Asta, the living mindfulness bell.

Asta, the living mindfulness bell. 

I toyed with the idea of getting a dog for many years but was nervous about the extra responsibilities. One person told me, it’s like having a baby that never grows up. That sounded horrifying. I did take the leap a couple of years ago and have no regrets. The enjoyment has been worth it.

What I didn’t anticipate is that Asta, a black lab/Australian shepherd mutt, has become the wake-up call for so many mindful moments. It’s raining, the wind is whipping, it’s cold, and I see my judgements/aversions arise when it’s time to walk her. “This is going to be miserable.” “I hate this.” “Somebody else should be doing it.” And so on.

The wonder is that the actual experience is often so different. Asta is always accepting of “what is” out there, greeting any weather with an exuberance that is infectious. Heavy rain means the opportunity to roll in the newly formed mud puddles in the park, with a look to me that says,“Isn’t this great!” Luckily, she’s not troubled by future thinking – such as worrying about the upcoming indignity of the hose-down.

Like a meditation bell, I am frequently shifted into the present by Asta. She is a creature of the senses and of the moment. I try to follow her example. What is there to see, to feel, to hear, and to smell on our outings? Familiar pathways, but every walk a new walk.

Thich Nhat Hanh said that “while washing the dishes one should only be washing the dishes.” I see this in the intensity of her gaze, body tensed and ready to spring as she waits for a ball to be thrown. Only dedicated focus and intention could allow for the perfect timing of that run, leap, and snatch. It is a reminder that I too am in my body as I take time to play.

There is also her patience, uncluttered affection, and attunement to others’ mood that serve as reminders of another kind. I’m sure the experience is common – mindful lessons from living with another species. As I said, no regrets.

Allison McLay