Does My Pet Get Lonely?
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Does My Pet Get Lonely?Veterinarian Dennis Thomas Answers This Commonly Asked Question
In the thirty-plus years of practicing as a small animal veterinarian, I've lost count of the times that I have encountered pet caretakers that were convinced that their pet was bored or lonely when they were away. We recently lost our old dog of 15 years, and it created an understandable void in our lives.
Our remaining dog went through a period of re-adjustment and is still anxious at times when we leave. That is to be expected, as she is a dog and dogs are pack animals. However, my wife seems overly concerned that when we are gone, our dog will be immersed in a state of boredom that can only be found in the isolation section in a prison.
But what do we actually mean by boredom? The Cambridge Dictionary informs us that boredom is a state of unhappiness because something is not interesting or because we do not have anything to do. This seems logical since we humans, especially here in the west, have become accustomed to excitement in order to be happy. So, we spend most of our free time doing things that keep us from being unhappy, or bored.
The Stillness Of The Moment
When we consider boredom related to our pets however, is it possible that our pets have a little better understanding of the true state of happiness? They seem to find a deeper sense of contentment in the stillness of the moment. Perhaps we should call it joy or happiness. For people, feeling happy only comes when there is an understanding of the state of unhappiness. Happiness can only be appreciated when we have experienced unhappiness.
Unfortunately, when we find something that is exciting and makes us happy, there is an underlying state of consciousness that is aware that this state of happiness will not last. So for us, there is an underlying feeling of discontentedness that always exists when happiness is experienced. The same is true for the reverse. Whenever we experience unhappiness, there is always an awareness just below the surface that happiness will arise again and a knowingness that the unhappy state will not last.
Equanimity is found in the balance between two extremes. The mystics call it the Tao, or the Way.
The Tao is the center line that exists between states of duality; the balance between happiness and unhappiness, security and fear.
The Original Zen Masters
When we stray away from the Tao, we feel the emotional roller coaster tugging us in both directions, and in doing so we suffer. Fortunately, our pets don’t live this way. They stay in a natural state of the Tao and do so in the stillness of the moment. This is not to say that our pets don’t exhibit happiness. They certainly do. But, unlike us, they don’t seek happiness and nor do they suffer when they are not. Their happiness/joy is found in alignment with the Tao.
What we perceive as boredom to them is stillness.
What Can We Learn
Looking at the concept of boredom that we project onto our pets is a way we can open to the Tao. So, to find the Tao, the Truth of the still moment, we must be willing to move through the conditioned-mind’s concept of boredom. We must find a peace in our state of being without the need to do something to feed the addiction to distraction or excitement. When we allow boredom to enter our moment and accept the conditioned emotions and thoughts about boredom, and observe the desire to find something to do without acting, we begin to understand that boredom is nothing more than an energetic occurrence, like a cloud passing across the sky. When we become aware that we are not our emotionally-charged thoughts, we seat ourselves in the quiet moment and find ourselves as nothing more than observers. The Buddhists say that in quiet observation comes insight. This is the principle of meditation.
Although our pets do not seek insight, they do live in a seat of consciousness that is centered in the quiet moment. If you watch a pet by itself, it sits in total observation. Each sound, movement, smell is observed. The mind is quiet, it does not think it should be doing anything more than being. Hearing, looking, touching, smelling, moving without interpretation. Quiet awareness. Not boredom.
Unlike our pets, as we grow, we lose awareness of the original experience of happiness. Our body-mind develops a sense of separation, and in time, this separation or self-centeredness, leads us into a conditioning that is driven by desire: a desire for happiness. The body-mind can only function when it is working with separation. By doing this it evaluates the situation to determine if it is good or bad for us, and in time it perpetually interprets each event, object, etc., in order for us to make a choice that will make us happier than if we chose the other. In time, we find ourselves listening intently to the busy mind in hopes that we can use past perceptions in order to control our future, one where happy outweighs unhappy.
When we unknowingly keep our attention focused on the busy mind and its movements from past to future, we miss the present moment, its stillness, its potential for insight. While searching for conceptual happiness, we miss the real state of happiness found only in the present moment. Our body-mind, using its tools of contrast and judgment, creates a conditioning where beliefs, attachments, and fears are predominant. The body-mind convinces us that its conditioning will lead us to happiness and security, but instead it creates the veil that keeps us from experiencing real happiness and knowing genuine security.
Our pets have never created the busy, body-mind and aren’t subject to the chatter that persists in our heads. Without the busy mind judging, watching from the fearful perspective in order to protect, their mind is focused on experiencing what life offers in the present moment. They sit in quietness of the mind, watching as life arises from nowhere and returns to nowhere. Each moment completely full, total awareness. Without the self-centered perspective there is no duality perspective, no separation of good and bad, happy and sad, peace and fear. All merge back into one, the Tao, where there is only experience.
An Exercise To Try With Your Pet
Take a moment and look deep into your pet’s eyes. Don’t think about it, just be with those eyes. You may soon begin to feel a warm feeling. That is an energetic connection between you and your pet. The warm feeling is your awareness of your pet’s seat of consciousness, or its place in the Tao. This is where your pet stays when it is not being aroused by its surroundings. From this seat of awareness it perceives only a state of joy. From this state of joy (happy, truth, peace, etc.) your pet projects unconditional love. This is why so many people are naturally drawn to animals. Our pets’ projected consciousness is like a magnet, drawing people towards it for the feelings that they receive. The same seat of consciousness is found in very young children. Most everyone wants to say hello to them, if but for a moment in order to get an energetic lift.
Unlike our pets, when there is nothing to do, our mind tells us that we need excitement, and we respond conditionally in order to feel better. But, if we can be present with the boredom and observe it for what it really is, then we too can find the Tao. It has been there all along, waiting for us to join our pet in the present moment. So when we are away, we need not worry that our pets are bored. We can remember the eternal and ever present Tao that they rest in.
To find out more about the heart-to-heart link we share with our cherished animal companions, and how we can influence their healing - and they, ours, see my book Whole-Pet Healing.
Listen to Dr. Thomas on the Voice Of America Generation Regeneration Radio Show here.