw it at him.

This usually signs the deal. If I don’t continue with the same behavior the next times he comes he has forgotten all about it and starts licking my hands again. That wild hound doesn’t keep a grudge or a bad memory. He is always so present and willing to start communication all over again, as he is seeing me for the first time.

Have you ever managed to pull this behavior through, in a 100-percent way, just like dogs do? Suddenly, bearing grudges becomes less comfortable.

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Photo credit: Bennilover via Foter.com / CC BY-ND

#2 – Super-flexible Boundaries

Flexible boundaries are a sign of good psychological health. Knowing our boundaries helps us find our place in this big world. Knowing when to tighten and when to expand them is a crucial life skill that can keep us safe, and, at the same time, help us grow and blossom by choice.

While I think I know my boundaries and I know that I am (not) flexible I am constantly in awe of the boundary lessons given by my dogs when I comb them. I use one of those anti-flea thick combs with sharp prongs that can be pleasant with gentle scratching and painful when taking it rough. It is not always easy to assess what is the right pressure. Thus, sometimes, I go too heavy. The way this is let known to me is astounding. There is a soft place around one of my dog’s heads. The moment I cross the boundary, I know. If it is soft, there are pleasant murmurs. If I push too hard, the dog pulls away. If I try to keep him by force, he opens his teeth and pulls my hand away with it. The ease by which he transcends from one boundary level to another is so subtle and so proportionate that I am wondering if he is talking to me in a sophisticated language that I am too shallow to understand. He never ever uses too much force or becomes violent.  

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Photo credit: The U.S. Army via Foter.com / CC BY

#3 – Inborn Skills for Responding Instead of Reacting

A response is not a knee-jerk reaction, impulsive feedback or an uncontrollable emotion. Reacting often assumes coming across to others from a place of fear and pain and getting back with unreasonable force. It is not a surprise that a response is also connected with good boundaries and lack of neurotic behavior. They have plenty to do with each other since they all derive from the ‘now’ and are not filled with the psychological garbage that accompanies people acting out of presence.

Did you know how my dogs taught me a response lesson? I (unintentionally) tested their reaction using the gardening hose on them during the afternoon nap. If it were a person that was being splashed with a water hose while resting, the least I would have expected from experience is a curse spit through stiff lips. The equivalent reaction would have been getting back to me in the same way. (And I don’t even want to think about the worst).

Instead, those small barking creatures just leave the terrain and move on the nearby meadow. They are looking over their shoulder with an almost silent reproach like they are trying to say: “Hey human, what’s up? Why are you acting so weird? This is no good for me. I am leaving.” making me rest in my stupidity for a while.

Dogs have also taught me a lot about trust and forgiveness. I sometimes wonder if they have become domesticated only to serve as a projection mirror or our imperfect ability to trust, set boundaries, stay in the present and respond accordingly. I think Eckhart Tolle will agree with me.

(Disclaimer: No dogs were hurt during the writing of this article, or ever. )

Photo credit: Frenzel Fotografie via Foter.com / CC BY

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