Over the weekend, I came up with an idea for a new wellness craze that is sure to sweep the nation. It’s called “Mindful Dog Walking.”
The concept is simple. While out on a walk with your dog, simply observe the world around you from a more present place. Mindfulness is a type of meditation in which you focus on being intensely aware of what you’re sensing and feeling in the moment, without interpretation or judgment. Mindful Dog Walking is practicing this type of awareness while out on a stroll with your pup.
What do you see? What does the environment around you smell like? Are there people around? What are they doing? What are they wearing? Is there a breeze? What is that squirrel carrying? What song is that bird singing?
Sounds relatively easy, right?
For those evolved few, it probably is. But for me, a man with the attention span of a Dori fish, not so much. But more on that later.
I got the idea for “mindful dog walking” from one of our volunteers, Mary. She came to me with an idea for a column topic. She suggested I write about the interesting things one can observe and learn about a neighborhood while out on a walk with your dog. The people, the quirks, rhythms, shortcuts you never knew about, and most importantly – the menagerie of pets living all around you.
As she talked more specifically about the interesting and colorful landscape of her neighborhood, I started to get more curious about the things I probably overlook every day when I’m out walking my dogs in my own quaint little part of town – but don’t really notice because I see it every day.
Mary was really on to something. And it needed a name. So I decided to coin it “mindful dog walking.”
Initially I was a little worried that my dog Madeline would not be the right kind of dog to attempt mindful dog walking with because she’s, well, crazy.
She’s raging lunatic when she sees other dogs – which makes interacting with neighbors walking their own dogs downright embarrassing. She’s tiny and has barely any teeth – so she doesn’t represent much of a danger to anyone. But still, it isn’t exactly conducive to a joyful meditative state.
She barks, she lunges, she snarls. It’s mortifying.
So I decided to take my first mindful dog walk with my other dog, Oliver.
It should be noted that Ollie is both deaf and blind – so as far as he’s concerned, every walk around our neighborhood is a mindful one.
We started on our walk slowly. Since he’s blind, he likes to map the area around him – which basically means he walks leisurely around the perimeter of a space to smell and identify all the potential hazards, like stairs or curbs, sharp edges or plants, and bodies of water.
So while he did this, I decided to take in the view of my neighborhood from the front of my house.
To my left, I noticed the hills of Griffith Park. It is absolutely breathtaking. The Griffith Observatory was in full view – and my first thought was “Just observe. Don’t judge.”
Then I laughed. Because it’s the first time I ever thought to just observe the Observatory.
“Look at me!” I shouted at myself in my head, “I’m meditating and cracking myself up all at the same time!”
To my right, I noticed the awful fluorescent fuschia aftermarket rims and spoiler on my neighbors Kia. As I saw this, my mind started to float toward judgement. Because, gross. They really were awful…I mean, seriously, who puts aftermarket spoilers on their cars anymore? And fuschia? Not mindful. #tacky
Ollie started tugging the leash toward the right in the direction of the awful Kia. So we walked a little further down until we were in front of the townhouses next door to mine. I could hear my neighbor singing.
My neighbor sings a lot. It drives Andrew absolutely insane. I don’t mind it as much because he is actually quite talented. He was singing “A Whole New World” from the movie Aladdin.
I tried to just stay in the moment and focus on my awareness – but my mind immediately started to wander. Why is it that this guy seems to only like singing songs from old Disney classics? If I have to hear “Beauty and the Beast” or “Can you feel the love tonight” one more time, I’m going to turn into digitally remastered animated murderer. Maybe pick a show tune from Wicked is all I’m saying.
We got about 10 more feet before Ollie decided he was done walking and parked himself on the sidewalk like a Dachshund on strike.
Well that didn’t last long, did it?
I do my best to be as present as possible in every moment – but in reality, it’s difficult to do when you have a brain that always seems to be bouncing from one thought to another like an over caffeinated pinball machine. Mindful dog walking is exactly the kind of discipline I need to slow down the 200 mile an hour cycle of thoughts zooming in and out of my consciousness at any given moment.
I really do think I’m onto something with this mindful dog walking business – so I’m not giving up. In fact, I’m going to practice mindful dog walking all week long and report back to you what I observed next week, and of course brag about how evolved and zen I’ve become in the process. I’m going to be insufferable.
And you should join me! Spend the rest of this week practicing mindfulness while you’re taking your dog for a walk – and then write to me and tell me about your experience. It will be fun! I’ll even share the best ones here! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org – and let’s be mindful together!