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A Dog's Life

The valuable lessons we can learn from our four-legged friends.

Bailey Rose lost a friend of hers the other day -- one of her lab friends passed away after a long and happy life. As any of you know that live with dogs here in Charlestown, you and your dog make so many friends just walking around town. It’s not uncommon for you to know the dog’s name before you know the owner’s name, but hopefully that happens over time. 

I’ve lived here as long as I’ve had my dog: she’s grown to love the neighborhood and many of the people in it. There are many dog lovers in Charlestown, even those that don’t have dogs. Our store owners are so generous with biscuits and all you need to do is see me trying to drag Bailey Rose past the dry cleaners and you’ll quickly realize that she knows where to get her cookies.

The passing of Bailey’s friend weighed heavily on my mind these past few days and it reminded me of the handful of dogs we’ve both loved that have passed on since we have lived here. One of the most basic teachings of yoga and Buddhism is the idea that nothing is permanent; life is always changing. It’s our resistance to change that creates pain and suffering. That’s hardly a consolation when you’re missing your best friend and feeling the pain of loss.

Having a dog teaches us many concepts that are central to the teachings of yoga and even though many dog owners don’t have a regular yoga practice, simply having a dog opens us up to the teachings of yoga. Many years ago, when I first began teaching, I wrote an article called, “Everything I needed to know about yoga I learned from my dog.” I thought in honor of my lost friend, it was a great reminder of all the wonderful things we learn from our furry friends. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Always be alert and present. For if you’re asleep in your actions, you’ll miss that sweet treat at your feet. I take Bailey on the same walk every day and she attacks it with eager awareness. As we practice yoga or do anything routinely in our lives, the challenge is to do it with total attention and consciousness.
  • True love and companionship is given unconditionally, without regard for what is means for the self. Bailey loves me fully and completely regardless of situations where I might snap at her or leave her home alone longer than I would have liked. Her love is unconditional and she teaches me to approach my relationships in the same way.
  • Greet everyone with the same warmth and love, regardless of what they look like, who they’re with and their breeding. Bailey greets every dog and owner with the same rousing thump and enthusiasm, without judgment or hesitation. She encourages me to live with an open heart, as you never know when you might have that magical interaction.
  • Every once in a while, it’s a good idea to run around like crazy, kick up your heels and forget about how silly you look. When I first moved to Charlestown, there was a dog park across from Ironsides. Dogs used to run free and owners would stand talking to each other after work. It was an illustration of pure joy and fun. When was the last time you lived your life like that?
  • Compassion is one of the greatest gifts you can give another human being. If you live with a dog, you know that they have radar for knowing when you’re upset. There have been times when I’ve cried and Bailey has sat by my side, resting her head on my lap. Her full commitment to being compassionate inspires me to share this with others.
  • Be adaptable. For the more inflexible you are, in spirit and in body, the harder life will be on you. If you’ve ever seen a dog that’s lost a leg but still fully participates to his degree in playing with other dogs, you realize the spirit of dogs can’t be quashed. They adapt to what is and move forward. As humans, we often fight what’s happening and it causes us tremendous pain and suffering. Bailey reminds me to be flexible and go with the flow.
  • You have to give love to get love. Dogs are the best at giving love freely and as a result, they’re loved unconditionally in return. Bailey reminds me to give of myself fully and in return, love will appear.

The lessons of yoga are found everywhere. The dogs around us are great teachers about presence, compassion, generosity and unconditional love. Even though these are very human qualities, they’re found in our four legged friends too. What lessons can you learn from your dog? Share with us! Peace. 

Michael Comte May 27, 2011 at 09:00 AM
Every thing you need to know about dog names: http://www.braquedubourbonnais.info/en/dog-name.htm
Susie Howard May 28, 2011 at 11:19 AM
Karen, such a lovely article and so true!!! I learn so much from my beloved Jack Russell, Maura, who lost two of her best friends this year,14 year old lab," Summer" from Bolton Place and 16 year old shepherd mix "Nala" from Allston Street. Dog is God spelled backwards for a reason!!!
Karen Fabian May 28, 2011 at 08:21 PM
Susie, Summer was one of our best friends! I have a great picture of her on the beach that Mary gave us. We loved her!!! I am glad you liked the article : ) Michael, thanks for the link!

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