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August 25, 2021
Breaking down Eckhart Tolle’s theory about dogs (and cats) – guardians of being
In 2020, many people took to shelters across the United States to get a furry addition to their families and the answer to why this happened didn’t really surprise us. Part of it is simple economics; an increase in demand for pets since the majority of the workforce went indoors to work from home.
The less calculated, but equally important factor is that people were searching for a source of happiness and hope last year and what better source of positivity is there than a tail-wagging, slobbery kiss-giving, fluffy, furry, ball of pure sunshine?
Eckhart Tolle is a New York Times Bestselling author and Spiritual Teacher who brings a unique perspective into the conversation around what actually makes us gravitate to these goofy, wonderful creatures. Tolle even refers to pets as ‘guardians of being’ and cites how they make us aware of the present moment and bring us back to it.
If you check in and really pay attention to what your pup is up to, you’ll notice whatever they are doing usually has their full attention: looking out a window, playing with a favorite toy, or even napping. They are living each moment without contemplating the next. This is also identified as a Buddhist practice.
Buddhist mindfulness is the practice of enlightenment through being. The Buddha believed that mindful meditation was key to connect with our purpose and higher self. While there are multiple kinds of meditation, mindfulness is always intertwined with them – the practice of giving one’s attention to their thoughts and senses without any judgement to go beyond existing in a reactive state to really give deep reflection to what it means to ‘be’.
This is extremely difficult, and at times even impossible, for people to do because we are required to think about the future to some degree. Whether you are pondering what to pick up from the grocery store or contemplating the next step in your five-year plan, thinking about the future (or the past for that matter) distracts us from what is happening here and now.
The next time you look at your dog you might notice how engrossed they get in the little tiny elements that make up our day and it is a fun and interesting way to pull yourself back to the present, too.
Dogs are notorious for their companionship. Spanning across hundreds of years, they have evolved to rely on that two-way street of companionship between themselves and their human parents. The answers to ‘why’ and ‘how’ they did this can mostly be answered through their instincts to survive.
However, there is a deeper level of understanding Tolle offers by examining the elements of companionship we are at least somewhat unaware of. One of these frequently overlooked elements to the constant support our pets offer is that they are literally unable to judge us for things that make us insecure.
Your dog doesn’t care if you wear sweatpants for a whole week or leave dirty dishes in the sink – it can sound trivial but that is a weight lifted off our shoulders when you compare it to other housemates.
On the heels of a year with such little amounts of interpersonal communication and interaction, it can be uncomfortable or awkward to engage with strangers even for a few minutes.
You likely take your dog for daily exercise; running, walking, hitting the dog park, etc. One thing you have probably experienced is someone wanting to pet your dog, making a remark about how cute they are, or even introducing their own pup to yours.
These little interactions with other people outside our bubble of friends and family are good for our brain and create a sense of open-mindedness toward others.
The heavy lifting that your dog does on a daily basis to help your social skills shouldn’t go unnoticed. After the next time they play wingman at the dog park or elicit a laugh from a kid in a stroller, make it a special occasion and thank them (preferably with an extra delicious treat like chicken or whipped cream).
Eckhart Tolle argues that happiness is not a permanent state of being. Most people would agree it’s not possible to be happy 100% of the time. (Note: untrue if you are a Golden Retriever) However, our dogs offer unwavering emotional support regardless of our mood. They help us calm down, cheer up, and everything in between.
While Tolle says that happiness is not always present or necessary, our pets help us feel content and at ease. Feeling at ease aids our confidence and ability to feel peaceful; and feeling confident allows us to have experiences without fear of future results or outcomes.
Getting too wrapped up in thoughts of the future is something many people struggle with. Having constant emotional support (from friends, family, or our four-legged companions) bolsters our sense of confidence which in turn helps us navigate the complex situations life throws at us with a deep breath and an inner monologue of “I got this”.
Has your dog ever started barking at a sound you could barely hear? Or lain on the floor with all four legs in the air while sleeping – completely and utterly at ease? How our dogs live their lives serves as a constant reminder of how to be present.
An awareness of the importance of living each moment isn’t really required; just willingness to do more than be simply alive and enjoy living with the simple pleasures.
It is stunning how we have become aware of the many ways dogs enrich our lives. From the incredibly obvious ones to those we are totally surprised by, it makes you wonder if our lives would really be complete without them. After hundreds of years of friendship and love we still have more to learn from our furry guardians of being.