The Coach on the Couch (written 2018)
I am grateful right now for two teachers who live with me. Both have four legs; one has serious brown eyes, the softest curly hair imaginable, a playful nature and demanding attitude; the other is given to complaining, fluctuates between deep affection and snotty aggression, seeks my lap any time I sit in his presence, and can be the epitome of laziness. My dog and my cat, obviously. Pets? Well, maybe. Teachers, definitely.
We may think when we take on the care of a dog or cat or some other creature that we're making a choice about ownership, that something living belongs to us. Maybe we think we're purchasing love or companionship or loyalty. But what becomes apparent in a short while, is that we've chosen to live in the presence of a being who is capable of living in the moment much more readily than we are. A life coach who takes up residence on our couch.
Living in the moment is not equivalent to living mindfully in the moment, so I'm not saying animals don't have an agenda. They know what they want and are quite capable of learning how to get it, whether it takes climbing, opening, pushing, and other physical action, or the more subtle skills of manipulation...winding around our legs when we've been busily ignoring them, staring soulfully into our eyes when we are eating something delicious. So it's not a matter of learning to live like a cat or a dog. But living with them, if we're observant, we learn both how to behave and how not to.
When a dog goes for a walk it's not about getting somewhere. It's about the looking and the hearing, and mostly about the sniffing. A dog takes time to explore and is not a slave to the clock. A dog knows about the heart. I've never shared time with one that didn't seem sensitive to my moods and bouts of blues. Whether it was pressing a little closer or licking my hand or nuzzling into my shoulder or under my arm, they've found ways to say “I'm here for you.”
But dogs can also be territorial and they are not reserved about claiming “this is mine”. In the raised neck hairs, exposed teeth and throaty growls we see how this kind of behavior transforms our darlings. It isn't pretty. It's not pretty when we give in to this primal response either.
A cat generally ignores the opinions of others. He knows when doing nothing is a good choice. But when a cat follows its cat-nature, he is capable of treating other living things as objects, playing with the mouse, not just hunting to eat, draping itself across your computer keyboard regardless of your efforts to shoo him away.
These animal beings behave in direct response to their desires and aversions. There is no window of consideration, no choice of this or that. And when I watch them, I see a reflection of how I behave when I give up my human capacity for reflection...the pause between what I want and how I act. I learn to watch my own motivations more carefully. If I observe these furry life coaches, there's a possibility I will learn which impulses to act on, and which to overcome.
Be in less of a hurry. Be there for those needing comfort. Be less territorial, and less prone to aggression, don't allow the opinions of others to hold too much sway but know their value as living beings and don't treat them as objects, or “extras” in my own life drama. Be aware of my motivations. Choose with wisdom. Treat others with kindness and allow them their dignity, including the coach on the couch.