Dog on beach beside stack of stones - How to love mindfully

The term “mindfulness” can seem confusing. Isn’t the point of meditation to get out of one’s mind? To move past the endless chatter of daytime work-ethic honours-student intellect, and connect with something deeper and higher?

Eventually, we grasp the seeming contradiction: the way out is through going within. Our connection to all our earthbound senses frees us to live in the moment and reach a transcendent state.

But for most of us, our real goal isn’t transcendence; it’s love. To find love, to feel love, to freely love. To love with a universal, complete, empowering love. To love fully and unconditionally. To love like… dogs.

Dogs live in the world. They live in the moment. They live in love. Dogs don’t think about what’s due tomorrow, what they should have said yesterday, or what to change in their relationships.

Dogs have smaller brains than we, and so have much less “noise” going on inside their heads. If you want to know what focus looks like, hold a piece of meat or cheese in front of a mutt (Hold a million dollars in front of a human, and his or her mind will race a million miles an hour—nowhere near as focused).

The goal of mindfulness is to reach that doglike level of focus and awareness. The goal of love is a doglike state of passion and compassion equal to that focus.

So while we practice mindfulness in our daily lives, how can we bring that mindless love in as well?

Just ask a mutt.

If you’re overwhelmed with love, great; but if not, look for it

We all know the “honeymoon stage” in which we idolize our beloved because their flaws are meaningless or invisible to us. Scanning imagery has shown no difference between a brain at that level of romance and one high on cocaine. So enjoy it—it has no side effects, it’s legal, and it’s one of the great joys of life.

But it’s also temporary. And when it flies away, you’re left with a relationship to a sudden stranger, with flaws that are newly obvious and annoying.

People often mistakenly try to ignore them. “If I don’t notice her shoes in the living room, they won’t matter.” That never works. But a dog would instead sniff around to find something to love, regardless of those shoes.

What still enraptures you about your beloved? Focus on that, and you’ll go weak in the knees again—maybe not as much, or as often, but from a stronger place.

And maybe, eventually, that will take you to pup-like mastery, as when a friend of mine told his wife, “I love coming home and seeing your shoes left out.  It means you’re home.”

When with a beloved, occasionally focus on only what you know is true at that moment

We sapiens are too brainy to just think about the present. We worry about plans for the next weekend, or for 10 years from now; we ruminate on what happened last night, or what someone did to us 10 years ago. And we’ll think about all the qualities our mate doesn’t have that we wish he or she did.

These thoughts shouldn’t be ignored. But if we spend all our time thinking them, we destroy the love we have.

So try, a few times a day, to take a doglike in-the-moment look at your mate. What’s true just now? Yes, he said something hurtful last night, and yes, he still hasn’t washed the dishes, and yes, you both might age into your awful parents… but at this second, this unique, amazing person is all there is. Think of that song, “Here you are, standing there, loving me / Whether or not you should.”

Dogs feel that, and swoon to it, all the time.  Do something good for yourself by doing the same.

Don’t wait for sex to make love

Routines are useful, convenient, and romantically deadly. A kiss goodbye in the morning is great; so are flowers on Valentine’s Day, Christmas presents and a birthday dinner. But none are spontaneously exciting.

When do you pet your dog? Her birthday? Or every time you notice that mutt is next to you? When do you drop everything and kiss Rover’s big nose and ask him who’s the best doggie? New Year’s Eve at midnight? Or whenever you feel like it?

There are infinite ways to make love. A look, a sentence, a squeeze. A compliment or a joking sweet insult. An “x” at the end of a text, a dessert brought home from lunch because he’d like it more than you… the list could go on forever.

Couples suffer when their routine daily interactions result in a lack of connection at night. Funny, you never see that between people and their dogs.

So try mindfully treating your spouse as something more than human. Treat him the way you’d treat your dog—and love him all the time!

Couple walking dog kiss each other - How to love mindfully

The more trustworthy you are, the more you’ll be able to trust

Our big brains let us imagine a lot—including imagining the worst about our partners. But wrongly believing your mate will betray you creates a cancerous energy guaranteed to destroy everything good about a relationship.

Of course we doubt. We can’t erase our painful memories. And we enter each new romance saddled with baggage. So it’s great to communicate and to work to understand each other.

But to help your relationship even more, take a look at your own trustworthiness. Are you perhaps suspicious of your partner because you’re projecting your behaviours or thoughts onto her?

Dogs can’t lie, and don’t know that humans can. This enables them to trust us fully. What if you try being as honest, loyal and true to your lover as you can imagine possible? Doing so will make it much harder to make up false beliefs about her.

Once you commit, be committed (unless you can’t)

Dogs commit instantaneously (Don’t believe me? Bring a pup home from a pound, and see how often he wants to separate from you!). Dogs don’t think, “Oh, that human is cuter or nicer, I’ll move in with him instead.” They gratefully stick with the human they have, because that’s naturally who they are.

But for us, it takes every tool I’ve listed above and more. We thrill when we meet someone just right, yet immediately question whether we really want that relationship. For us, commitment requires a choice and a conscious decision.

The trick, then, is to fully accept whatever commitment we make. To acknowledge, like a dog, that our commitment is part of our identity, and nothing can change it. (Up to a point: If you realize you’re in an abusive relationship, or one so cold as to deaden your heart—then, like the dog who runs away from the beating or neglectful human, your commitment to yourself must supersede your promise.)

In most cases, if you and your partner can commit to work, mindfully, to building a happy and strong relationship, you should be able to find the security your pooch feels at the foot of your bed.

An exercise to help you develop your doglike nature

Close your eyes, sit up straight, take a deep breath and imagine you’re a dog. Hear the sounds around you, smell the room, taste the inside of your giant mouth and feel your paws and haunches on the floor. Think about that person, that phenomenon you’ve loved. Appreciate the fact of each of your existences, and the miracle that is the two of you.

Next time you see that person, jump on them and lick their face.  Even if you get sent out into the backyard, you’ll still have lived your moment, and brought them into it with your ferocious love.

With that, you can begin a new life. Mindful. And blissfully mindless.

Douglas Green is a psychotherapist, specializing in helping kids and teens build lives they can be proud of. He is also the creator and writer for AskShirelle.com, which helps kids, teens, parents, and others around the world with advice from the point of view of a friendly dog, and is the author of The Teachings of Shirelle: Life Lessons from a Divine Knucklehead. Learn more about Green at www.CavalleriaPress.com, and connect on Facebook and Twitter.

image 1: The dog is lying on the beach via Shutterstock; image 2: Young couple in love with dog via Shutterstock