“If we are not fully ourselves, truly in the present moment, we miss everything.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh
Frazzled! Doesn’t that word seem to apply to how we feel so much of the time? Take this morning for example.
I’m dashing about the flat and running late for work. I’m drinking a cup of tea while drying my hair. I have to put the washing away and hang a new load out. I mustn’t forget to feed the cat and pick up lunch before I get to the office.
Then I see him—the cat sleeping contentedly on the bed.
Once I get to work, I feel the adrenaline buzzing as the phone starts ringing and the emails begin to flood in. I’m talking to my boss about the day ahead while mentally planning the to-do list I’ll write once I’ve made a cup of coffee.
Then I think of him, lying in the garden stretched out in the sun.
And as irrational as it seems, for a fleeting moment I’m jealous of my pet! But what wouldn’t I give to lead the carefree life of something that lives so blatantly in the moment.
When was the last time you noticed your cat or dog lying awake, seemingly worrying about how they could possibly manage to achieve all the tasks they had set themselves the day before?
Have you ever seen an animal try to eat and wash themselves at the same time? When we picture this, the idea seems ridiculous. So why do we so often try to do so much at once?
I’m not saying for a minute (though it does sound good) that we should hand in our notice and spend long lazy days in the garden. But perhaps we could learn a lesson from our furry friends.
Here are five tips for living in the moment that we can learn from our pets:
1. Pick a daily activity and spend time doing this, and only this, activity each day.
Watch as your cat or dog plays with their favorite toy. They focus all their attention on that toy and all their thoughts are of how to reach it, catch it, and enjoy it. It’s almost as if there’s nothing going on around them.
They are completely engaged in the experience, and that makes it all the more pleasurable.
It’s not always easy to focus on the small things because, unlike pets, we need to provide for and take care of ourselves, and that can create stress. But that gives us even more of an incentive to disconnect and enjoy the little things. We deserve the chance to be without having to overwhelm ourselves with thoughts.
Cats naturally breathe deeply with long, slow, equal breaths (or snores!). When we hear a change in our pet’s breathing patterns, we know we need to do something to protect them from what’s scaring them, cool them down, or take to take them to the vet for a check-up.
If we understand this change of breathing pattern is an important indicator of health in our pets, surely we can see that our own breathing patterns are an indicator of our well-being too.
Next time you’re watching the items pile up on your to-do list items pile up and you feel your breath shortening, take a moment to notice this. Then take longer, slower breaths, letting the inhale invigorate you and the exhale calm you.
3. Dwell neither on the future nor the past.
A cat doesn’t sit around worrying about the big, scary dog she might meet the next time she leaves the house. She has good instincts and uses them when necessary—and until then, it’s not on her radar.
Too often we sit around worrying about tomorrow’s work or the consequences of the things we’ve said and done, as if we can somehow predict and control the future. All this distracts us from the here and now, preventing us from living this current, precious moment.
When these worries feel they could overpower you, go back to your breathe. All you need to do is take each moment as it comes.
4. Enjoy your treats.
Give your dog or cat a treat and watch them enjoy it. Do they try to eat it while running out of the back door? Do they eat it while playing with their favorite toy or trying to dig a hole? No, of course they don’t, because it’s not enjoyable to multi-task treats. If they do, they miss out on savoring it.
So don’t watch your favorite TV show while chatting on the phone or eat a piece of cake while engrossed in your work. Give yourself the full experience of the things you love.
5. Follow your instincts.
Animals always follow their instincts. They know how to hunt, when to run from danger, and how to protect their territory without having to be trained.
By listening to their instincts, animals stay alive and healthy—something we don’t always do well as humans. We’ll ignore our hunger cues, or stay in unhealthy situations far longer than is good for us.
If your body tells you you’re hungry, eat. If your emotions feel out of control, take a break to refocus. If your mind tells you it’s time to make a change, make that change! You know a lot about what’s good for you. You just need to listen to yourself.
Next time I see the cat lounging around, lazing the day away, I’m going to look at him and remember that I too can enjoy that contentment—if I only let myself!
“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.” ~Robert Brault
Photo by DBduo Photography
About Natalie Smith
Natalie Smith is a thirty-something living and working in London who enjoys looking for the small pleasures in a big city. Visit her on Twitter @Nat_by_blazes.